Today, we’re hopping on that old gospel train with Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure.
Indeed, gospel is one of the many genres well served by Sleepy’s deep baritone.
“This Train” is credited here as being traditional, yet this version is an adaptation of the tune written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1938 — when she was just 23! — and recorded by her in 1939. It was a huge crossover hit, going from the gospel charts onto the pop charts. Another version, with slightly different lyrics by Woody Guthrie, dates to the late ’50s.
Sleepy arranged this version, which he recorded at Shook Shack in Nashville in 1980 in his earliest sessions for Rounder Records.
“This Train,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Rockabilly Blues,” 2001.
And speaking of Sister Rosetta Tharpe …
Friday, Jan. 11, has been proclaimed Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in Pennsylvania by no less than Gov. Ed Rendell. They’re having a benefit concert at the historic Keswick Theatre in Glenside, on Philadelphia’s northwest side, on Friday night.
(The Keswick looks like one of those great venues. This photo is by Debra Jane Seltzer, a wonderful photographer of roadside architecture.)
Tharpe, an Arkansas native, lived in Philadelphia for 15 years. She died in 1973 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia. Concert organizers hope to raise enough money to put up a memorial at her grave.
Among those performing Friday night: The Dixie Hummingbirds (who also are from Philly), Willa Ward with the Johnny Thompson Singers, Marie Knight, The Huff Singers, and Odetta.
Want to listen to Sister Rosetta’s version, recorded on Jan. 10, 1939, in New York? Click on the YouTube screen below. No video, but good sound.