By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Seeing a performance by a 1950s rockabilly singer in the year 2003 is a rare treat, although it probably doesn't beat playing in his band.
A few Cincinnatians were offered that chance Friday night, when Sleepy LaBeef turned his show at the Southgate House into an informal jam session.
There aren't many first-generation rockabilly performers left, and for years LaBeef has been as musically vital as any of his peers. LaBeef, an Arkansas native who turns 68 in July, is a touring machine with a deep, ready-made rockabilly voice and surefire guitar licks that consistently win over audiences.
Friday's show might not rank as his best Southgate House appearance, but it held up for its two-hour run, minus a four-song break LaBeef took while his band played on.
Backed by the combination of Richard Marcos and Jerry Cavanaugh, LaBeef knocked out a chunk of the unabridged Americana songbook. The selections were all over the board, and everything rang true: "Waltz Across Texas"; "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"; "Poke Salad Annie"; "Blue Moon of Kentucky"; "Sing Me Back Home"; "Big River"; "Wipeout"; "When the Saints Go Marching In"; "Johnny B. Goode" and "Green Green Grass of Home" to name only some.
Yes, "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" rocked the same as "Big River," all thanks to LaBeef, a mountain of a man at about six-and-a-half-feet tall whose bear-claw hands wrung beautiful, blazing stuff from his guitar.
Marcos and Cavanaugh switched between bass and drums, and Cavanaugh pulled the rare trick of playing harmonica leads while drumming.
The switching and swapping increased when LaBeef called upon family friend and Cincinnati resident Scott Miller to play guitar.
Later, LaBeef called for the members of local opening band Strawboss to join him. Singer/guitarist Ed Vardiman and upright bassist Doug Osbourn were the brave souls who obliged, and LaBeef kept them on their toes as they negotiated the sharp turns of the bandleader's stream-of-consciousness set list.
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