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I fold my arms and I begin to walk away. I say "That's alright sweet mama, your trouble gonna come someday" - Garfield Akers, Dough Roller Blues

Author Topic: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics  (Read 54234 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #15 on: October 31, 2005, 03:56:50 PM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John Estes recorded "Drop Down Mama" in 1935, with Hammie Nixon backing him on harmonica.  They played wonderfully well together.  Sleepy John plays the song out of C position, in standard tuning, his favorite key for singing and playing.  "Drop Down Mama" is a "chorus" blues in a modified 12-bar format as follows  (in the first verse, Sleepy John is short on the fourth bar):

|              I         |             I              |            I         |       I          |
| IV--I--IV--I     |  IV--I--IV--I       |           I          |        I         |
|        I               |             I              |   I--four beats + 2 beats|

The movement in the fifth and sixth bars is less complex than it looks on paper.  Basically, Sleepy John is rocking back and forth between F and C; he employed that move on many of his songs.  Sleepy John shared a preference for continuing to use the I chord where the V chord would normally fall in the form (bars nine and ten) with such musicians as Sam Collins and Dr. Ross.  The harmonica fill that Hammie plays in the final measure of the form really sounds like it is leading to a V chord as a turn-around, but Sleepy John does not pick up on Hammie's cue (if, indeed, one was intended).
The "chorus" blues format really suited Sleepy John because he could pack so much lyrical wealth into the first four bars of the form.  His songs tend to be short in duration, but long in expressive content.  And when you have someone who can sing as well as John Estes did, you just want him to keep on singing (at least I do).

   Now, drop down, baby, let your daddy be
   I know just what you're tryin' to pull on me
   CHORUS:  Well my mama, she don't allow me to fool 'round all night long
   Now I may look like I'm crazy, poor John do know right from wrong

   Go 'way from my window quit scratchin' on my screen
   You's a dirty mistreater I know just what you mean
   CHORUS

   Some of these women sure do make me tired
   Got a, a handful of "Gimme", a mouthful of "Much obliged"
   CHORUS

   Woman I'm lovin', one teeth solid gold
   That's the onliest woman a mortgage on my soul
   CHORUS

   See me comin' put your man outdoors
   You know I ain't no stranger, has done been here before
   CHORUS

Edited to pick up corrections from dingwall, 6/20/07

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 20, 2007, 11:42:37 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2005, 04:12:55 PM »
Hi all,
"Someday Baby Blues" was recorded by Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon in 1935, as was "Drop Down Mama", and like it, was played out of C position in standard tuning.  "Someday Baby Blues" is an unusual 16-bar "chorus" blues, and it's structure is discussed in the 16-bar blues thread on the Main Forum.  Like "Drop Down Mama" it never goes to the V chord. 
Listening to the rendition, you get the distinct impression that for Sleepy John, the guitar's primary function was to accompany vocals.  I am hard put to think of a country blues singer/guitarist of Sleepy John's generation who gave his guitar less solo space.  The fact that he ends the song with a very nifty and complex run that he executes with perfect aplomb makes his choice to feature the guitar on his cuts so sparingly all the more mysterious.  He could really play.  Why did he choose not to?  Perhaps the answer is in his great singing.

   I don't care how long you're gone, I don't care how long you stay
   But that good kind treatment, bring you back home someday
   CHORUS: Someday, baby, you ain't gonna worry my mind anymore

   I have that wind, that old chilly breeze
   Come blowin' through your BVDs, but
   CHORUS: Someday, baby, you ain't gonna worry my mind anymore

   If you don't quit bettin', boys, them dice won't pass
   It's gon' send you home on your yas yas yas, but
   CHORUS: Someday, baby, you ain't gonna worry my life anymore

   It ain't but the one thing give a man the blues
   He ain't got no bottom in his last pair of shoes, but
   CHORUS: Someday, baby, you ain't gonna worry my mind anymore

   I tell all the people in your neighborhood
   You's a no-good woman, you don't mean no good, but
   CHORUS: Someday, baby, you ain't gonna worry my mind anymore

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 11:46:54 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #17 on: November 01, 2005, 03:57:37 PM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John recorded "Whatcha Doin'?" with Yank Rachell on mandolin and Jab Jones on piano in 1930.  It is a tremendous cut, just a spectacular version of the "Sittin' On Top Of The World" model, with some modifications (see the "Vocal Phrasing:  The Long And The Short of It" thread).  This must be one of the greatest country blues dance numbers ever recorded, because the time just rocks.  If this one doesn't put on a smile on your face, you better have your pulse taken.

