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Sleepy LaBeef
Born:  July 20, 1935
Died:  December 26, 2019
KWKH Louisiana Hayride

About The Artist

Sleepy LaBeef is the stage name of Thomas Paulsley LaBeff (born July 20, 1935), an American rockabilly musician.

Sleepy LaBeef was born in Smackover, Arkansas, the youngest of 10 children, he was raised on a melon farm. He received the nickname "Sleepy" as the result of a lazy eye.

He moved to Houston, Texas, when he was 18. There, he sang gospel music on local radio and put together a bar band to play venues as well as radio programs such as the Houston Jamboree and Louisiana Hayride.

LaBeef had a stage presence; he stood 6'6" foot tall. He began performing in the 1950's and kept doing so through the decades up until his death in 2019.

Career: 1950's

In the 1950's, as the rockabilly component of rock and roll became evident, LaBeef began recording singles in the genre; his first, "I'm Through", was issued on Starday Records in 1957.

Promo Ad - Tibby Edwards, Sonny Collins, Sleepy Labeff - St. Martinsville, LA - 1957 Promo Ad - Sleepy Labeff, Jack Barlow - Moline, IL - June 1967

Career: 1960's

In 1964, he moved to Nashville and moved to a more solidly country style, recording singles for Columbia Records. His first genuine hit was 1968's "Every Day", which peaked at No. 73 on the U.S. Billboard Country charts.

After moving to Plantation Records in 1969, he scored a second hit in 1971 with "Blackland Farmer", which charted at No. 67.

Sleepy LaBeef as the Swamp Thing - 1968 Around this time LaBeef also starred in the horror movie The Exotic Ones. The Tennessean wrote a description of the story line in March of 1969. "A wild-man murderer, caged as a nighclub attraction, rips up the scene, in a Nashville-made melodrama loosely based on the old "King Kong" myth. Starring Sleepy LaBeef, Georgette Dante, Gordon Terry, Ron Ormond, June Ormond, Cecil Scaife, Donna Raye, Gene McFall, Tim Ormond, Ed Moates, Chuck Howard and Lynn Fontaine.

The poster for the movie features Sleepy as the 'monster' that does all these bad things. He's part creature and turned into a nightclub attraction in a cage. But escapes and well, the violence seen in clips on youtube are not what you watch in family time television.

But research found more details about the cast in the movie in an Athens Alabama newspaper because a local named Dean Turner was in the movie. The article begins,

Four men cautiously walk through the Louisiana swamp in search of the dreaded and deadly monster of the bayou. The swamp beast has killed the last two search parties and the weather is miserably humid and the swamp creates are far from being friendly.

As the four men approach a small stream they are attacked by the giant red monster. Only two escape.

Sleepy LaBeef as the Swamp Thing - 1968 The two survivors were Dale Turner (Stud) and Cecil Scafe (Coke), a public relations executive. The monster in the movie is played by Sleepy LaBeef, known as a country music star at the time. Somehow the 'Swamp Thing' was captured and taken to New Orleans where he is put on display in a ... strip joint. Whe the monster's favorite stripper gets into a fight with another stripper, he breaks out and the attacks begin.

At that time, Nashville was seeing a growing trend of movie making. The distributor, writer, producer and distributor of the horror film was Ron Ormond of the Ormond Organization in Nashville. Two other movie companies in Nashville at the time were Marathon Productions and Ambassador Films.

The fledgling industry used local union members for set, lighting, sound and cameramen.

Sleepy LaBeef as the Swamp Thing - 1968 Dean Turner had appeared as a sheriff's deputy in three of Ormond's previous films. He was a sales representative for Air Products Construction Equipment Co. and did movie roles in his spare time. Because most of the cast had regular daytime jobs, filming took place between 3:30pm and 11:00pm.

