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A lot of these white boys play the blues real good. Ain't but one thing about most of them though: most can't sing a thing - David Honeyboy Edwards, from his bio

Author Topic: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics  (Read 54273 times)

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Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #60 on: November 10, 2005, 11:12:38 PM »
Hi all,
The discographical information I have on "Down South Blues" says that Sleepy John Estes was joined by Hammie Nixon on harmonica and Charlie Pickett on guitar for it. If that is the case, Charlie Pickett is inaudible; I really believe this is just Sleepy John and Hammie.
I don't know if Sleepy John ever played with a flat pick, but if he did, I would say this song is a prime candidate for being played that way.  He is strumming throughout with simple down-strokes, and virtually no detail work in the treble, something like the way Willie Thomas played with Butch Cage on the "Country Negro Jam Session" CD on Arhoolie.  Hammie, while not demanding a lot of attention, rewards any attention you give him.  He played very well consistently.
This song is kind of an odd one.  The initial subject matter pertaining to hard times in Memphis during the Depression is unusually grim and pointed.  Sleepy John then takes a left turn to talk about his love life in an unoptimistic way.  The whole thing is a far cry from an exuberant, partying kind of tune. 
Musically, the song is odd as well.  The opening stanza is an unusual 8-bar one that does not conform to any commonly encountered 8-bar forms:
|   IV-I-I-I   |          I          |           I          |         I           |
|    V-V-I-I  |          I          |           I          |         I           |
The song ends up settling into a 12-bar model I have not encountered before.
|    IV--I       |     I--IV       |           I          |      I--I7        |
|    IV--I       |     I--IV       |           I          |           I         |
|        I          |        I           |           I          |          I          |
As with a couple of songs earlier in this thread, once Sleepy John settles into this 12-bar form he eschews the V chord altogether.

   Now I'm goin' down South and I'm stayin' 'til winter is gone
   And when wintertime is gone, I might come back home

   Now I get up every mornin' and I walk up to 3rd and Beale (2)
   And I'm just studyin' and I'm wonderin', Lord, just how to make a meal

   Now the peoples in Memphis, they all walkin' the streets up and down (2)
   And you know the time is hard, peoples is starvin' all over the town

   Now I once have been a lover, baby, back in my young days (2)
   But my baby was so mean, she done drove all my love away

   Now I got a girl in Brownsville, she lives down on Bu'lison Lane (2)
   But my gal was so mean, I'm scared to call her name

11/11, place name changed as per Bunker Hill's suggestion
Edited 2/1/07 to pick up place name from banjo chris

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: February 01, 2007, 02:38:25 PM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #61 on: November 10, 2005, 11:25:46 PM »
Hi all,
"Divin' Duck Blues" is another one of the great early collaborations of Sleepy John with Yank Rachell and Jab Jones.  It has been covered a fair amount, but as most often seems to be the case with Sleepy John's tunes, either the lyrics or the melody are greatly changed in the course of re-doing the song.  I'm not certain about the phrase in bent brackets, so any help would be appreciated.
   
   Now if the river was whiskey, and I was a divin' duck
   Now if the river was whiskey, I was a divin' duck
   I would dive on the bottom, never would come up

   Don't never take a married woman to be your friend
   Don't never take, married woman to be your friend
   She will get all your money, give it to her other man

   Now, a married woman always been my crave (2)
   Now a married woman gon' carry me to my grave

   Now ain't it hard to love some else, then?  (2)
   You can't get her when you want her, have to use her when you can

   Now the sun gon' shine on my back door someday
   Now the sun gonna shine on my back door some day
   Now the wind gonna rise gonna blow my blues away

   Now I went to the railroad, looked up at the sun (2)
   If the train don't hurry gon' be some walkin' done

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 15, 2005, 11:00:30 PM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #62 on: November 10, 2005, 11:45:53 PM »
   Now I got a girl in Brownsville, she lives down on Bullocks and Vance (2)
   But my gal was so mean, I'm scared to call her name
Again this is another 1962 recreation but he omits the penultimate verse. "Bullocks and Vance" sounds like Bullison Lane. Lane is not in question though the name, whilst definitely ending with 'ison', could be Pullison, Dullison, take your pick. Anyone have a 30s Memphis street plan?

