Sleepy LaBeef, Rockabilly Musician, Dead at 84

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Sleepy LaBeef in his early days

The American rockabilly artist Sleepy LaBeef, whose career spanned the 1950s into the just-ending decade, died Dec. 26, 2019, at age 84. The cause of death has not yet been revealed. LaBeef’s passing was confirmed on Facebook by his family, which posted, “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.”

Among those paying tribute to LaBeef online was singer-songwriter Deke Dickerson, who wrote, “Sleepy was one of the original ’50s rockabillies. He made excellent records for Starday, Mercury, Dixie and Wayside. In a way he was one of the first ’50s revivalists, cutting greasy rock and roll records all through the British Invasion years of the mid-’60s, but the truth was that Sleepy existed in a Gulf Coast world of rough bars and sleazy dives where the hard-driving ’50s rock and roll mixed with classic country never went away.”

A recent photo of Sleepy LaBeef

LaBeef was born July 20, 1935, in Smackover, Ark., the youngest of 10 children, and received his nickname “as the result of a lazy eye,” according to his Wikipedia entry. He moved to Houston at 18 and sang gospel music locally, before switching to rockabilly as that genre picked up in the mid-’50s. His first single, “I’m Through,” was issued on the Starday label in 1957, but although he released music prolifically from that point on, he never made the national Billboard pop chart. He did, however, place a couple of songs on the country chart—1968’s “Every Day,” which peaked at #73, and “Blackland Farmer,” which charted at #67 in 1971. He also recorded for the revived Sun label in the ’70s and Rounder in the ’80s. His popularity remained strong in Europe into his later years.

Related: Which first-generation rockers are still with us?

LaBeef was known as a great storyteller during his live performances. Bear Family Records released a collection, Sleepy Rocks, in 2008, and a documentary/concert DVD, Sleepy LaBeef Rides Again, was released in 2013.

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