Vincent Eugene Craddock (February 11, 1935 – October 12, 1971), known as Gene Vincent, was an American musician who pioneered the styles of rock and roll and rockabilly. His 1956 top ten hit with his Blue Caps, “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, is considered a significant early example of rockabilly. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Craddock was born February 11, 1935, in Norfolk, Virginia, United States, to Mary Louise and Ezekiah Jackson Craddock. His musical influences included country, rhythm and blues and gospel music. His favourite composition was Beethoven’s Egmont overture. He showed his first real interest in music while his family lived in Munden Point (now Virginia Beach), in Princess Anne County, Virginia, near the North Carolina line, where they ran a country store. He received his first guitar at the age of twelve as a gift from a friend.
Vincent’s father volunteered to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and patrolled American coastal waters to protect Allied shipping against German U-boats during World War II. Vincent’s mother maintained the general store in Munden Point. His parents moved the family to Norfolk, the home of a large naval base, and opened a general store and sailors’ tailoring shop.
Vincent dropped out of school in 1952, at the age of seventeen, and enlisted in the United States Navy. As he was under the age of enlistment, his parents signed the forms allowing him to enter. He completed boot camp and joined the fleet as a crewman aboard the fleet oiler USS Chukawan, with a two-week training period in the repair ship USS Amphion, before returning to the Chukawan. He never saw combat but completed a Korean War deployment. He sailed home from Korean waters aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin but was not part of the ship’s company.
Craddock planned a career in the Navy and, in 1955, used his $612 re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorcycle. In July 1955, while he was in Norfolk, his left leg was shattered in a motorcycle crash. He refused to allow the leg to be amputated, and the leg was saved, but the injury left him with a limp and pain. He wore a steel sheath around the leg for the rest of his life. Most accounts relate the accident as the fault of a drunk driver who struck him, but some claim Craddock had been riding drunk. Years later in some of his music biographies, there is no mention of an accident, but it was claimed that his injury was due to a wound incurred in combat in Korea. He spent time in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was medically discharged from the Navy shortly thereafter.
Craddock became involved in the local music scene in Norfolk. He changed his name to Gene Vincent and formed a rockabilly band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (a term used in reference to enlisted sailors in the U.S. Navy). The band included Willie Williams on rhythm guitar (replaced in late 1956 by Paul Peek), Jack Neal on upright bass, Dickie Harrell on drums, and Cliff Gallup on lead guitar. He also collaborated with another rising musician, Jay Chevalier of Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Vincent and His Blue Caps soon gained a reputation playing in various country bars in Norfolk. There they won a talent contest organized by a local radio DJ, “Sheriff Tex” Davis, who became Vincent’s manager.
In 1956 he wrote “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, which drew comparisons to Elvis Presley and which Rolling Stone magazine later listed as number 103 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Local radio DJ “Sheriff Tex” Davis arranged for a demo of the song to be made, and this secured Vincent a contract with Capitol Records. He signed a publishing contract with Bill Lowery of the Lowery Group of music publishers in Atlanta, Georgia. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” was not on Vincent’s first album and was picked by Capitol producer Ken Nelson as the B-side of his first single, “Woman Love”. Prior to the release of the single, Lowery pressed promotional copies of “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and sent them to radio stations throughout the country. By the time Capitol released the single, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” had already gained attention from the public and radio DJs. The song was picked up and played by other U.S. radio stations (obscuring the original A-side song) and became a hit, peaking at number 5 and spending 20 weeks on the Billboard pop chart and reaching number 5 and spending 17 weeks on the Cashbox chart, and launching Vincent’s career as a rock-and-roll star.
After “Be-Bop-A-Lula” became a hit, Vincent and His Blue Caps were unable to follow it up with the same level of commercial success, although they released critically acclaimed songs like “Race with the Devil” (number 96 on the Billboard chart and number 50 on the Cashbox chart) and “Bluejean Bop” (number 49 on the Billboard chart and another million-selling disc).
