I got a letter this morning. What do you reckon it read? Take a look at the history of the blues and you’ll meet a lot of mailmen…After all, country blues idol Bukka White was rediscovered in 1964 when folk guitarist John Fahey wrote a general delivery letter to the Aberdeen, Mississippi post office addressed to quote “Bukka White (Old Blues Singer).”
There’s real life. And then there’s the music. There’s letters that tell you a loved one won’t be comin’ home. Ida Cox got one. So did Leadbelly. But of all the variations on that theme, there’s no darker delivery than Son House’s “Death Letter.”
That’s the mail you don’t wanna get, but there’s also crying over letters never sent, like Odetta’ s “Special Delivery Blues.”
There’s more. Lloyd Price cried out to his mailman, as did Buddy Holly, the Beatles, and Elvis. And it was the postman who made Motown a household name with the Marvelettes.
But of all the postal tunes out there, my favorite has to be
Sleepy John Estes and “Mailman Blues.”[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/113268686" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
Sleepy John Estes was born John Adam Estes in Ripley, Tennessee on January 25, 1899. At the age of 19 he began perform at local parties with mandolin player Yank Rachell and harmonica player Hammie Nixon.
Sleepy John made his first recording in 1929 for Victor Records, and continued to record until 1941. The war devastated record sales, and though Sleepy John returned to Sun Studios in 1952, he was largely out of the public eye for the next two decades.
When the revival picked up in the early ‘60s, blues enthusiasts initially didn’t think to look for Sleepy John. Estes sounded so old on his early recordings that most people assumed he was long dead. This assumption wasn’t helped by the fact that Big Bill Broonzy claimed that he had passed away. But Samuel Charters found him in 1962, and though he was completely blind, he could still play. He was reunited with Hammie Nixon and he resumed touring and recording, releasing a slew of albums on the Delmark label. Sleepy John Estes died in 1977 of a stroke while preparing for a European tour. His grave reads “ain’t goin’ to worry Poor John’s mind anymore.”