A Scattered History of the Blues Vol 2: Country Blues

country blues v2

Tonight’s bit of history highlights a couple of country blues men, one of them being my favorite Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Sleepy John Estes

Sleepy John Estes

Big Bill Broonzy called John Estes‘ style of singing “crying” the blues because of its overt emotional quality. Actually, his vocal style harks back to his tenure as a work-gang leader for a railroad maintenance crew, where his vocal improvisations and keen, cutting voice set the pace for work activities. Nicknamed “Sleepy” John Estes, supposedly because of his ability to sleep standing up, he teamed with mandolinist Yank Rachell and harmonica player Hammie Nixon to play the house party circuit in and around Brownsville in the early ’20s. The same team reunited 40 years later to record for Delmark and play the festival circuit. Never an outstanding guitarist, Estes relied on his expressive voice to carry his music, and the recordings he made from 1929 on have enormous appeal and remain remarkably accessible today.

Despite the fact that he performed for mixed black and white audiences in string band, jug band, and medicine show formats, his music retains a distinct ethnicity and has a particularly plaintive sound. Astonishingly, he recorded during six decades for Victor, Decca, Bluebird, Ora Nelle, Sun, Delmark, and others. Over the course of his career, his music remained simple yet powerful, and despite his sojourns to Memphis and Chicago he retained a traditional down-home sound. Some of his songs are deeply personal statements about his community and life, such as “Lawyer Clark” and “Floating Bridge.” Other compositions have universal appeal (“Drop Down Mama” and “Someday Baby”) and went on to become mainstays in the repertoires of countless musicians. One of the true masters of his idiom, he lived in poverty, yet was somehow capable of turning his experiences and the conditions of his life into compelling art. (AMG)

 

Lightnin' Hopkins

Lightnin’ Hopkins

Sam Hopkins was a Texas country bluesman of the highest caliber whose career began in the 1920s and stretched all the way into the 1980s. Along the way, Hopkins watched the genre change remarkably, but he never appreciably altered his mournful Lone Star sound, which translated onto both acoustic and electric guitar. Hopkins‘ nimble dexterity made intricate boogie riffs seem easy, and his fascinating penchant for improvising lyrics to fit whatever situation might arise made him a beloved blues troubadour.

Hopkins‘ brothers John Henry and Joel were also talented bluesmen, but it was Sam who became a star. In 1920, he met the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson at a social function, and even got a chance to play with him. Later, Hopkins served as Jefferson‘s guide. In his teens, Hopkins began working with another pre-war great, singer Texas Alexander, who was his cousin. A mid-’30s stretch in Houston’s County Prison Farm for the young guitarist interrupted their partnership for a time, but when he was freed, Hopkins hooked back up with the older bluesman. Read More

 

Track Listing:

Sleep John Estes

01 The Girl I Love Got Long Curly Hair

02 Diving Duck Blues

03 Milk Cow Blues

04 Down South Blues

05 Stop That Thing

06 Someday Baby Blues

07 Drop Down Mama

08 Everybody Ought To Make A Change

09 Clean It Up At Home

10 Time Is Drawing Near

11 Drop Down

12 Brownsville Blues

Lightnin’ Hopkins

14 Have To Let You Go

15 Honey Babe

16 Unpredictable Woman

17 Feel So Bad

18 Short Haired Woman

19 Down Baby

20 Let Me Play With Your Poodle

22 Picture On The Wall

23 Sugar On My Mind

24 Someday Baby

25 Come Back, Baby

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