Sleepy LaBeef--barrel-chested rockabilly legend, veteran of honky-tonks and roadhouses ranging from Texas juke joints to funky New England truck stops, bull-voiced master of a repertoire of over 6,000 songs--has had a nearly fanatical following among country and roots-rock fans since his earliest recordings for such obscure Texas labels as Gulf, Finn, and Crescent, made in the 50s and early 60s. Sleepy combines his tough-twanging guitar style and roughshod piano (imagine Jerry Lee Lewis even more out of control than usual) with a majestic voice that caused at least one observer to wonder whether Howlin' Wolf had been reincarnated. His rapport with an audience is uncanny: he can segue from an incendiary set of rockabilly burners to a series of cry-in-your-beer country weepers as the complexion of the crowd changes, and when he really hits his stride--usually on some beloved early classic by someone like Roy Hamilton--he ascends to almost mystical intensity, roaring and growling our endless elaborations on the lyrics, pouring his ferocity into the tune until by song's end he's almost as exhausted as his audience. This is as real as it gets. Saturday, FitzGeralds, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. Sunday, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kurt Stier.