   I married my baby, married her for myself
   Then if I don't keep her, don't want nobody else
   CHORUS:  Got to give an account, just what, what you do

   Now, depot agent, don't tell me no lie
   Did my baby stop here, did she keep on by?
   CHORUS

   Now I hate to hear Illinois Central blow
   When my feet get tickled makes me want to go
   CHORUS

   When a man does workin', you know he's doin' what's right
   Some old low-down rouster, tryin' to steal his wife
   CHORUS

   Now, I got up this morning, couldn't make no time
   I didn't have no blues, messed all up in mind
   CHORUS

   Now take me, baby, won't be mean no more
   You can get all my lovin' let that blacksnake go
   CHORUS

   Now, see her in the morning, rag tied 'round her head
   Ask her to cook your breakfast, swear she near 'most dead
   CHORUS

Edited to pick up correction from dingwall, 6/20/07

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 20, 2007, 11:41:47 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #18 on: November 01, 2005, 04:14:08 PM »
Hi all
"Floating Bridge", which was recorded by Sleepy John with Hammie Nixon in 1935, is a rare narrative blues that recounts a tale of a near brush with death that John Estes had after falling off a car ferry crossing a river.  Only the timely intervention of Hammie Nixon saved Sleepy John from a premature death.  Sleepy John sings of the experience with great feeling.  "Floating Bridge" follows the 16-bar model of "Careless Love".  In the second verse, Sleepy John inserts an r between the two syllables of "going", as was often done by blues singers when successive syllables ended and began with vowel sounds.

   Now I never will forget that floating bridge (3)
   Tell me five minutes time under water I was hid

   When I was going down I thowed up my hands
   Now, when I was going down, I thowed up my hands (2)
   Please, take me on dry land

   Now they carried me in the house and they laid me 'cross the blank't (3)
   "Bout a gallon-and-half muddy water I had drank

   They dried me off and they laid me in the bed
   Now, they dried me off and they laid me in the bed (2)
   Couldn't hear nothin' but muddy water runnnin' through my head

   Now, my mother often taught me, "Quit playin' a bum" (2)
   Now, my mother often taught me, son, "Quit playin' a bum,
   Go somewhere settle down and make a crop"

   Now, people was standin' on the bridge, screamin' and cryin'
   Peoples on the bridge was screamin' and cryin'
   Now, the peoples on the bridge, standin' screamin' and cryin'
   "Lord, have mercy while's we gwine."

Edited 2/1/07 to pick up correction from banjochris
Edited to pick up corrections from dingwall, 6/20/07

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 20, 2007, 11:40:59 PM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #19 on: November 01, 2005, 08:13:18 PM »
Re: "Floating Bridge"--Ry Cooder said that when they pulled Sleepy John out of the water, he was still sleeping. Obviously apocryphal, but it adds certain a embellishment to the story behind the song.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #20 on: November 02, 2005, 10:15:34 AM »
That's really interesting, Stuart.  Perhaps this is one instance in which narcolepsy had an up side.  For all I know, this is a medical possibility.  Any M.D. Weenies out there?
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #21 on: November 02, 2005, 01:09:30 PM »
Re: "Floating Bridge"--Ry Cooder said that when they pulled Sleepy John out of the water, he was still sleeping. Obviously apocryphal, but it adds certain a embellishment to the story behind the song.
I assume "the story" referred to being what he told Sam Charters in the summer of 1962:

I was travelin' in Hickman, Kentucky, and the car went in the high water, the '37 flood it was. Got going to my cousin's home and had to go across one of them floating bridges tied to the cable there, you know, to keep it from floating away, and we got on that bridge and hit that pretty rough, you know, the way he was driving He lost control of the car and it went off to the left. I was sitting on the far side putting some strings in my shoes and I was the last one. There's two-three on the other side of me and that made me last getting out on the bridge.

