Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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LaBEEF, Sleepy

(b Thomas Paulsley LaBeff, 20 July '35, Smackover AR) Rockabilly guitarist and deep-voiced singer, probably the only rockabilly basso profundo. Family name originally LaBoeuf; he was the last of ten children in a farming family, got nickname at school because of droopy eyelids. Sang in church, heard hillbilly music and R&B on the radio, traded a rifle for a guitar at 14 and was one of those not astonished by Elvis Presley: '...I knew exactly where he was coming from'. Went to Houston, later Nashville, working as a surveyor, singing informally in gospel groups; made records of current hits for Pappy Daily, who sold them over the radio; recorded for Daily's Starday label '56--8, Columbia '59, smaller labels. Made lower reaches of Billboard country chart with 'Every Day' '68 on Columbia, 'Black Land Farmer' '71 on Shelby Singleton's Plantation label; he was the only performer left on Sun when Singleton bought it from Sam Phillips. A seasoned performer who can throw anything from Muddy Waters to straight country into a set and never leaves the audience dissatisfied, he never got much promotion or luck but is widely appreciated in Europe. Good profile in Peter Guralnick's Lost Highway '79. He was an impressive guest on Hank Wangford's A To Z Of Country Music on UK Channel 4 TV '87. Albums: Bull's Night Out, Downhome Rockabilly and Western Gold on Sun, then excellent It Ain't What You Eat It's The Way How You Chew It '80 (with old friends like drummer D. J. Fontana, pianist Earl Poole Ball on some tracks) and Electricity '82, then live Nothin' But The Truth '87, made at his regular venue, Harpers Ferry in Allston MA, flawed by too many similar tempos and his voice too far back in the mix. Strange Things Happening '94 followed by I'll Never Lay My Guitar Down '96, all on Rounder.