Vincent, Gene (originally, Craddock, Vincent Eugene)

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Vincent, Gene (originally, Craddock, Vincent Eugene)

Vincent, Gene (originally, Craddock, Vincent Eugene), early rockabilly star who had a larger impact in England than he did at home; b. Norfolk, Va. Feb. 11, 1935; d. Newhall, Calif., Oct. 12, 1971.

Gene Vincent quit school to join the Navy. While in the service, he suffered severe injuries to his left leg in a motorcycle crash that left him permanently disabled. While convalescing after his discharge in May 1955, he took up singing and, by March 1956, he was sitting in with the house band at Norfolk’s WCMS radio. He was noticed by local disc jockey “Sheriff” Tex Davis, who arranged for Vincent to record a demonstration tape with a backing group, subsequently dubbed The Blue Caps. Davis forwarded the tape, which included “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” to Ken Nelson of Capitol Records, which was seeking an answer to RCA’s Elvis Presley.

Gene Vincent signed with Capitol and he and The Blue Caps (lead guitarist Cliff Gallup, rhythm guitarist Willie Williams, stand-up bassist Jack Neal, and drummer Dickie Harrell) traveled to Nashville in May 1956, where they recorded four songs. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” became a near-smash pop, country and R&B hit, but the flip side, “Woman Love,” was banned by some radio stations as too risque. Touring extensively, the group returned to Nashville in June to complete recordings for their first album, which included “Who Slapped John” and the neglected rockabilly classic “Blue Jean Bop.” By Sept. Paul Peek had replaced Willie Williams, and the group soon appeared in the film The Girl Can’t Help Itwith Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Fats Domino. Scoring a minor hit with “Race with the Devil,” the group recorded their second album in October, but Gallup left in December, to be replaced by lead guitarist Johnny Meeks. Vincent was re-hospitalized in early 1957 and later that year the group achieved major pop and near-smash R&B hits with “Lotta Lovin“” and “Dance to the Bop.” By June the band included only one original member, Dickie Harrell. In early 1958 Vincent and The Blue Caps appeared in the film Hot Rod Gang,performing four songs.

Plagued by reports of hotel wrecking and involvement with underage females, Gene Vincent began suffering from limited airplay. His unruly and ribald stage act and rowdy lower-class image were attracting less attention than boy-next-door types like Buddy Holly and Ricky Nelson. Vincent began drinking heavily and, by the end of 1958, he had abandoned The Blue Caps. At the end of 1959 he moved to Great Britain, where he toured regularly, adopting black leather stage attire, and became one of the country’s biggest-drawing attractions. His hits continued in England through the summer with “Wild Cat,” “My Heart,” “Pistol Packin’ Mama” and “She She Little Sheila.” However, on the night of April 16,1960, Vincent was badly injured in the car crash that killed Eddie Cochran. His physical and psychological state subsequently deteriorated through neglect and alcohol and drug abuse. His Capitol contract expired in 1963 and, in 1964, he recorded a British-only album for Columbia Records.

Gene Vincent returned to America in 1966 and enjoyed some renewed popularity with the rock ’n’ roll revival of the late 1960s. However, his attempts at a comeback on Dandelion and Kama Sutra Records fared dismally. Gene Vincent died in obscurity of cardiac failure attributed to a bleeding ulcer at the age of 36. He has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1993 Jeff Beck recorded an entire album of Vincent’s songs, Crazy Legs.


gene vincent and the blue caps: Blue Jean Bop (1956); Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (1957); Gene Vincent Rocks and The Blue Caps Roll (1958); Hot Rod Gang (soundtrack; 1958); A Gene Vincent Record Date (1958); Sounds Like Gene Vincent (1959); The Bop That Just Won’t Stop (1974); Gene Vincent (1990). GENE VINCENT: Crazy Times (1960); I’m Back and I’m Proud (1969); Gene Vincent-If You Could See Me Now (1970); The Day the World Turned Blue (1971); Forever (1982); Rockabilly Fever (1982); Ain’t That Too Much (1993); Bird Doggin’ (1996).


Britt Hagarty. The Day the World Turned Blue (Vancouver, B.C., 1983).

—Brock Helander

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Vincent, Gene (originally, Craddock, Vincent Eugene)

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