Well, my cousin, it knocked him in the head scuffling in the car. He cut hisself and he's sitting up there on a log and he asks, "Everybody out?" "Unun, John's still in there." By that time I had come up the third time. He jumped off that board and saved me. He got me and put me under his arm and treaded water up to the bridge and pulled me up on to it.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #22 on: November 02, 2005, 01:29:56 PM »
Ry made the comment--as a joke--when talking about the background of the song. It was in the early seventies and it was either at a workshop that was held as part of the annual spring Blues Festival at UVM, or perhaps during one of his gigs in NYC. It was so long ago that I can't be sure--but it did get a laugh. I don't know what Ry's source was for the story. Maybe it was Sam Charters, but it have no way of knowing.

Stu

P.S. Anyone out there recall seeing Ken Bloom during that time? I saw him open for Ry once and he was impressive--played a slide piece on the autoharp.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #23 on: November 03, 2005, 07:44:33 AM »
Hi all,
"I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More" was recorded by Sleepy John with Hammie Nixon on harmonica and Lee Brown on kazoo.  It is a rollicking sort of raggy song, working from a mold like "Mama Don't Allow", except that the instrumental response at the end of each of the refrain lines is shortened by Sleepy John, so that the form works out as follows:
|       I        |        I        |         I         |         
|       I        |        I        |        V7      |
|       I        |       I7       |        IV       |    IV--I    |
|       I        |        V7    |         I         |
The way the kazoo and harmonica interact on this song is a treat.

   REFRAIN:   Come on down, I ain't gonna be worried no more (2)
   You know I worried last night and all night before
   You know by that I won't be worried no more
   REFRAIN

   REFRAIN:  (2)
   I was worried for you, I was worried for me
   You know by that I'm gon' let it be
   REFRAIN

   REFRAIN: (2)
   Now look here, baby, see what you done done
   ____ me love you now your man done come
   REFRAIN

   REFRAIN: (2)
   Now my baby's doin' something that I never could stand
   I b'lieve she's runnin' with a coon can game
   REFRAIN

   REFRAIN: (2)
   Now I bought some slippers and I bought some socks
   Come home last night and had the back door locked
   REFRAIN

   REFRAIN: (2)
   Look here, baby, see what you done done
   ___ me love you now your man done come
   REFRAIN

All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #24 on: November 04, 2005, 12:14:07 AM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John recorded "My Black Gal Blues" with Yank Rachell on mandolin and Jab Jones on piano, I believe.  I need to get the two Document John Estes releases.  I have this on a Czech issue, and the information it has on personnel for the different tunes is contradictory to the sounds you hear, listing harmonica where none is being played, etc.  In any event, I had never heard this recording until yesterday, and it is now one of my very favorite Sleepy John cuts.  Jab Jones starts with a very grand intro that sounds, incidentally, as though it supplied the idea for Thelonius Monk's tune, "Blue Monk".  Sleepy John comes in singing one of the prettiest blues melodies I have every heard.  There were plenty of strong singers in this style, but to sing with nuance was not so common.  To be able to sing and play strongly, but with nuance as well, there's something to shoot for; that club doesn't have a very big membership.  Sleepy John's inspired performance must have inspired his bandmates, as well, because they do an amazingly varied job of accompanying him over the course of the tune.  Yank phrases the melody right with Sleepy John in the early verses, and it is really striking to hear how closely he follows John's statement of the melody.  The way that Jab and Yank play time throughout the song is mysterious, for they change the underlying feel as the song goes along.  Everything really came together on this performance.  It's one of the best I've ever heard in the style, and, oddly, I have never heard it covered.  Maybe people are scared off at the prospect of having their singing compared with Sleepy John's, which is a pretty scary thought, come to think of it.
I think the word "buggish", in verse three, can be taken to mean "sexually charged to the point of indiscretion".  It always appears in the context in which it is used here.  In the last verse, Sleepy John pronounces the word "cover", "kyivver".  "Heist" for "hoist", as in verse two, is a common pronunciation, more common than "hoist", in fact.

