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Sleepy John Estes: On 80 Highway

Nic Jones By

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Such was the fallout from the blues boom of the 1960s that Sleepy John Estes and his compadre Hammie Nixon cut this album just prior to leaving for their first visit to Japan back in July of 1974. Both men might be said to have been in their dotage at the time, with Estes in particular being approximately seventy years old, and the music is shot through with what could be described as joyful intimations of mortality.

The paradoxically joyous misery of the blues medium as such is also present in abundance. The closing "Brownsville Blues" documents rolling guitar and piercing harmonica leads coming together in some approximation of harmony, and while it wouldn't be true to say that both men play with the energy of individuals half their age, the music still has about it an impatience with the vagaries of life and all they have to offer.

Where Nixon hits the mark, as he does all too frequently, it's to telling effect. On "IGA" his crisp, concise phrasing, unmarked as it is by his slightly wavering pitch evident in other places, adds no little amount to a performance rife with the slightly eerie feeling that the listener is being let in on something that predates the advent of recording technology by a considerable distance.

An accommodation with mortality is to the fore on "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead" especially as the duo's take on the song is shot through with a radically different lust for life to that of Louis Armstrong's reading from April 28, 1931. Furthermore, Estes' guitar playing is livelier than it customarily was at this stage in his life, and it only goes to show how his style of rhythm guitar has permeated through the music. Nixon's declamatory kazoo is rife with humor also, underscoring the impression discussed above.

"Potatoe Diggin' Man" is in essence more of the same, albeit with a more declamatory edge reflective of the song's content. Nixon's succinct bursts have a more telling effect than anything of a more virtuosic bent, whilst "Do Lord Remember Me" is aural evidence of the hard life made bearable by the hope of a place in the kingdom of Heaven. It's reflective of a concern with mortality and perhaps the dubious benefits of belated fame, and as such speaks volumes.


Track Listing: Love Grows In Your Heart; Potato Diggin' Man; Talk; I'll Be Glad When You're Dead; Holy Spirit; 80 Highway; When The Saints Go Marching In; Corrine, Corrine; President Kennedy (Take 14); IGA; T Model Ford; Do Lord Remember Me; Vernita Blues; Mary Comes On Home; President Kennedy (Take 13); Talk; Brownsville Blues.

Personnel: Sleepy John Estes: vocals, guitar; Hammie Nixon: vocals, harmonica, kazoo (4, 8).

Title: On 80 Highway | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Delmark Records


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