Gene Vincent (pre-stage name Craddock) was born in Norfolk, Virginia, home to one of the largest U.S. Naval bases. In February 1935. Like so many of the young men from the region, the teenage Vincent was destined for a career afloat. That was until a horrific motorcycle accident whilst on shore leave in the summer of 1955. He severely injured his left leg, which led to him being invalided out of the Navy. In an attempt to while away the long hours of recuperation, both in and out of hospital, Gene turned to playing the guitar and singing and is a fine example of personal courage in the face of adversity.
Gene started hanging around the local C&W radio station WCMS eventually managing to get the occasional stand-in with the house band The Virginians. Early 1956 and along with other young singers influenced by the rise of Elvis Presley, Gene started to change his style from country to rockabilly. This was most evident when he sang a song he picked up from a fellow sailor; the song was of course ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’. Tex Davis, one of the local D.J.’s spotted Gene’s potential and sent a demo of the song to a contact at Capitol Records. Capitol too could see potential and were keen to ask Gene And The Virginians, soon to be renamed The Blue Caps, to Nashville to record with producer Ken Nelson. ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ was recorded by Capitol in early May and released in early June. It only took a few weeks catch on before rocketing up the HOT 100 charts eventually earning Gene the first of three gold records.
In the summer of 1956 this unusual rock ‘n’ roll single burst onto the British charts and soon made it’s mark as one of the classics of the era. The song was ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ and the young extrovert singer was Gene Vincent. Putting their faith in Gene, Capitol Records, like nearly all the other record label at the time, were searching for a rival to RCA’s Elvis Presley. This immediate chart success of ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ had got them off to a great start after a twenty-week chart run. Gene continued to swing and sing for a new generation, he recorded some of the most exciting rockabilly of the era propelled by the outstanding lead guitar work of Cliff Gallup.
That first Nashville session with Jack Neal on bass, Willie Williams and Cliff Gallup on guitar, and Dickie Harrell on drums produced four songs ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’, ‘Race With The Devil’, ‘Woman Love’ and ‘I Sure Miss You’. The first single was credited to Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. The A side was ‘Woman Love’ and ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ on the B side. Critics complained about the suggestive lyrics and impassioned delivery, so disc jockeys began playing the B side. ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ became an instant hit. The second release ‘Race With The Devil’ was immediately rejected by the radio stations and replaced by ‘Blue Jean Bop’ which became the title of his first album and his third single which also went on to become a gold record.
Touring caused Vincent’s injured leg to act up just as he was to film a cameo for the movie ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’. Vincent was able to sing in the movie ‘Woman Love’ after the wardrobe department hid the cast under his jeans.
Vincent appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in November 1957. Stories of strange behavior on and off stage began circulating in the spring of 1958 and rumours that he was drinking heavily to keep his energy up, and bottles of aspirin for his pains. By 1958 Vincent lost his home in Dallas to back taxes, he moved to Los Angeles where he only found low paying jobs and with weeks of not being paid The Blue Caps quit.
1959 and he began playing the Pacific Northwest with pickup bands which led to a tour of Japan. The tour was successful but and he returned to Los Angeles. In December of ’59 he came to England where he was met as a hero. An appearance on Jack Good’s ‘Boy Meets Girl’ a British television rock and roll show led to a permanent spot on the show. It was Jack Good who was credited with creating the all black leather image that became Vincent’s trademark.
Vincent convinced his friend Eddie Cochran to come over and do a twelve-week ‘Anglo-American Beat Show’ tour put together by Larry Parnes. It was on that tour during a taxi journey near Chippenham, after a gig in Bristol, on April 17th 1960 with Cochran and Cochran’s girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, an accident tragically killed Eddie Cochran, and severely injured Vincent.
Gene toured South Africa in 1961 and was later to he perform in Liverpool as an opening act for The Beatles. The next four years were spent in England and over the next four years he would perform and make records that sadly didn’t find success. His Capitol Records contract expired in 1963.
He signed with Challenge Records in 1966, he continued to struggle to regain his popularity of the late fifties and early sixties. He returned to England before returning to America in failing health in 1971. An attempt to land a new recording deal failed and after a string of unsuccessful appearances at the San Francisco Park Festival he returned to his home to Los Angeles. It was not longer after going home that he became ill and was admitted to the Inter-Valley Hospital in California. On October 12, 1971 he died at the age of 36.
Rolling Stone Magazine once called Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps “The first Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the world” the music on this CD from that exciting era certainly bears testament to that.