Gordon Terry had a leading role in the movie. The head of the makeup department in the movie was a country and western child star was then a mother, Rita Faye. Set artist was Bill Gernert, an interior decorator and free lance artist and played "Bobo The Clown" on Nashville television. Sid O'Berry, the cameraman, was head of medical photography at Vanderbilt Hospital. The make-up technician for the movie was Rodger Richmond who was actually a law student at Vanderbilt University.

It was stated that the completed movie would cost five times less than a Hollywood production. Watching the movie trailer on youtube, one might see the impact of that reduced cost on the quality.

Promo Ad - Lakeview Club - Bryan TX - Sleepy LaBeef - 1968 Promo Ad - Museum Club - Flagstaff AZ - Sleepy LaBeef - 1969
Promo Ad - Crazy Horse Saloon - Indianapolis IN - Sleepy LaBeef - 1968 Promo Ad - Wisk-A-Go-Go - Mason City IA - Sleepy LaBeef - 1969

Career: 1970's

Promo Ad - Cow Palace - Colorado Springs CO - Sleepy LaBeef - 1972 Promo Ad - Western Room of The Embers - Nashville TN - Sleepy LaBeef - 1971

Every Day - Columbia 4-44445 - Sleepy LaBeef - 1968 Blackland Farmer - Plantation Records - PL-74 - 1971

LaBeef transferred to Sun Records in the 1970s and continued releasing albums and touring widely; his popularity flagged in America but rose in Europe.

However, he suffered a setback in late 1976 and was stranded in Maine when his van burned up. A benefit was held on his behalf at Indian Ranch on Route 16 in Webster, MA on May 30, 1977. Admission was $3.00. Among the performers who appeared were Bob Riley, Dave Dudley, Dick Curless, Tina Welch, Edna Jean, Johnny White and Bella Lee.

Sleepy LaBeef was making a week long visit at Hillbilly Ranch when Steve Morse told readers that Sleepy's latest single was "Good Rockin' Boogie" (a reworking of "Good Rockin' Tonight") was Number 2 on the rock charts in London and he was invited to England to appear at the Wembley Festival in the spring of 1979.

He gave up smoking one summer that made his bass voice more malleable and could "blow Bruce Springsteen ino the next county." Mr. Morse further wrote:

...no one can play rhythm guitar with as much brute power as he can. His thick triangular pick storms over the strings, and yet he can also fingerpick intricate leads like James Burton. His Jerry Lee style piano and Cajun fiddle are also something else again and had band members Clete Chapman, Hal Higgins and Skip King staring at one another.

Career: 1980's

The 1980's saw him sign to Rounder Records, where he released albums into the 1990's.

Promo Ad - Dutchess Outpost - Port Huron MI - Sleepy LaBeef - 1981 Promo Ad - Mister McNasty's - Boston MA - Sleepy LaBeef - 1981

Career: 1990's

Sleepy kept on going on tours and doing personal appearances and research shows that he would often get a good write-up in a newspaper when he came to town. One such instance was for an appearance at Mudbuggs in Tucson, Arizona in June of 1990. Pam Parish wrote, "The 'Beef is back.' Sleepy LaBeef, of the rumbling bass voice and rowdy rockabilly licks, will return to Tucson for a show..." She noted that Sleepy's appearance at the El Casino Ballroom a couple years prior had a 'sweat factor' of 10.5 (on a scale of 10) and it wasn't just because of the relative lack of fresh air. She said his band turned out some "hot, hot music that is impossible not to dance to."

In 1995, Geoff Gehman wrote of Sleepy before his upcoming appearance in Easton, PA in glowing terms.

Sleepy LaBeef has windowshade eyelids, a voice as massive as a train whistle in a cave, a playlist deeper than threescore jukeboxes, and a distinguished place among rockabilly royalty. Thanks to a growing respect for unsung American musical heroes, he's becoming more than a footnote to a history he helped write."
And that was just the first paragraph of the article!