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #63 on: November 11, 2005, 08:59:14 AM »
Hi Bunker Hill,
Thanks for the help with the address.  Place names are really tough when transcribing lyrics, particularly if they are unfamiliar.  I have picked up the "Lane" portion of the address and will leave the name blank pending some kind of information that nails it down.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Slack

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #64 on: November 11, 2005, 12:40:04 PM »
Quote
Anyone have a 30s Memphis street plan?

But she lives in Brownsville.  You could use google maps to search for streets in Brownsville (fly over style).  'Course, we don;t really know if it is Brownsville, Tennessee or Mississippi or Texas..  ::)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #65 on: November 11, 2005, 12:53:57 PM »
Quote
Anyone have a 30s Memphis street plan?
But she lives in Brownsville. 
Duh, yeah. As I said I really MUST stop knee jerk responses, especially early in the morning. The internet is one's own worst enemy when it comes to this sort of thing.  I would never have been so stupid had I been writing a letter. If nothing else I would have re-read it! :(

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #66 on: November 12, 2005, 01:45:19 PM »
Hi all,
For "Mailman Blues", recorded in 1940, the suspect session information on my Czech issue of Sleepy John's music has both Robert Lee McCoy and John playing guitars and Robert Lee doubling on harmonica, as well.  Based on the aural evidence, there is only one guitar being played on this song; I'm certain of that, in fact, and the harmonica player is definitely not Hammie Nixon.  This player does not have Hammie's covered-sounding tone, but has a brighter and more open sound.  The guitarist, whom I believe to be Sleepy John because of how closely the accompaniment tracks the vocal phrasing, is playing in E position, standard tuning, not a position I would normally associate with Sleepy John's playing.  However, on a couple of the duets with Charlie Pickett, one of the guitars is playing in G position, standard tuning with the other capoed three frets up and playing out of E, so perhaps Sleepy John was the person playing out of E on those cuts.  The accompaniment on "Mailman Blues" uses the dark V minor 7 chord, B minor 7, which is similarly found on those duets.
In some ways, the over-all sound of "Mailman Blues" is a different one than I'm acccustomed to hearing from Sleepy John.  The accompaniment sounds almost like a precursor to the playing of Lightnin' Hopkins.  The vocal sound and phrasing is certainly all Sleepy John, though.  I can't think of another blues singer who could fit so many lyrics into a 12-bar form.  Re verse two:  I hate it when that happens.

   Mailman, please stop by my box today (2)
   You know, I'm lookin' for a letter from my baby, you know, I want to hear from her
       right away

   Reason I ain't been gettin' no mail, you know, I done found out what it's all about
   Reason I ain't gettin' no mail, you know, I done found out what it's all about
   You know the mailman been gettin' drunk, he been leavin' my mail at somebody
      else's house

   Now, I been waitin' on the mailman, he usually come along about 11 o'clock
   Now, I been waitin' on the mailman, you know, he usually come along about
     11 o'clock
   Now, I guess he musta had car trouble, or either the road musta be blocked

   Mailman, please don't you lose your head (2)
   You know, I'm lookin' for a letter from my babe, some of my people might be dead

All best,
Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #67 on: November 12, 2005, 02:03:25 PM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John recorded "Hobo Jungle Blues" with Hammie Nixon on harmonica and either Charlie Pickett or Son Bonds on guitar.  Since both guitarists are playing out of C position in standard tuning, if my theory holds true, the second guitarist would be Brownsville Son Bonds, since he and Sleepy John did not play out of different positions on the songs that we know they played together ("Lawyer Clark", "Little Laura" and Working Man"). 
Musically, this piece is very close to "Special Agent".  It shares the same melody and many of the same "push me--pull you" aspects in its phrasing, though the tempo is not quite as quick as that of "Special Agent".  The accompaniment is terrific.  On verse four, you can hear the second guitarist picking up on a triplet lick that Hammie likes and playing it in unison with him.  Similarly, the alert second guitarist plays a pet phrase of Sleepy John's over the IV chord in the final verse in unison with him; it sounds like Sleepy John is double-tracked and is an unbelievably cool effect.  As for the subject matter of "Hobo Jungle Blues", it really sounds like Sleepy John knew whereof he spoke.  Help with or corroboration of the bent bracketed phrase would be appreciated