Cliff Gallup left the band in 1956, and Russell Williford joined as the new guitarist for the Blue Caps. Williford played and toured Canada with Vincent in late 1956 but left the group in early 1957. Gallup came back to do the next album and then left again. Williford came back and exited again before Johnny Meeks joined the band. The group had another hit in 1957 with “Lotta Lovin'” (highest position number 13 and spending 19 weeks on the Billboard chart and number 17 and 17 weeks on the Cashbox chart). Vincent was awarded gold records for two million sales of “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, and 1.5 million sales of “Lotta Lovin'”. The same year he toured the east coast of Australia with Little Richard and Eddie Cochran, drawing audiences totaling 72,000 to their Sydney Stadium concerts. Vincent also made an appearance in the film The Girl Can’t Help It, with Jayne Mansfield, performing “Be-Bop-A-Lula” with the Blue Caps in a rehearsal room. “Dance to the Bop” was released by Capitol Records on October 28, 1957. On November 17, 1957, Vincent and His Blue Caps performed the song on the nationally broadcast television program The Ed Sullivan Show. The song spent nine weeks on the Billboard chart and peaked at number 23 on January 23, 1958 and reached number 36 and spent eight weeks on the Cashbox chart. It was Vincent’s last American hit single. The song was used in the movie Hot Rod Gang for a dance rehearsal scene featuring dancers doing the West Coast Swing.
Vincent and His Blue Caps also appeared several times on Town Hall Party, California’s largest country music barn dance, held at the Town Hall in Compton, California. Town Hall Party drew in excess of 2,800 paid admissions each Friday and Saturday, with room for 1,200 dancers. The show was also broadcast from 8:30 to 9:30 pm on the NBC Radio network. It was also shown on KTTV, channel 11, from 10 pm to 1 am on Saturday nights. Vincent and His Blue Caps appeared on October 25, 1958, and July 25 and November 7, 1959. They performed “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, “High Blood Pressure”, “Rip It Up”, “Dance to the Bop”, “You Win Again”, “For Your Precious Love”, “Rocky Road Blues”, “Pretty Pearly”, “High School Confidential”, “Over the Rainbow”, “Roll Over Beethoven” and “She She Little Sheila”.
A dispute with the US tax authorities and the American Musicians’ Union over payments to his band and his having sold the band’s equipment to pay a tax bill led Vincent to leave the United States for Europe.
On December 15, 1959, Vincent appeared on Jack Good’s TV show, Boy Meets Girl, his first appearance in England. He wore black leather, gloves, and a medallion, and stood in a hunched posture. Good is credited with the transformation of Vincent’s image. After the TV appearance he toured France, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK performing in his US stage clothes.
On April 16, 1960, while on tour in the UK, Vincent, Eddie Cochran and the songwriter Sharon Sheeley were involved in a high-speed traffic accident in a private-hire taxi in Chippenham, Wiltshire. Vincent broke his ribs and collarbone and further damaged his weakened leg. Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis. Cochran, who had been thrown from the vehicle, suffered serious brain injuries and died the next day. Vincent returned to the United States after the accident.
Promoter Don Arden had Vincent return to the UK in 1961 to do an extensive tour in theatres and ballrooms, with Chris Wayne and the Echoes. After the overwhelming success of the tour, Vincent moved to Britain in 1963. His accompanying band, Sounds Incorporated, a six-piece outfit with three saxophones, guitar, bass and drums, went on to play with the Beatles at their Shea Stadium concert. Vincent toured the UK again in 1963 with the Outlaws, featuring future Deep Purple guitar player Ritchie Blackmore, as a backing band. Vincent’s alcohol problems marred the tour, resulting in problems both on stage and with the band and management.
Vincent’s attempts to re-establish his American career in folk rock and country rock proved unsuccessful; he is remembered today for recordings of the 1950s and early 1960s released by Capitol Records. In the early 1960s, he also put out tracks on EMI’s Columbia label, including a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “Where Have You Been All My Life?” A backing band called the Shouts joined him.
In 1966 and 1967, in the United States, he recorded for Challenge Records, backed by ex-members of the Champs and Glen Campbell. Challenge released three singles in the US, and the UK London label released two singles and collected recordings on to an LP, Gene Vincent, on the UK London label in 1967. Although well received, none sold well. In 1968 in a hotel in Germany, Vincent tried to shoot Gary Glitter. He fired several shots but missed and a frightened Glitter left the country the next day.
