Sleepy John Estes

On the Chicago Blues Scene

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Sleepy John Estes was a major bluesman, but this full-band album, recorded on December 3 and December 5 of 1968, isn't a good showcase for his substantial talents. It's certainly not due to the caliber of the players, who include Sunnyland Slim on piano, Carey Bell on harmonica, Earl Hooker on bass, Jimmy Dawkins on guitar, and Odie Payne, Jr. on drums. It's not due to Estes' vocals (he also plays rhythm guitar), which are reasonably effective in their pinched moaning quality, though he was nearing seventy years of age. It's not even necessarily due to the iffy merits of putting a musician known for more rural blues into an electric setting. It's more because the band, for all their sizable individual talents, doesn't play too well as a unit. Dawkins' oft-out-of-tune guitar is the most audible culprit, but there's some erratic timekeeping throughout the 12 songs. Not that it's an adequate excuse for an inferior record, but it seems as if it might have been the victim of hasty recording. The musicians certainly don't sound too used to either the material or playing with each other, and the songs themselves have a too-samey feel. There are numerous better ways to get acquainted with Estes' music, and for that matter, there are better one-shot Chicago blues recordings matching a noted frontman with noted temporary side musicians.