He went on,

Five decades have passed and LaBeef still preaches that rockabilly is nothing more than gospel slap-bassed, snare-shot and all-shook-up. What are Jerry Lee Lewis' right-hand flurries but accelerations of Sister Rosetta's casually bluesy guitar? What were Elvis' gyrations but a secular version of the shakes of an Assembly of God minister?

For a time, Sleepy toured with a group that called themselves The Memphis Sound. The group consisted of Sleepy LaBeef, Sonny Burgess, D. J. Fontana, Stan Kessler, Jeff Little and Scotty Anderson.

A promotional blurb about Sleepy's appearance the Rialto Cabaret in Tucson in early 1997 told readers, "Close your eyes, slip into a rockabilly trance and let Sleepy LaBeef's amazing baritone transport you back to the mossy swamps of south Arkansas."

Promo Ad - Bridge Hotel Rozelle - Paddington RSL Club - Balmain Leagues Club - Sydney Australia - Sleepy LaBeef - 1990 Promo Ad - Stebs - Waterloo IA - Sleepy LaBeef - 1994

Career: 2000 to 2019

Album Cover - M. C. Records - Tomorrow Never Comes - Sleepy LaBeef - 2000 Promo Ad - Harmony Bar and Grill - Madison WI - Sleepy LaBeef - 2000

A promotional blurb for an appearance at Lee's Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis provides this description: "Sleepy LaBeef barrels through song after familiar song with the engery of a teenage sock-hopper and the basso profundo voice of an opera villian. LaBeef can serve up deeper tones than Johnny Cash, Barry White, Isacc Hayes, Tony Joe White or just about any other lownote studly male singer you can name. And his guitar wrangling is just as formidable, whether the fare's a Johnny Horton honky-tonk classic, a rockin' Chuck Berry perennial, a blues blast, a hard country weeper or a frenzied slice of original LaBeef."

Peter North wrote of this Sleepy's penchant for not really being typecast into a genre. He was at the Labatt Blues Fesitval in Harelak Park in 2001. The audience raised their eyebrows a bit during his 30-minute performance. He would go from Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Carl Perkins and Hank Williams. The blues festival producer noted that Sleepy would have been better suited to the Big Valley Jamboree. Sleepy could go from tunes by Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Otis Blackwell then to Bill Monroe then to Chuck Berry and then back to Ernest Tubb in the space of seven or eight minutes.

"A great song is a great song, period. Sleepy told them after the festival in 2001.

He was still singing and doing appearances in the mid-2015's. Allen Abel caught him in concert. It was a fancy restaurant named the Hamilton he wrote, across the street from the U.S. Treasury. He said Sleepy was 'rocking the old trucker's lament Six Days On the Road in a shiny suit in a downtown cellar. He wrote that LaBeef's voice "... is a sack of burlap, his pace so frantic that it makes me think there must be a taxi outside with its meter running." It was a two night stand for Sleepy who was backed by a smooth jazz band from Baltimore. It was Saturday night for Mr. Abel, his 65th birthday; country for old men.

It is well documented that Sleepy was known as the "human jukebox" and claimed he knew over 6,000 songs. He once said all he had to do was hear a record twice on the jukebox and he would have it down.

Mr. Abel provided readers with some of the varied tunes he enjoyed that night. Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", Big Joe Turner's "Boogie Woogie Country Girl", Bob Wills' "Stay A Little Longer", Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine". Sleepy told the audience after he had done about a dozen up tempo rockers in a row, "If you don't watch it, I'll think of four or five more." Sleepy went on to sing other tunes like "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms", "Tore Up", "Bright Lights, Big City", "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down", Chuck Berry's "Little Sixteen" and "Johnny B. Goode", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". Sleepy would be on an airplane at 7:00am Sunday morning going back to Springdale, Arkansas to play with his grandkids and wait with his wife for the phone to ring for a potential next gig. His wife Linda was also his booking agent.

Mr. Abel asked him backstage that night, "How long will you rock on?" Sleepy replied, "Maybe another 20. I don't see the fires burning low yet."