In 1969, he recorded the album I’m Back and I’m Proud for long-time fan John Peel’s Dandelion Records, produced by Kim Fowley with arrangements by Skip Battin (of the Byrds), and backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt. He recorded two other albums for Kama Sutra Records, reissued on one CD by Rev-Ola in March 2008. On his 1969 tour of the UK he was backed by the Wild Angels, a British band that had performed at the Royal Albert Hall with Bill Haley & His Comets and Duane Eddy. Because of pressure from his ex-wife, the Inland Revenue and promoter Don Arden, Vincent returned to the US.
His final US recordings were four tracks for Rockin’ Ronny Weiser’s Rolling Rock label, a few weeks before his death. These were released on a compilation album of tribute songs, including “Say Mama”, by his daughter, Melody Jean Vincent, accompanied by Johnny Meeks (of Blue Caps and Merle Haggard’s The Strangers) on guitar. He later recorded four tracks (released years later as The Last Session) in Britain in October 1971 as part of his last tour. He was backed by Richard Cole and Kansas Hook (Dave Bailey, Bob Moore, Richard Cole and bass player Charlie Harrison from Poco and Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd). They recorded five tracks at the BBC studios in Maida Vale, London, for Johnnie Walker’s radio show. He managed one show at the Garrick Night Club in Leigh, Lancashire, and two shows at the Wookey Hollow Club in Liverpool on October 3 and 4. Vincent then returned to the US and died a few days later. Four of these tracks were later released on the BBC’s own label prefix BEEB001 called The Last Session; this includes a version of “Say Mama”. The four tracks are now on Vincent’s album White Lightning.
Vincent died at the age of 36 on October 12, 1971, from a ruptured stomach ulcer, while visiting his father in Saugus, California. He is interred at Eternal Valley Memorial Park, in Newhall, California.
Ian Dury paid tribute to him in the 1976 song “Sweet Gene Vincent”.
Vincent was the first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame upon its formation in 1997. The following year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Vincent has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1749 North Vine Street. In 2012, his band, the Blue Caps, were retroactively inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by a special committee, alongside Vincent. On Tuesday, September 23, 2003, Vincent was honored with a Norfolk’s Legends of Music Walk of Fame bronze star embedded in the Granby Street sidewalk.
Writing for AllMusic, Ritchie Unterberger called Vincent an “American rockabilly legend who defined the greasy-haired, leather-jacketed, hot rods ‘n’ babes spark of rock & roll”. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was less impressed by the musician’s career, saying “Vincent was never a titan—his few moments of rockabilly greatness were hyped-up distillations of slavering lust from a sensitive little guy who was just as comfortable with ‘Over the Rainbow’ in his normal frame of mind.” However, the critic included the 1974 Vincent compilation album, The Bop That Just Won’t Stop (1956), in his “basic record library” published in Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981). (by wikipedia)
And here´s a pretty good sampler witha lot of his hits and some rarities … Oh yes .. Genen Vincent was true Rock N Roller … Listen and enjoy !
Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps
Ths great French backcover:
01. Crazy Beat (Fallin/Rhodes) 2.17
02. Important Words (Vincent/Davis) 2.53
03. It´s Been Nice (Pomus/Shuman) 2.03
04. Lonesome Boy (Bedwell) 3.01
05. Good Lovin’ (Calaban/Rorie) 2.04
06. I’m Gonna Catch Me A Rat (Robinson) 2.14
07. Rip It Up (Blackwell/Marascalco) 2.23
08. High Blood Pressure (Smith) 2.50
09. That’s The Trouble With Love (Huling/Shilton) 2.23
10. Weeping Willow (Lynn) 2.40
11. Tear Drops (Glasser) 2.36
12. Gone, Gone, Gone (South) 2.09
13. Wild Cat (Schroeder/Gold) 2.24
14, Spaceship To Mars (Subotsky/Paramor) 2.06
15. Crazy Beat (alternate version) (Fallin/Rhodes) 2.12
16. Lonesome Boy (alternate version) (Bedwell) 3.12
17. Spaceship To Mars (alternate version) (Subotsky/Paramor) 2.57
Gene Vincent (February 11, 1935 – October 12, 1971)