Sleepy LaBeef “Rockabilly Man” Dies At Home Dec. 26, 2019
Thomas Paulsley LaBeef, Rockabilly Man Dies at 84
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 stands 6.5 ft (2.0 m) tall.
The following are some tributes posted on social media to honor the life and the legacy of the Great Sleepy LaBeef.
Linda LaBeef and Entire Family: It is with deep, agonizing sadness that we inform you of the news that this morning, Sleepy LaBeef, born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff, passed on from this life to be with the Lord. He died at home, in his own bed, surrounded by his family who loved him, and whom he dearly loved. He lived a full and vibrant life, filled with the excitement of much travel and experience, the contentment that came from being able to spend his life doing what he loved best, and the fulfilling love of his wife, children, and grandchildren around him. We loved him, love him, and will always love him, and will cherish the memories of the time we were blessed to be given with him in this life. We thank you for your love and support for Sleepy throughout the years, and during this very difficult time. – With all our love.
Pete Djpj Paraskevas: The news is spreading. Sleepy LaBeef has passed away. I had the pleasure to meet and work with him a few times in Portland, Maine. Great guy, great musician, biggest one I know of. An upright bass looked like a violin in his hands. May your memories be eternal.
Matthew Mcghee: Rock And Roll Sleepy!! Simon Chardiet Scott Kitchen Glenn Healy and your band blew up the Continental D ! I spent the entire weekend there, probably should have just slept there but Roger would have thrown my ass out 🙂 Sleepy WAS a human jukebox..
Tracy Moon: So sorry to hear about the loss of a great man he was a great singer and musician
Janne Smeds A true Gentleman has gone to heaven. He won’t be forgotten… RIP
Deke Dickerson: I woke up to the news that rockabilly great Sleepy LaBeef just passed away, and saw that just about every one of my friends and colleagues had a story about the guy. We all got to spend so much time with him over the years, myself included, and we’re all richer because of it. Sleepy was one of the original 50’s rockabillies, he made excellent records for Starday, Mercury, Dixie, and Wayside. In a way he was one of the first “50’s revivalists,” cutting greasy rock and roll records all through the British Invasion years of the mid-60’s, but the truth was that Sleepy existed in a Gulf Coast world of rough bars and sleazy dives where the hard driving 50’s rock and roll mixed with classic country never went away. Sleepy was HUGE.
Frans Maritz AirplayExpress: Being from South Africa I only discovered Sleepy LaBeef a year or two ago while searchin’ the Internet for a newer version of “Staggerlee”. I did find many but they were either badly recorded, badly sung. I am not saying they were all bad as some were pretty good and some were just too clean if you know what I mean. Then just as I was about to give up, I clicked on a version by “Sleepy LaBeef” not knowing what to expect as I had never heard of him before. Well it took about 10 seconds for me to realized I had not just found me the best version of ‘Staggerlee” I had ever heard, but I also found me a great singer and just like that I was a fan of the great “Sleepy LaBeef”. Today I am also very saddened to hear that he has passed away, I will make a place in my musical heart for him right next to Elvis Presley and George Jones. Thank you for the music “Sleepy LaBeef” I wish I had known of you earlier or even personally you are a legend in my Musical World.
Deke Dickerson Continued:I Sleep was Huge, always referred to him as a ‘Man-Mountain,’ and I always found it comical when I loaned him a guitar or upright bass and it looked like a ukulele or a toothpick on his large frame. His girth enabled him to portray “The Swamp Thing” (a large, semi-naked caveman/wildman character) in the 1968 exploitation film “The Exotic Ones,” a memorable film moment, if you’ve ever had the good fortune to screen that particular gem. In the 70’s, Sleepy got signed by the new Shelby Singleton-owned Sun label and then the Boston-based Rounder Records, and he began working the Rockabilly revival and Teddy Boy circuit in England and Europe.
He became known as “The Human Jukebox” because he seemed to know every song ever written, and sometimes his shows would consist of him performing for 3 or 4 hours straight, no breaks, with short-and-long term band members holding on for dear life, often not knowing the songs as Sleepy plowed through them like a mule plowing through hard and rocky Arkansas farmland. Sleepy kept going and going and that’s where we met him, in the early 1990s, playing in Los Angeles at the Blue Saloon in North Hollywood. At that time, we didn’t back him up but we got to know him and appreciate him for what a great and unique character he was. He had a deep bass voice that could rattle the foundation loose from a building! He fired a band member for secretly listening to a heavy metal cassette! He kept playing past last call and finally had to have the electricity turned off to stop him from playing! He would buy junk on the road to sell at the flea market back home in Arkansas until there was barely any room left for the band in the back of the van! Eventually we got to play with him. Once around 1994 or 1995 at a gig in San Francisco, my group the Dave and Deke Combo were opening for Sleepy, and he was watching our set. We launched into “Cherokee Boogie,” an old Moon Mullican tune, and Sleepy got so excited he jumped up on stage, took the bass out of Shorty‘s hand (or was it Lloyd?), and played bass with us on the number (he was a great upright bass player, but the bass looked like he was slapping a child’s cello). I backed up Sleepy at one of the Green Bay rockabilly festivals in the early 2000s, and when his string broke he finished the set playing my guitar. I still savor the memory of how tiny my guitar looked on him. We crossed paths and played on the same bill dozens of times, and I was always overjoyed when I heard his basso profundo voice chime out “HEY DEKE” backstage or wherever we happened to see each other.
The last time I got to back up Sleepy was at the Rockabilly Rave in England in 2010. Sleepy was supposed to play with a European band, who had learned all of his 50’s rockabilly songs, but didn’t realize that 95% of Sleepy’s set consisted of ‘The Great American Songbook.’ Which meant you had to go into the gig knowing about 10,000 songs of all genres–it might be rock and roll, it might be country, it might be blues, it might be gospel, it might be an old pop standard. Sleepy rehearsed with the European band and decided he didn’t want to play with them. Jerry Chatabox summoned me and luckily I was prepared, at that particular Rockabilly Rave I had the best rhythm section you could get–Beau Sample on bass and Alex Hall on drums, from the Modern Sounds. I’ll never forget the show, Sleepy went into every song and style imaginable, and we knew all the songs. He was pleased and had a big smile on his face the whole time. It might have marked the only time in my career where I played a medley of “Bo Diddley” into “Amazing Grace.” I never got a chance to back up Sleepy after that, and I knew he had a bout of very bad health problems a few years ago. I was overjoyed to run into a much older and much slimmer Sleepy backstage at Viva Las Vegas a couple years ago, where he greeted me with a “Hey, ol’ Deke!” We all got to know him and love him, and he gave us so much great music over the years. RIP Sleepy, thank you for all the great memories–you truly were a giant.
Through Your Music, Your Family, Friends and Fans
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