   Now, when I left Chicago, I left on that G & M (2)
   Then if I reach my home, I have to change over on that L& N

   Now, came in on in that Mae West, and I put it down at Chicago Heights
   Now, when I came in on that Mae West, I put it down at Chicago Heights
   Now, you know, over in hobo jungle, and that's where I stayed the night

   Now, if you hobo through Brownsville, you better not be peepin' out (2)
   Now, Mr. Whitten will git you, and Mr. Guy Hare will wear you out

   Now, out East of Brownsville, about four miles from town (2)
   Now, if you ain't got your fare, that's where they will let you down

Edited, 11/13 to pick up clarification from Bunker Hill

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: November 13, 2005, 10:06:45 AM by Johnm »

Offline dj

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #68 on: November 12, 2005, 02:24:25 PM »
Regarding the instrumentation of Mailman Blues and Hobo Jungle Blues:

Blues and Gospel Records has Robert Lee McCoy on guitar and harmonica on Mailman Blues, with Sleepy John Estes on vocal.  Document 5016 has Sleepy John Estes on vocal and guitar on that track with Robert Lee McCoy on harmonica and "possibly guitar (replacing Estes)".

B&GR has Sleepy John Estes and Charlie Pickett on guitar and Hammie Nixon on harmonica on Hobo Jungle Blues, while Document 5016 has Sleepy John Estes vocal/guitar, Hammie Nixon harmonica, and Charlie Pickett or possibly Son Bonds on guitar.

I'm impressed with your lyric transcription, John.  About 15 years ago I tried to transcribe the lyrics to that song and after many many listenings succeeded in deciphering about 50% of them!

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #69 on: November 12, 2005, 02:34:54 PM »
Thanks for the discographical information, David, and thanks for the good words, too.  I spent many years paying little attention to lyrics, and it has only been in the past couple of years as I've been trying to focus on phrasing that I've come to appreciate how lyrics really drive the whole performance.  And of course, Sleepy John, like Peg Leg Howell, had exceptionally good lyrics, so it's fun to try and get them.  You're right, though, sometimes it is really tough.  I have some left to do that have lines I am currently not hearing, that's for sure.
All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #70 on: November 12, 2005, 07:23:55 PM »
It seems possible that the "open tone" of Robert Lee McCoy's harp, as you described it, Johnm, could have caused the speculation that he was playing the only guitar also. Especially if there are other recordings of McCoy playing harp only where he was cupping the harp more. Anyone have access to that info?

All for now.
John C.

P.S. How do I get a B&GR? -G-
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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #71 on: November 13, 2005, 12:30:17 AM »
   Now, came in on in that [main west], and I put it down at Chicago Heights
   Now, when I came in on that [main west], I put it down at Chicago Heights
   Now, you know, over in hobo jungle, and that's where I stayed the night
FWIW in the lengthy 1974 interview conducted with Estes & Nixon by Kip Lornell (Living Blues 19, Jan-Feb 1975) the latter  refers a train named the "Mae West" thus:

Q:How long did you stay in Chicago?
Nixon: We didn't stay too long. Just in and out. We were riding them old freight trains then. We made that record about Mae West. We'd ride that Mae West a lot, put it down in Chicago Heights. Yeah, we were going all across the country. Me and John slept in the jungles, and old Winchester Slim got at us several times about riding freight trains.
Later on in the interview Estes is asked what he thinks were his best ever records and one of them he names as 'Mae West'!

I've looked in B A Botkin's A Treasury Of Railroad Folklore (Crown, 1953) in the chapter on railroad and freight train nicknames but can't spot this one.

