Tag Archives: Sleepy LaBeef

The wish list

Every kid makes a wish list for Christmas, or for a birthday. Is that something you grow out of?

Our friends over at Analog Apartment ran a little contest earlier this month. Put at least five records in the wish list feature at My Analog Apartment, their sweet new app for record collectors, and they’d pick three users and give each of them one record from their list.

I’m always digging for records, hoping to find something interesting. I was out in the tents in my friend Jim’s back yard last Saturday morning, my fingers numb in the 40-degree cold. October in Wisconsin has been nasty. I brought home 13 LPs for $13, but nothing that blew me away. Some days, you just gotta support your local record dealer.

So why, then, was it so hard to come up with a wish list?

Maybe it’s this mantra, seen on a church message board some 20 years ago: “Strive to need less rather than want more.”

I saw it while running — not far from a record store, actually — and it has stuck with me all these years.

The Green Bay record show is tomorrow, and as usual, I’ll go without a wish list. What’s there is for me to dig through. What’s not there is to be sought another day, an adventure to be continued.

Most of the records on that contest wish list are old soul or R&B records that probably were hard to find in our corner of Wisconsin when they came out, if they came out here at all.

Maybe tomorrow.


“Tomorrow Never Comes,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Tomorrow Never Comes,” 2000.

I never find any records by this American treasure, either.

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Filed under October 2009, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 52

So we come to the end of our Sleepy Sundays.

When I started this blog a year ago, I wanted to shine some light on Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure and human jukebox. I’ve seen him play live four times, and each time was terrific.

When Sleepy played here last May, I chatted briefly with him, telling him about these Sleepy Sunday posts.

“Keep it up!” he said in that distinctive baritone.

That we have, for a year.

We’re going out in style today. The best way to appreciate Sleepy is to see and hear him live, so we’re going to serve up two more cuts from Sleepy’s great live album, “Nothin’ But the Truth.”

Recorded live at Harper’s Ferry in Allston, Massachusetts, on Oct. 22, 1985, these two cuts are the bookends on Side 2 of the album.

It’s midway through the show and Sleepy’s starting to crank it up on our first tune, a cover of an Otis Blackwell song. Listen for him to holler for “Piano!” about 2 minutes in.

Sleepy’s in high gear by the time he wraps up the show with a closing medley of “Jambalaya,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Let’s Turn Back the Years,” “Hey, Good Lookin'” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”


“Let’s Talk About Us” and “Medley,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Nothin’ But the Truth,” 1987. (These rips are from the original vinyl, which leaves a little to be desired on “Medley.” Damn thing skips a couple of times.)

If you have a chance to see Sleepy live, by all means go!

At the moment, his tour schedule shows only two gigs in the United States this year — April 12 at the Americana Roots Ramble in Media, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and Aug. 15 in Milwaukee at a place to be determined. I know where I’ll be on Aug. 15.

(If you’re wondering, we’re moving on to a new series of posts on another of my faves. And, yes, we’ll still be doing Sleepy posts from time to time.)


Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 51

Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure and human jukebox, has covered thousands of songs.

Though many are obscure, others are familiar. It’s always interesting to hear Sleepy interpret a song you’ve heard many times by other artists. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve had both here.

Today, it’s a blues tune done first by Muddy Waters in May 1955. “Mannish Boy” has its roots in the Bo Diddley blues number, “I’m a Man.” It’s a rewrite, a reworking of that tune, which came out in March 1955.

Sleepy isn’t the only one to cover “Mannish Boy,” as you well know. Among the others: Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield, the Band, the Rolling Stones and Hank Williams Jr.


“Mannish Boy,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Rockabilly Blues,” 2001.

Sleepy recorded this version at Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, in 1981. His backing band is Scott Billington on harmonica, Bobby Keyes on guitar, Harry Duncan on piano, Russell Keyes on bass and Rick Nelson on drums.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 50

It was 29 degrees at noon Saturday here in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Then the temperature started falling out of sight.

The overnight low was expected to be about 11 below zero. Today’s high is expected to be zero. Maybe.

Oh, yeah, and the wind is blowing and will continue to blow out of the west-northwest at 25 mph, gusting to 40 mph. That puts the wind chill at 30 below to 40 below. Charming.

That’s what the lovely Janet is leaving behind as she hops on a plane this afternoon, bound for sunny, mild San Diego, California. She writes about e-mail marketing, and is on her way to the Direct Marketing Association’s E-Mail Evolution Conference.

She’s worked in the Internet industry for several years, and these kinds of conferences always are in some seasonally pleasant place. But never in, say, Fargo or Duluth or Green Bay at this time of year.

On today’s tune, Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, also is dealing with being left behind by a woman who’s off to the big city. It’s a cover of a song written by Mississippi bluesman Jimmy Reed, for whom it hit No. 3 on the R&B singles chart in 1961.

“Go ahead, a-pretty baby, a-honey, knock yourself out/Oh, go ahead, a-pretty baby, a-honey, knock yourself out.”


“Bright Lights, Big City,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Rockabilly Blues,” 2001.

Sleepy recorded this at the Shook Shack in Nashville in 1980. He’s backed by Cliff Parker on guitar, Henry Strzelecki on bass, Earl Poole Ball on piano and D.J. Fontana on drums. Ball, who adds some nice honky-tonk piano, used to play with Johnny Cash. Fontana, of course, used to play with Elvis.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 49

Somewhere in the basement, there is a copy of this album.


It’s called “My Zydeco Shoes Got the Zydeco Blues,” by Rockin’ Sidney.

Rockin’ Sidney was Sidney Simien, the veteran Louisiana R&B/blues/pop/Cajun/zydeco singer who wrote and performed “My Toot-Toot.” That started out as a regional hit in 1984, then became a huge international hit, covered by dozens of performers.

Including Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure.

Here, he does it live at Harper’s Ferry in Allston, Massachusetts, on Oct. 20, 1985. Sleepy’s big, deep baritone is particularly effective on this tune.


“My Toot-Toot,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Nothin’ But the Truth,” 1987.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 48

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.

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Filed under January 2008, Sounds

Sleepy Sunday, Vol. 47

We gave you a little taste of Sleepy LaBeef, national treasure, covering Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “This Train” a couple of weeks ago. That was pretty well received, so here’s some more.

Gospel met boogie woogie when Tharpe recorded today’s tune in 1944. It was such a hit that it became the first gospel song to break the Top 10 on Billboard’s race records chart.

(Race records, sold mostly to blacks from the ’20s to the ’40s, eventually came to be known as R&B records. Nor, apparently, was “race records” a slur. The black press of the time proudly referred to African Americans as “the Race.”)

Today’s tune was known as “Strange Things Happening Every Day” when Tharpe laid it down.

By the time Sleepy got around to covering it 50 years later, it was known simply as “Strange Things Happening.” It was such a good cut, with Dave Keyes on piano and Scott Billington on harmonica, that it became the title track to Sleepy’s 1994 album on Rounder Records.


“Strange Things Happening,” Sleepy LaBeef, from “Strange Things Happening,” 1994.

Plus a little bonus: Early last year, Oliver Wang wrote about Sister Rosetta Tharpe over at Soul Sides and shared the following tune, which again demonstrates how gospel meets swing.


“Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe, from “The Original Soul Sister,” a 2002 import compilation.

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Filed under January 2008, Sounds