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Cream Of The Crate Review #213: Sleepy LaBeef – Downhome Rockabilly

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cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Album cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

 These reviews are provided to help maintain a connection with various genres of popular music extending from the 1940’s through to present time.

 

 

 

"A living, breathing, guitar-picking history of American music.” - [New York Times Arts] .. .. .. "was known as a “human jukebox” for his seemingly limitless repertoire of songs." - [The Washington Post] .. .. .. "his extensive repertoire, delivered fast and loud and sung in his signature booming voice" - [RollingStone: Dec 2019]

This is album review number 213 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl LP’s and Cd’s, in my collection.

The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album from my collection that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 200+ reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

This is review features a giant of a man whose career in Rockabilly commenced in 1956 and continued through to just months before his his death in 2019.

He may not have been considered among the greats of the genre but he was a prolific and fabulous performer with an amazing catalogue of releases.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]
This is Downhome Rockabilly by Sleepy LaBeef.

Released on vinyl on the Sun label in 1979, it was a Golden Translucent Vinyl release with the catalogue number SUN 1014. It was also released on the Charly label in the UK as a re-release in 1980.

He was born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff on July 20, 1935 in Smackover, Arkansas and was universally known as “Sleepy LaBeef.

Stories told by him include that he remembered his mother singing “Corinna, Corinna” as she pushed the plow, and at his family’s United Pentecostal church.

It was here he met the guitar-playing Deacon Vernie McGee and Reverend E.F. Cannon, a fine singer. It was in the church that LaBeef first sang and played guitar.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
An early undated picture of Sleepy LaBeef – [CLICK to enlarge]
 

He soon began listening to Sister Rosetta Tharp, an African American guitar player and singer popular in the 1930s and ’40s whose gospel recordings combined spiritual lyrics with a signature rolling, rhythmic guitar.

In 1999, LaBeef told M.C. Records president Mark Carpentieri, “Everything I learned on the guitar was from Sister Rosetta.”

 

LaBeef found his home in modifications of her style style, later explaining, “I’ve always mixed it up…. I started out doing southern foot-stomping, hand-clapping gospel music. Then I would hear blues on blues stations.”

Adopting his schoolyard nickname, “Sleepy,” received as the result of a lazy eye, and changing his last name to LaBeef, he set out at 18 for Houston, where he sang gospel on the radio.

He put together a bar band that appeared on radio shows like the Houston Jamboree and Louisiana Hayride, a groundbreaking country and western radio barn dance.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Sleepy with unnamed musicians in 1957 – [CLICK to enlarge]
Sleepy began recording in 1957; but it was ”Every Day,” that made the Billboard country charts in 1968 as his first real hit.

 

He subsequently signed with famed Sun Records, the place where many famous blues, rockabilly and rock and roll artists first recorded, and continued to record and tour widely.

It was a time when the popularity of rockabilly artists was waning in the U.S. but rising in Europe. Like his rockabilly peers, Sleepy had acquired cult-like status with younger audiences internationally.

LaBeef developed a reputation for his marathon live shows, which could outlast the most energetic of dancers. Rather than write his own songs, LaBeef performed songs he’d “witnessed,” everything from rockabilly classics, to country weepers, to bluegrass and blues.

His music can best be described as covering everything From honky-tonk to country to bluegrass to pop and rockabilly.

This album is certainly slanted toward Rockabilly, although there are strong elements of other styles that come into play.

Track Listing:

A1 Boogie Woogie Country Girl
A2 Red Hot
A3 Jack & Jill Boogie
A4 Mystery Train
A5 Rock & Roll Ruby
A6 Blues Stay Away From Me

B1 Flying Saucers Rock & Roll
B2 Tore Up
B3 Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor
B4 Something On Your Mind
B5 Shotgun Boogie
B6 Big Boss Man

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Rear LP Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]
 

Sleepy LaBeef rolls through this slap-back, boppin’ album with typical heart and humor. It is said he had a thousand song repertoire and most certainly, a booming Baritone voice as you will hear.

Unfortunately there are no credits in regard to the supporting players, but the guitar work is mostly Sleepy, and it appears that while he played the lead on his live shows, until this album he was loath to use himself on recordings.  As you listen, you’ll wonder why he had concerns!

We’ll commence with Track #1, which is in my mind, the calling card of any album.

Boogie Woogie Country Girl was originally written and recorded by Big Joe Turner in 1956 and while it has some rock overtones, the piano intro slides us into a more uptempo R&B sound. Big Joes version is by far the best in that R&B genre, but, when Sleepy came along in 1979, he really rocked it up.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
[CLICK to enlarge]
 
 

There are indeed many fine covers but the versions by Big Joe and Sleepy are the superior versions.The track sets the scene that while Sleepy can play across many genre’s, this album is indeed going to be focussed around Rockabilly.

Boogie Woogie Country Girl

We stop straight away at Track #2Red Hot. This track was written and recorded by Billy “The Kid” Emerson in 1955. Billy was also signed to Sun, and the track Red Hot was a decent size hit for him.

Sleepy once again bumps the tempo right up and turns out a rock ‘n’ Rollicking great version, complete with the call and answer, that Billy used in his original.

However, Sleepy has the far superior voice and honestly, he makes the track his own.

