Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, is back out on the road.
Come Thursday and Saturday night, he’ll be playing one of America’s classic venues — the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa — at an event that’s part ’50s music revival and part Buddy Holly tribute.
The Surf was the last place Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper played, on Feb. 2, 1959, the night before the plane crash that took their lives.
I’m delighted to say the Surf is alive and well, still hosting shows.
As is the Riverside Ballroom right here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Riverside was the second-to-last place Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper played on that Winter Dance Party tour, on Feb. 1, 1959. A similar tribute event was held there on Friday night.
Sleepy didn’t play here on Friday night, but Tommy Allsup did. He was one of Holly’s new backing guitarists at those gigs in early February 1959. So was a guy named Waylon Jennings.
Allsup was bumped from the plane when he lost a coin flip with Valens. Jennings was bumped from the plane by the Big Bopper, who wanted to fly because he was getting over an illness.
However, a young Sleepy did play shows with Holly back in the late ’50s. Here’s what he had to say about it in a 1996 interview with David Walsh:
“Well, in the ’50s I was fortunate enough to be on many of the shows. There were several of us starting out of Houston. There was George Jones, Tommy Sands, Sonny Burns; Roy Orbison was on a lot of those old shows.
“We would go in and open the show, for Elvis. We’d just kill an hour, of course we had fun doing it. We’d get to do maybe three or four songs each. And then, the main attraction, Elvis, would come on. But I had the opportunity to play with all sorts of people when the music began to get hot back then. I worked shows with Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry.”
Both Sleepy and Buddy Holly covered today’s tune, which was written by Slim Harpo. It was the first cut on “The Buddy Holly Story,” a compilation album quickly released by Coral Records in March 1959 in the wake of Holly’s death.
“Raining In My Heart,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “The Human Jukebox,” a 1995 compilation. This was recorded at Singleton Sound Studio in Nashville, probably during the 1970s.