'Drop Down Mama' – Country blues or hard rock?

Sep 30, 2011

“Crying the blues” perfectly describes the style of Sleepy John Estes. His music is not very complex, and he was a solid, but not a great guitarist.

Instead, Estes is known more for his ability to write about universal themes and to sing with deep emotion. He was a big influence on early bluesmen like Big Bill Broonzy and Arthur Crudup. He also was a big inspiration for later players like Michael Bloomfield, with whom he worked in the 1960s.

“Drop Down Mama” is a song of his that has re-surfaced several times. Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon recorded it in 1935.

Here is a stunning video from the late '60s with Estes, Nixon and John Henry Barbee. They are not singing “Drop Down Mama," but as it’s one of the few existing videos of him. It is well worth a few minutes. This is the real deal:

Led Zeppelin had a habit of borrowing from American blues music without credit, and on their 1975 song “Custard Pie” they do just that with “Drop Down Mama."

“Custard Pie” also contains elements of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down," as well as Blind Boy Fuller’s “I Want Some of Your Pie." Here’s a pretty decent fan video of “Custard Pie” from a 1980’s era live show with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page:

Lloyd Jones is an adept student of the blues, with a highly developed sense of rhythm. His stripped down, funky version from 1995 features interplay between Jones and drummer Reinhardt Melz.

The North Mississippi All Stars have a family legacy in the blues, and are known for their modern treatments of traditional blues. Luther and Cody Dickinson are the sons of R & B musician and producer Jim Dickinson, who had a big role in records by Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones.

They combine studio savvy with a brash, raucous rock and roll attitude. Here's a short interview they did with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke:

Here are the full versions of “Drop Down Mama” tracked through time:

Sleepy John Estes: “Drop Down Mama” 1935

Led Zeppelin: “Custard Pie” 1975

Lloyd Jones: “Drop Down Mama” 1995

North Mississippi All Stars: Drop Down Mama” 2000