Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon Live in Japan

It was a surprise to hear that Delmark was going to release for the first time in the United States recordings made of Sleepy John Estes during Japanese tours from the mid-1970s. The performances have finally been released on Live In Japan With Hammie Nixon, which bring together 19 songs from four performances by the pair. A Japanese quartet, Yu Ka Dan, joins them for four songs.

Estes was a marvelous storyteller and songwriter with a crying, expressive voice and a rudimentary guitar style with which Nixon would supply supporting vocals (with a few lead vocals as well) along with his deep harmonica style, kazoo and jug. The two mix in songs that were staples of Estes’ repertoire including Broke and Hungry, You Shouldn’t Say That (with Nixon sharing lead vocals), Stop That Thing, The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair, Divin’ Duck Blues, Rats in My Kitchen and Brownsville Blues, along with standards “Corrina Corrina,” and I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You, and spirituals Holy Spirit, Don’t You Leave Me (sung by Hammie) and Jesus Is On the Mainline. The performances are done simply and directly with Estes crying vocals at the forefront with Nixon accompaniments providing much of the musical interest, whether his responsive harmonica, or buzzing kazoo and jug (as heard on Corrina, Corrina).

This is wonderfully recorded and one can hear the appreciation shown by the Japanese audience, including the response when they start The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair, indicating more than passing familiarity with Estes’ recordings. Yu Ka Dan does a nice job adding their accompaniment on several tracks including a lovely Love Grows In Your Heart, Estes’ rendition of Careless Love.

Steve Tomashefsky accompanied the pair on their Japanese tours and wrote the liner notes recapping the time they spent over there and I presume is the voice introducing them on track 12. Nixon did most of the song introductions and storytelling on stage. This are among the last recordings the two recorded together and is heartfelt blues  from two giants of early blues. As wonderful as the music is, some may enjoy this better by listening to it in parts rather than straight through.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here are Estes and Nixon from a European telecast during an American Folk Blues Festival tour.

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