Culled from a recently unearthed set of tapes originally recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, Sleepy John is obviously comfortable sharing the spotlight with Yank Rachell and Hammie Nixon.
This representation is a wonderfully diverse body of work and is refreshing to hear in this era of buzzsaw soundalike guitar-based “bluz” bands. Granted, it’s 40 years old, but the obvious question remains, who are the heirs apparent to this throne? The ranks are thin, if not depleted, for this blues school in particular. Players from Sleepy John’s generation account for the style represented here, which is basically an amalgam of the Delta and Appalachia styles, and its minimalist approach lacks the “glamour” of other, more urban styles of blues. As a result, it’s a dying art form.
Any new Sleepy John recordings are a cause to celebrate, and while we can’t go and enjoy John down on the corner anymore, these tapes, and the golden moments they represent, coupled with the best technology the digital age has to offer, will have to suffice.
This was a time when the same old songs were different every night, and we have remastered discs like Newport Blues to reflect on what a magical musical period the mid ’60s were.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.