My gal is red hot
(Your gal ain’t doodly-squat)
Yes, she is
My gal is red hot
(Your gal ain’t doodly-squat)
She ain’t got a lotta money
But, loving, she’s really got a lot
Ha ha
My gal is red hot
(Your gal ain’t doodly-squat)
Yes, she is
My gal is red hot
(Your gal ain’t doodly-squat)
She ain’t got a lotta money
But, loving, she’s really got a lot

(Say, man, I’ve got a girl with a whole lot of bread)
Yeah, I see you done let that go right to your head

My gal is red hot
(Your gal ain’t doodly-squat)
She ain’t got a lotta money
But, loving, she’s really got a lot

Check out the Chuck Berry style rocking guitar courtesy of Sleepy.

Red Hot

The next track on Side 1 to look at is Track # 5Rock & Roll Ruby.

Written by Johnny Cash it was first recorded by Warren Smith in 1956, and later by Johnny cash. As good a singer as Cash is, the Warren Smith version is better. His version is at the same tempo as Cash, and it is a laid back Rockabilly style by both of them.

Yet again, Sleepy just moves the tempo up a tad, but his backing is far superior to either Cash or Smith and if anything, his version is more “Country Rock”.

Guitarist Cliff Parker plays some fantastic guitar in this track.

 

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Cliff Parker – [CLICK to enlarge]
 

 

The final track on Side 1 is Track #6Blues Stay Away From Me.Written by the Delmore Brothers and Henry Glover and Wayne Raney it was originally released by the Delmore Brothers in 1949.

Since that time it has been re-recorded by at least 72 other artists and groups, including Sleepy LaBeef in 1979.

The track is full of feeling is is an outright Country track in this version. It is perfect for Sleepy’s voice and is a great example of his ability to seamlessly slip between music styles. It has a great piano middle eight!

Blues Stay Away From Me

Turning the LP over (try that with a CD!) and we come to Track #1Flying Saucers Rock & Roll.

Written by Billy Lee Riley, he released it in 1957. It was a novelty hit record “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll” by Billy Lee Riley and His Little Green Men.

We need to recall that the the USA was almost consumed by “UFO’itus” during this period we also had the Purple People Eater, The Thing, The Flying Sauce , all of which, then led into the 1960’s with forgettable tracks like Martian Hop and Flying Saucer II.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
[CLICK to enlarge]
So, here comes Sleepy in 1979, resurrecting a novelty record?
 
Ahhh . . . but! Sleepy takes it out of the strictly novelty style and injects some real rockabilly into it – so you might want to declare it’s a novelty Rockabilly track, but I’ll say it’s a great Rockabilly track.One thing Sleepy insisted on in his shows.
 
That they not just consist of tight, excellent music, but they have cleverly constructed good fun.
 
 

Flying Saucers Rock & Roll

I find myself in danger of reviewing every track, as there is not a weak track on this album.

However, I will stop at Track # 6. Big Boss Man. Written by Luther Dixon and Al Smith.

Big Boss Man is a blues song first recorded by Jimmy Reed in 1960. His is by far the outstanding blues version, of a track that has also been re-recorded many times.

The “Boss man” was the overseer on many a cotton farm, and also, in chain gangs. Both of these “ventures’ were almost exclusively made up of Afro-Americans.

In both cases the Boss Man was not known for his kindness or his concern for those he oversees, and, the lyrics tell the story, including making it clear, that the “singer/victim”, has about as much respect as could be put on the back of an ant!

Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
Well, you ain’t so big, you just tall, that’s all

Got me workin’, boss man
Workin’ ’round the clock
I want a little of drink of water
But you won’t let Jimmy stop

Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
Well, you ain’t so big, you just tall, that’s all

Well, I’m gonna get me a boss man
One gonna treat me right
Work hard in the daytime
Rest easy at night

Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
Well, you ain’t so big, you just tall, that’s all

It is a great track for Sleepy, whose “booming baritone” fits the song perfectly.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Sleepy: 1987 – [CLICK to enlarge]
 

I have to admit that I think the Jimmy Reed version is superior in every way – but as far as a Rockin’ version goes, Sleepy delivers! 

So it is that the Big Boss – Sleepy LaBeef finishes the album with track that reminds us, that while his name may not be as well known as Elvis, as Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and the like, he deserves a hell of a lot of accolades for his fabulous renditions of classic blues, country, Rockabilly and even novelty tracks.

Big Boss Man

Like many of his contemporaries, his popularity was on the rise in Europe during the 70’s in particular and he toured regularly in Europe.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
Sleepy in the UK sometime in the 70’s: exact date unknown – [CLICK to enlarge]
 
 

In fact he performed at many music festivals both in Europe and the US. His last performance was in September 2019.

He had heart bypass surgery in 2003 and died at his home in Siloam Springs, Arkansas on December 26, 2019.

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

There are some 30 SleepyLaBeef albums released between 1974 and 2012 [not too mention 16 singles released between 1957 and 1969].

So, is it the best? I really don’t know the answer to that question, and it may very well be not. However, if you want some fantastic rockabilly you can’t go past this album.

And  it’s not expensive!

I found about a dozen copies of this translucent album on Discogs for as little as $30Au up to around $60Au – which included freight.

 

cream of the crate review #213: sleepy labeef – downhome rockabilly

 

 


VIDEOS:

Sadly there are no clips of Sleepy from his early years, but the on’e available are still rock ‘n’ Rollicking good.

Corine Corina Good Rockin’ Boogie – [1979]

 

Sun Records medley with JAMES BURTON and Sleepy

 

Medley


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 151 – 200 just click the image below –

cream of the crate: album reviews #151 – 200