August 2, 2018 by Mike Madden
Reading Wakes Up To Sleepy
This article was written based on a telephone interview with Sleepy LaBeef. It was used to promote his appearance at the Rockers Reunion in Reading in January 2009 and appeared in the Reading Evening Chronicle.
American Rock And Roll Legend Sleepy LaBeef Set To Rock The Reunion
Legend is a term that is used far too easily these days, particular when it is applied to members of the music industry. Sleepy LaBeef, however, is one artist who definitely deserves the accolade. He has shared a stage with many of the greats of rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry and many more, and after a career spanning six decades, he is still enthusiastic about the music that he so obviously loves.
Born in Smackover in Arkansas, Sleepy was the youngest of ten children. He acquired the nickname “Sleepy” as early as the first grade in school, and it has stuck with him ever since. Sleepy developed a love of music at a young age, influenced by country music and gospel singers such as Red Foley, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Sleepy moved to Texas in 1953, at a time when record labels signed up their artists and put shows on at venues such as the Houston Jamboree and the magnificent outdoor Magnolia Gardens. This was where his musical career really began, and Sleepy recalls how important these events were. “Back in those days not many people had tv, but the radio was very big, and the live shows were the only place to see the stars”, emphasising the difference between then and now.
He has featured regularly in the Billboard top 100 chart, without attaining the success of a top ten hit, but that does not deter him. The one regret of his career is that he never got to perform with Eddie Cochran. He has also starred in a movie, the 1968 feature “The Exotic Ones”, in which he played “the swamp thing”. With typical humility he explained how that came to be. “I had a few friends that were involved and they said they were looking for a big ugly guy to play a swamp monster, so I auditioned and I got the part. Now though it only ever plays at Halloween to scare people”, and that is unlikely to be the end of his career in film. For the past two years he has been followed by a film crew who are working on his biography. The project is at the editing stage and should be released within the next few months.
He still keeps in touch with many of the old rock and roll stars, and he recently played at a tribute concert for Jerry Lee Lewis. In January 2009 he will make an appearance at a Rockers Reunion concert in Reading, whilst in September he played a similar event in Somerset and in May 2009 he will be appearing in Norfolk, but he has no plans for a UK tour. He explained his appearances thus, “Every time we get asked we try to fit in with people who love the music. If we get asked to do other shows whilst we are over there we’ll try to do that too.” Coming all this way for one show could cause problems for some artists, but not Sleepy. “Sometimes we bring our own musicians and sometimes we use home town ones.”
His shows are a unique experience, largely spontaneous, and he describes how he puts them together. “If I get a good bass man and a good drummer, and sometimes I’ll add a good piano player, we will start with one of my old favourites like ‘Good Rockin’ Boogie’ and just see where it goes”. With a repertoire of over six thousand songs, and a nickname of “The Human Jukebox”, you would certainly have to be an accomplished musician to keep up with him, and he admits to learning more all the time. “I haven’t learnt anything new for four or five months, and I don’t really need to, but if I hear something that I like then I’ll just pick it up”.
Sleepy has an ever growing family of his own now, with a wife, four daughters, a son, and “about five grandchildren” a phrase said with huge affection that shows just where his priorities lie, in fact I’m sure he looks forward to the day when he has “about ten grandchildren”, or even more. His daughter Jessie Mae has written and recorded a song with his wife Linda entitled “The Open Door”, that features on his latest release “Sleepy LaBeef: Roots”. Sleepy believes that this album should have been called “Bare Roots” as it really does go back to his beginnings.
There is precious little information about Sleepy on the ubiquitous internet, and in fact when I asked him about the twenty cups of coffee that he allegedly drinks every day he denied it. “It’s only about fifteen, and they are mostly half cups. And I prefer Maxwell House”, so rather than rely on electronic snippets I recommend that you go to see this giant of the Rock and Roll world perform live, and long may the Good Rockin’ continue. For more information on past and forthcoming releases, concert dates, etc. visit www.sleepylabeef.com. Sleepy LaBeef will be playing at the Rockers Reunion concert at the Rivermead Leisure Complex in Reading on Saturday 17th January 2009.