Gene Vincent burst on to the rock-and-roll scene immediately after Elvis Presley had done the same thing, scored big with one top ten song, and went on to be a popular performer in Great Britain before he died at age 36.
Vincent Eugene Craddock was born in 1935 in Norfolk, Virginia. As he grew up in Virginia, he passed a lot of time at the store that was owned by his parents. Eventually he joined the U. S. Navy, but left after injuring his left leg in a motorcycle accident in 1953. Following the accident he wore a steel leg brace, and turned his attention to the music business.
He joined forces wih a cunning disc jockey in the area named Bill Davis, a.k.a. "Sheriff Tex." Together they came up with a song that was based on Money Honey and cartoon character Little Lulu, and called it Be-Bop-A-Lula. Vincent made a demo of the record, arrangements were made for a back-up group, and a contract was signed with Capitol Records. The group included Jack Neal on bass, Willie Williams and Cliff Gallup on guitar, and Dickie Harrell on drums; they were known as Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. The song was recorded again in Nashville and released as the B side to Vincent's Woman Love. But it was the Be-Bop-A-Lula side that the record spinners in the radio stations played. It went to number seven on the charts in 1956.
Some of his follow-up records such as Bluejean Bop and Race With the Devil did not do well, but the group was invited to appear in the movie The Girl Can't Help It, which they did later in the same year. In 1957 Lotta Lovin' did well on the US charts. The group was rearranged and lead guitar player Johnny Meeks helped to make the group very popular in live shows.
Gene Vincent was tempermental, difficult to figure out -- and very talented. With the Blue Caps he had been recording songs for Capitol but the record company refused to go along with the practice of issuing payola, which was rampant in the record business at the time. Vincent, the non-conformist, began to have problems with taxes. The group released another song that did well, Dance To The Bop, then broke up in 1958. A year or so later, Gene Vincent moved to Great Britain, where he had become a very popular singer.
Vincent was very good friends with another young, white rock-and-roll star of that era, Eddie Cochran. While riding in a taxi in Chippenham, Wiltshire on April 17, 1960 with Cochran and Cochran's girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, there was an accident that tragically ended Cochran's life, and injured Gene Vincent.
British record producer Jack Good provided him with an image as a rebel, and influenced his style of dress that included leather and a somewhat tough demeanor. He toured extensively in England and continued to be a big draw in live rock-and-roll shows. He also developed a problem with alcohol.
Gene's health declined in the 60's and early 70's as the result of constant touring, his various accidents, and his drinking. He returned to the United States later in the 60's and recorded some country songs. He went back to Great Britain in 1969 and 1971, but his physical condition precluded capturing his past glory.
Gene Vincent developed ulcer trouble and died in Los Angeles on October 12, 1971. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Derek Henderson has written a book about Gene Vincent and his recordings.
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