Sleepy John EstesSleepy John Estes was born in Ripley, Tennessee on January 25, 1899. His full birth name was John Adam Estes. In 1915 his father, a guitar playing sharecropper, moved the family to Brownsville, Tennessee. It was shortly after that when Estes lost the sight in his right eye, when a friend threw a rock towards him. When he was 19, he was working as a field hand and would perform professionally at parties and picnics. He would be accompanied by Hammie Nixon on harmonica and James "Yank" Rachell on guitar or mandolin. Estes would work with the two of them on and off for more than fifty years.
In 1929 he made his first recording with Ralph Peer for Victor Records.
In 1935 he recorded "Drop Down Mama" and "Someday Baby Blues" with Nixon. He also worked with Son Bonds and Charlie Pickett. Other musicians that he worked with include Yank Rachell and Jab Jones. He recorded for Decca Records and Bluebird Records. His last recording before the war was in 1941.
In 1952 he recorded at Sun Studio, recording "Runnin' Around" and "Rats in My Kitchen". He was mostly out of the public eye in the forties and fifties however. So much so that blues revivalists didn't realise he was still alive, particularly as he had a mature singing voice.
In 1962 he was visited by blues historians Bob Koester and Samuel Charters. By then he was completely blind and living in poverty. He resumed touring with Nixon and started recording for Delmark Records.
In 1964 he appeared at Newport Folk Festival with Nixon and Rachell.
His nickname is thought to be linked to a blood pressure disorder or narcolepsy.
On June 5, 1977 he died after suffering a stroke at his home in Brownsville, Tennessee.
In 1991 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.