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Rockabilly pioneer LaBeef to perform at Ozarks on Nov. 12

October 20, 2015
By cnp
Posted in Community Events

Rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef will perform a concert at University of the Ozarks at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12.

The event, part of the university’s 2015-16 Walton Arts & Ideas Series,  will be held in the Walton Fine Arts Center. There is no cost for admission and the public is invited.

LaBeef, a native of Smackover, Ark., has been performing since the mid-1950s and is considered one of the pioneers of the rockabilly genre.  With his booming vocals and slashing guitar, LaBeef has been a favorite among country, blues and rockabilly fans for more than 60 years. He has shared the stage with a long list of greats, including Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers, and Glen Campbell. Sometimes called the Human Jukebox, he is said to be able to play as many as 6,000 songs.

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Sleepy LaBeef, who has been performing country, blues and rockabilly music for more than 60 years, will perform at U of O at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5.

He was born Thomas Paulsley LaBeff in Smackover. The youngest of 10 children, he was raised on a melon farm and grew up hearing both country and blues music.  He got the nickname "Sleepy" in the first grade because of his heavy-lidded eyes that made him look only half awake. He later changed the spelling of his last name from LaBeff to LaBeef.

When he was 14, LaBeef traded a rifle to his brother-in-law for a guitar and taught himself how to play. He moved to Houston at age 18, working at several odd jobs before beginning to sing gospel music on local radio shows. Soon he was working with a band of his own at local bars, and he appeared on the Houston Jamboree and Louisiana Hayride radio programs. The new rockabilly style fit his blazing voice perfectly, and in the late 1950s he recorded about a dozen sides in that style for various labels. His first single, "I’m Through," was released in 1957 on Starday

After recording with a series of independent labels, he was signed by Columbia Records in 1964 and moved to Nashville, Tenn. He then signed as the only artist with the reactivated Memphis rockabilly label Sun Records in 1968, garnering a minor country hit with "Blackland Farmer" in 1971. The late 1960s also saw the towering baritone’s film debut in the bizarre Southern drive-in horror musical "The Exotic Ones," where LaBeef played a swamp monster.

LaBeef moved to Sun Records in the mid-1970s reconnected with his rockabilly roots. Singles such as "Thunder Road," "There Ain’t Much After Taxes," and "Boogie Woogie Country Girl," helped form the beginnings of the LaBeef legend as his indefatigable touring exposed audiences to his wildman energy. LaBeef remains popular in Europe and appeared at England’s Wembley Festival twice.

He has recorded several notable albums, including Nothin’ But the Truth (1987), I’ll Never Lay My Guitar Down (1996), Tomorrow Never Comes (2000), and Sleepy Rocks (2008), and has toured nearly nonstop all his professional life.

Reviewer John Kite recently wrote, "As significant as his recording career has been, it is the live Sleepy LaBeef that is important. Sleepy still performs 200 shows a year and plays with such energy that people a third of his age are annihilated when they attempt to keep up with him. His live sets are truly indescribable. One must see them to understand that he is doing nothing less than giving up his body to the spirit of the music and testifying. In this day of studio effects and ever-changing technology, many record buyers wonder why a live show even matters. Sleepy LaBeef is the answer."