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #72 on: November 13, 2005, 10:04:03 AM »
Hi Bunker Hill,
Thanks for the clarification.  It actually sounded exactly like "Mae West", but I thought it was too weird!  It's great to be able to access that kind of information right from the people who made the record.  I will make the change.
All best,
Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #73 on: November 13, 2005, 10:50:30 AM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John recorded "Airplane Blues" with Hammie Nixon on harmonica and Charlie Pickett on second guitar.  The song follows a phrasing archetype employed by "Me And My Chauffeur" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl".  I'm not strong on chronology, so I don't know which song was recorded first--was it "Me And My Chauffeur"?  I don't think I had ever fully appreciated how unusual the phrasing is on this type of song.  As Sleepy John did it, it works out as follows.  Measures are 4 beats unless otherwise stipulated.  Since he phrases so far in front of the beat, I will start with the last bar of the introduction.

                                                         I'm gonna get on my
                                                    |                 I                 |
FORM BEGINS:
airplane, I'm gon' get in my airplane, I'm gonna rise all
|               I                        |               I                       |
over, I'm gonna rise all over your town                   Then if I
|         IV+2 beats                       |      I              |       I         |
spy the woman I'm lovin'
|              V                     |
   Poor John gon' let his air, poor John gon' let his airplane
|             IV                       |                  IV                        |                       
down                         Here's my
|            I               |        I          |

Thus Sleepy John ends up with a 10-bar blues.  The group adheres to this phrasing scheme throughout the song, though Sleepy John sometimes holds his chords one beat across the bar lines before changing. 
Sleepy John sings "Airplane Blues" with a great relaxed feel.  I particularly like the third verse, which I reckon speaks of his getting out of jail after a short sentence.  The final verse is a bit mixed up from the way it is usually sung.

   I'm gonna get in my airplane, I'm gon' get in my airplane
   I'm gonna rise all over, I'm gonna rise all over your town
   Then if I spy the woman I'm lovin'
   Poor John gon' let his air, poor John gon' let his airplane down

   Here's my hand, here's my hand
   You can lead me where you want to, you can lead me where you want me to go
   Then if you lead me wrong this time
   You won't lead me no, and you won't lead me no more

   I know my baby, I know my baby
   And she's bound to jump, and she's bound to jump and shout
   Now, when she get over to the let-off
   I done rode them few, I done rode them few days out

   You 3 X 7, you 3 X 7
   You oughta know what you want, you oughta know what you want to do
   Now the day that you quit me
   And I won't be mad with, I won't be mad with you

   That's the day before Christmas, that's the day before Christmas
   Let me bring your presents, let me bring your presents tonight
   Now I will be your Santy Claus
   Even if my whiskers, even if my whiskers is white

All best,
Johnm
     

         
   
« Last Edit: November 14, 2005, 09:15:19 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #74 on: November 13, 2005, 11:05:39 AM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John recorded "Poor John Blues" with Yank Rachell and Jab Jones in 1930.  They keep time beautifully as an ensemble throughout, despite some verse-specific varying of phrase lengths.  Jab Jones in particular is really powerful here, often accenting with a heavy 1 2+ 3 4+ 1 2+3 4+ emphasis.  His playing seems worth studying for any of you pianists out there.  Help with the bent bracketed phrase would be appreciated, because I am currently stumped.

   Now, I'd rather be dead, sleepin' in a hollow log
   Now, I'd rather be dead and sleepin' in a hollow log
   Than to be here, baby, and you doin' me like a dog

   Now, what you want poor John to do? (2)
   Lord, I done done ev'ything, try to get along wit' you

   Now, the woman I'm lovin', she got one teeth solid gold (2)
   Lord, that's the onliest woman got a mortgage on my soul

   Now, sure as the grass on the Texan earts grow green (2)
   Lord, I ain't crazy about nobody I ever seen.

Corrected, 11/14, as per Bunker Hill's help

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: November 14, 2005, 05:10:13 PM by Johnm »