   Black gal, she took a knife, scared my brown to death
   If I hadn'ta had my pistol, 'spect I woulda run myself
   Hadn'ta had my pistol, 'spect I woulda run myself

   When you see me comin', heist [sic] your window high
   When you see me leavin', hang your head and cry
   When you see me leavin', hang your head and cry

   Now if I just hadda listened, what my mama said
   I woulda been at home, Lord, in my feather bed
   I woulda been at home, Lord, in my feather bed

   Got a man on your man, kid man on your kid,
   Lord, she done got so buggish, don't try to keep it hid
   She done got so buggish, don't try to keep it hid

   Now I got up this mornin', blues all around my bed
   I turned back my cover, blues all in my bed
   Turned back my cover, blues all in my bed.

All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #25 on: November 04, 2005, 12:28:04 AM »
Interesting, Johnm. A while ago, in one of the vocal form threads, I asked if there were any other examples of an ABB scheme similar to the one verse from Tommy Johnson's Canned Heat Blues. This would seem to be an example with every verse following that scheme.
Thanks.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #26 on: November 04, 2005, 07:20:12 AM »
Interesting, Johnm. A while ago, in one of the vocal form threads, I asked if there were any other examples of an ABB scheme similar to the one verse from Tommy Johnson's Canned Heat Blues. This would seem to be an example with every verse following that scheme.

In addition to the ABB scheme of Black Mattie mentioned earlier in this thread...

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #27 on: November 04, 2005, 12:11:21 PM »
Hi John:

Just as an aside, Guy Davis does a great cover of "Drop Down Mama" on his latest CD, "Legacy"

Alex

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #28 on: November 04, 2005, 11:54:57 PM »
Thanks for the cover info, Alex.  It's interesting that not that many John Estes tunes have been recorded by present-day players, but when they are recorded, it seems the same two or three tunes are chosen.  I believe Ry Cooder also did "Drop Down Mama" on his very first solo album, and Taj Mahal did both "Milk Cow Blues" (which he called "Leavin' Trunk") and "Everybody's Got To Make A Change" on his first album on Columbia.  "Divin' Duck Blues" has also been covered a fair number of times.  Maybe we can do a Sleepy John preparation project in advance of Port Townsend next summer to get people to work up some of the less (or never) covered tunes like "Black Mattie Blues", "My Black Gal Blues", or "Clean Up At Home".  It would be great to put together some guitar, mandolin and piano combos there, and there is going to be a tremendous piano instructor named Erwin Helfer on staff.  Or some of the Sleepy John and Hammie numbers could be worked up; it's something to think about, at any rate.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #29 on: November 06, 2005, 11:59:40 AM »
Hi all,
"The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair", recorded in 1929, is one of the earlier recorded numbers by the trio of Sleepy John Estes, guitar, Yank Rachell, mandolin, and Jab Jones, on piano, and like most of the numbers recorded by that trio, is a beautifully worked out ensemble piece.  Its melody bears some similarity to that of "Rollin' and Tumblin'", but is more complex in its details.  Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues" very closely tracks the melody of "The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair".  Sleepy John occasionally hits an eerie major seventh note in his rendition of the melody; you can hear it on the syllable "roll" in the final verse.  The song is a 12-bar blues, with the fourth bar in each four-bar phrase lengthened by two beats to accommodate the vocal pick-ups for the next phrase.  Yank Rachell plays a great sort of "worrying" signature lick in the third and fourth bars of each four-bar phrase.

   Now, I'm going to Brownsville, take that right hand road (2)
   Lord, I ain't gon' stop walkin' 'til I get in sweet mama's door

   Now the girl I'm lovin' she got this great long curly hair (2)
   And her mama and her papa, they sure don't 'low me there

   If you catch my jumper, hang it upside your wall (2)
   Now you know by that, babe, I need my ashes hauled

   Now whatcha gon' do, babe, your dough roller gone?
   Whatcha gonna do, babe, your dough roller gone?
   Go in your kitchen, Lord, and cook until she come ______

All best,
Johnm