At 6'6" and 250 pounds, with more than 43 years in the music business, Sleepy LaBeef is figuratively and literally a rock-a-billy giant. A man of immense musical talent, the legendary LaBeef has never achieved the level of stardom that one might expect. LaBeef (born Thomas P. LaBeff in 1935) was born in Smackover, Arkansas; toiled for years in the Houston music scene while working days for the Texas Highway Department; and now makes his home in Massachusetts. Today, Sleepy LaBeef continues to perform his stream-of-consciousness, multi-genre music for audiences across the United States and overseas.
On Tuesday night at Lee's Liquor Lounge on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, LaBeef entertained the large mid-week crowd with a torrent of guitar-driven tunes, offering tastes of blues, gospel, country, bluegrass, rock and rock-a-billy. Imagine hearing a combination tunes in a single set that included, "Bo Diddley's A Gunslinger," "Who Do You Love," "White Lightnin'," "Fulsom Prison Blues," Sea Cruise," "Polk Salad Annie," Tennessee Waltz" and "When The Saints Go Marchin' In," performed in rapid succession and demonstrating LaBeef's "stream-of-consciousness" performing style.
Backed by a strong group of musicians including David Hughes on keyboards, Jerry Cavanaugh on drums/harmonica and "Gator" on bass; LaBeef provided a versatile guitar and most of the vocals in his rich baritone voice. At various times during the evening, each member of the band took a turn soloing, with Hughes and Cavanaugh taking a turn on lead vocals as well. The crowd was in particularly fine form too, keeping the dance floor crowded throughout the evening with twisting, turning and swinging dancers everywhere. As might be expected from LaBeef's varied repertoire, the audience was made up of an equally varied mix of ages and backgrounds who all seemed equally enthralled by the performance.
Sleepy LaBeef is a gentle giant and an enormous talent who put on a remarkable show at Lee's. He is a quiet, deliberate man, but one who shows his true fire and passion through his music. It is nice to know that someone of Sleepy LaBeef's stature can be found on any given night, playing in some smokey bar, keeping the sounds of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley alive for generations of fans who may have never seen these musical giants at the height of their glory. Believe me, it is a show worth seeing, wherever and whenever it may occur.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.