He then asked Sleepy, "Does it bother you that you never made the really big, big time?" Sleepy responed in that deep Smackover voice as Mr. Abel described it, "I don't have all the hit records in the world. But I was there."

The folks in Boston seemed to consider then one of their own as he lived in the area for a time and would often do appearances. One such appearance was on his 80th birthday in 2015 at Johnny D's in Somerville.

In January of 2016, the Boston Globe wrote "It seems like this original rockabilly has been playing Johnny D's for as long as the club as been around, so it only makes sense that he'd stop by one more time before the doors close for good."

2013 Nashville Film Festival - Seth, Sleepy LaBeef, Dave Pomeroy

On Stage - Dave Pomeroy, Sleepy LaBeef

Family

Sleepy married the former Louise Barwick in Clairborne, Louisiana on January 9, 1954. They divorced in March 1967.

On November 14, 1978, he married the former Linda S. Cerny in Texas.

Sleepy's father was Charles Aylmer Labeff. On September 23, 1917 he married the former Clara Wilson (Born: August 31, 1899; Died: August 26, 1932). She passed away in Smackover, Arkansas. Around February 1934, Charley married Jessie Graves Bridges (Born: March 4, 1897; Died: December 29, 1977). She had previously married Jacob Bridges in September of 1917.

Sleepy passed away on December 26, 2019 and is at rest in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

His siblings were:

  • Ella May Labeff
  • Addie May Labeff
  • Otis Labeff
  • Charlie Labeff
  • Jane Labeff
  • June Labeff
  • Louise Labeff
  • Helen Bridges
  • Corine Bridges
  • Thomas Labeff

Sleepy LaBeef - Onstage - Date Unknown

Sleepy LaBeef - M. C. Records Promo Photo - 2000

Credits & Sources

  • Sleepy LaBeef: Life On the Rockabilly Highway; December 11, 1983; The Boston Globe Magazine; Boston, MA
  • Sleepy LaBeef will wake all souls who dare to show up at Mudbuggs; Pam Parrish; June 15, 1990; The Arizona Daily Star; Tucscon, AZ
  • Rockabilly royalty to reign in Easton; Geoff Gehman; December 1, 1995; The Morning Call; Allentown, PA
  • Country For Old Men; Allen Abel; February 7, 2015; The Windsor Star; Windsor, ON
  • Folk & World - Sleepy LaBeef; June 18, 2015; The Boston Globe; Boston, MA
  • Sleepy LaBeef; January 28, 2016; The Boston Globe; Boston, MA
  • Sleepy LaBeef doesn't get hung up on genre — neither do his fans; Peter North; July 23, 2002; The Edmonton Journal; Edmonton, AB
  • Wednesday: Sleepy LaBeef; February 13, 1997; The Tuscon Citizen; Tucson, AZ
  • Blues/Roots: 100% Grade A Prime; January 7, 2000; The Star-Tribune; Minneapolis, MN
  • The Beat Is Back: Performers combine abilities for rockabilly revue; Jeffrey Lee Puckett; December 15, 1995; The Courier-Journal; Louisville, KY
  • Sleepy LaBeef Benefit; May 26, 1977; The Boston Globe; Boston, MA
  • Full Power Rockabilly From Sleepy LaBeef; Steve Morse; September 19, 1978; The Boston Globe; Boston, MA
  • Athenian Plays Role Deputy In New Movie; Barry Hooie; March 28, 1968; Athens Alabama Courier; Athens, AL

Sound Sample—(YouTube Video Format)


A Conversation With Sleepy LaBeef

Sound Sample—(YouTube Video Format)


Blackland Farmer

Appearance History This Month

September 12, 1969
Dance
Diamond Entertainment Center
Oklahoma City, OK
Sleepy LaBeef

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Buy this Book
Lost Highway
Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians
By Peter Guarlnick
Little, Brown and Company
1979
364 Pages
ISBN:  0-316-33274-7
 

