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Sleepy Labeef

Sleepy LaBeef became the ultimate rockabilly survivor, his live performances retaining the same raw power as he approached his eighth decade that they had in the years when he was among the music's pioneers. He was born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff in Smackover, AR. The 6'7" singer has heavily lidded eyes which make him appear half-asleep, hence his nickname. He was raised on a melon farm and grew up hearing both country and blues music. LaBeef moved to Houston at age 18, working at several odd jobs before beginning to sing gospel music on local radio shows. Soon he was working with a band of his own at local bars, and he appeared on the Houston Jamboree and Louisiana Hayride radio programs. The new rockabilly style fit his blazing voice perfectly, and in the late '50s he recorded about a dozen sides in that style for various labels. His first single, "I'm Through," was released in 1957 on Starday. Sometimes he was billed as Tommy LaBeff or Sleepy LaBeff.

LaBeef moved to Nashville in 1964 and soon was signed to Columbia. In the 1960s he recorded mostly straight country music. His sixth single for the label, "Every Day," provided LaBeef with his chart debut in 1968, and after moving to Shelby Singleton's Plantation label in 1969, he hit the Top 20 with his version of "Blackland Farmer," Frankie Miller's heartfelt ode to the soil. The late '60s also saw the towering baritone's film debut in the bizarre Southern drive-in horror musical The Exotic Ones; LaBeef played a swamp monster.

LaBeef moved to Sun Records in the mid-'70s after Singleton acquired that original institution of rockabilly, and there he reconnected with his rockabilly roots. Singles such as "Thunder Road," "There Ain't Much After Taxes," and "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" saw little chart action but helped form the beginnings of the LaBeef legend as his indefatigable touring exposed audiences to his wildman energy. LaBeef remains more popular in Europe than in the U.S. and appeared at England's Wembley Festival twice. Among his U.S. fans was soul-music historian Peter Guralnick, who saw LaBeef perform in Massachusetts in 1977 and praised his performances in a widely read article.

That plus the general revival of rockabilly around 1980 at the hands of such groups as the Stray Cats paved the way for the emergence of Sleepy LaBeef, rockabilly revivalist.

He signed to Rounder in 1981 and released It Ain't What You Eat (It's the Way How You Chew It) in the U.S. and in Europe. The live album Nothin' but the Truth gave CD buyers a taste of the booming vocals and slashing guitar that had made LaBeef a prime club attraction. LaBeef returned to regular recording in the mid-'90s, releasing several more albums on Rounder: Strange Things Happening (1994) and I'll Never Lay My Guitar Down (1996) contained a variety of country and blues tunes and revealed the depth of LaBeef's musical experiences. Four years later, he issued Tomorrow Never Comes, which featured guest vocals from Maria Muldaur. Compilations of the numerous unissued tracks from earlier in LaBeef's career began to surface in the early 2000s, and by that time Sleepy was nothing less than a rockabilly legend. ~ James Manheim
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Roots

1. Cotton Fields

2. Baby To Cry

3. What Am I Worth

4. Sweet Evelina

5. Completely Destroyed

6. Foggy River

7. Dust On The Bible

8. Endless Sleep

9. Detroit City

10. Gotta Travel On

11. In The Pines

12. Miller's Cave

13. Philadelphia Lawyer

14. Matthew 24

15. Open Door

16. Have I Told You Lately / Bluebird

17. Amazing Grace

x

Track List: Sleepy Rocks

1. All The Time

2. I'm Through

3. Baby Let's Play House

4. All Alone

5. I Ain't Gonna Take It

6. Lonely

7. Don't Make Me Go

9. Ballad Of A Teenage Queen

10. Turn Me Loose

11. You're So Easy To Love

13. The Ways Of A Woman In Love

15. Ride On Josephine

16. Home Of The Blues

17. Tore Up

18. Little Bit More

19. You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven

21. Guess Things Happen That Way

22. Can't Get You Off Of My Mind

23. I Found Out

25. Shame, Shame, Shame

27. Too Much Monkey Business

28. Honey Hush

29. Good Rockin' Boogie

30. Roll Over Beethoven

31. I'm Coming Home

32. Shotgun Boogie

33. Honky Tonk Man

35. Ride On Josephine

x

Track List: Tomorrow Never Comes

1. Detour

2. Too Much Monkey Business

3. I Want To Be Loved

4. Will The Circle Be Unbroken

5. The Blues Come Around

6. Tomorrow Never Comes

7. Wipeout

8. Raining In My Heart

9. Poke Salad Annie

10. Take My Heart

11. Honey Hush

12. Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms

13. Sometimes

14. Low Down Dog

Comments

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Sleepy used to play in Amesbury Mass in the 70s and my dad became friendly with him. He would camp out in our back yard with the motor home and the whole band. I remember when he asked us to catch some bullfrogs out of the pond ,and he fried up the friog legs. Thatt was some fine southern cooking.
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He lit up the Bangor waterfront during the American Folk Festival this summer.
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royceben
Book Sleepy at the Museum Club in Flagstaff AZ, Man what a show it was.
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lexluthier49 1
Opened for him in the 90's in Detroit. Man did he smoke- broke an E string in the middle of a song and changed it without missing a beat- coolest thing I ever saw.
Report as inappropriate
Yeah, I can hear those Blues Bros. in the Lebeef...and maybe BR549, on a drunk night...
Report as inappropriate
Sleepy LaBeef was my first concert. Postville, IA sometime in the early/mid 70's.

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