The musical impact “Sleepy” John Estes made during his career can be seen in this map of his tours. During his early career, he performed mostly in Brownsville and Memphis. At this time, he played with “Yank” Rachell on guitar or mandolin, Hammie Nixon on harmonica, and Jab Jones on jug or piano. In 1929, Victor Records sent a scout to Memphis and he made the first professional recordings of “Sleepy” John Estes. The recording included important songs such as “Milkcow Blues.” Later, Sleepy John and Nixon moved to Chicago, playing and making more recordings. Here Sleepy John wrote and recorded some of his very personal songs such as “Floating Bridge.” Near the end of the 1930s, he and Nixon performed around the United States.
When “Sleepy” John Estes was found by blues fans in the 1960s, blues music was popular around the world. In 1964, “Sleepy” John was invited to tour Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival. That October, he traveled with Hammie Nixon around Europe. Their tour included the cities marked in Germany, France, Sweden, and Denmark. In Copenhagen and London, recordings were made of their music. “Sleepy” John enjoyed his first international travel and updated the lyrics of some of his songs to reflect places he visited, and new friends he made.
In 1974, “Sleepy” John Estes became the second American blues musician ever to perform in Japan. Only B. B. King was first, on a State Department tour. The company Delmark made another recording of Sleepy John’s music live in Japan, and the album included some songs recorded with a Japanese blues band. “Sleepy” John was such a success there that one of his songs made it onto the list of top 100 songs in Japan!