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

 
AUVI (Spain)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  S1CH141 A Sick And Tired
  S1CH141 B Detour
 
Barsa Promocion (Spain)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  S-19 A She's Gone, Gone, Gone
 
Charly
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  10-34 A Good Rockin' Boogie
  10-34 B Corine, Corina
 
Charly (Spain)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  10-2035 A Roll Over Beethoven
  10-2035 B Send Me Some Lovin'
  10-2043 A Hello Josephine
  10-2043 B Hey, Good Lookin'
  S1CH7 A Rock And Roll Ruby
  S1CH7 B Something On Your Mind
 
Charly (UK)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  CYS 1049 A Roll Over Beethoven
  CYS 1049 B Send Me Some Lovin'
 
Columbia
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4-43452 A You Can?t Catch Me
  4-43452 B Everybody?s Got To Have Somebody (To Love)
  4-43709 A A Man In My Position
  4-43709 B Drinking Again
  4-43875 A I?m Too Broke (To Pay Attention)
  4-43875 B I Feel A Lot More Like I Do Now
  4-44068 A Sure Beats The Heck Out Of Settlin' Down
  4-44068 B Schneider
  4-44261 A Completely Destroyed
  4-44261 B Go Ahead On Baby
  4-44455 A If I Go Right I'm Wrong
  4-44455 B Every Day
 
Crescent Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  102 A Ridin' Fence
  102 A Turn Me Loose (w/His Versatiles)
  102 B Turn Me Loose
  102 B Ridin? Fence (w/His Versatiles)
 
Dixie
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  45-529-A A You're So Easy To Love
  45-529-A A I Wish I Was The Moon
  45-530-B B Ballad Of A Teenage Queen (as Sleepy La Beff)
  45-533-A A Guess Things Happen That Way (as Sleepy La Beff)
  45-536B A Ballad Of A Teenage Queen
 
Festival
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  FK-3708 A Too Much Monkey Business
  FK-3708 B Got You On My Mind
 
Finn Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1690 A Drink Up And Go Home
  1690 B Teardrops On A Rose
 
Gold Star
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  (None) A Baby Let's Play House
  (None) B Don't Make Me Go
 
Gulf
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  G-62760 A Found Out (as Sleepy La Beff)
  G-62760 B Can?t Get You Out Of My Mind (as Sleepy La Beff)
 
Mag (Peru)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4093 A Hello Josephine
  4093 B Hey, Good Lookin'
 
Mercury / Starday
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  71112 A I?m Through
  71112 B All Alone
  71179 A All The Time
  71179 B Lonely
 
Picture Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1937 A Ride On Josephine
  1937 B Lonely
 
Plantation
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  PL-66 A Asphalt Cowboy
  PL-66 B Got You On My Mind
  PL-74 A Got You On My Mind
  PL-74 B Blackland Farmer
 
Rounder Records
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4542 A Breaking Up My Home Again
  4542 B Wonderful Time Up There
  4544 A Shake A Hand
  4544 B I Got It
 
Starday
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  292 A I'm Through
  292 B All Alone
 
Sun
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  SI-1132 A Thunder Road
  SI-1132 B Hundred Pounds Of Lovin'
  SI-1133 A Ghost Riders In The Sky
  SI-1133 B There Ain't Much After Taxes
  SI-1134 A There Ain't Much After Taxes
  SI-1134 B Hundred Pounds Of Lovin'
  SI-1137 A Good Rockin' Boogie
  SI-1137 B Mathilda
  SI-1145 A Boogie Woogie Country Girl
  SI-1145 B Flying Saucers Rock and Roll
 
Wayside
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1651 A Ride On Josephine (w/His Versatiles)
  1652 B Walkin? Slowly (w/His Versatiles)
  1653 B Lonely (w/His Versatiles)
  1654 A Tore Up (w/His Versatiles)


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