Jun 22, 2023

Gene Vincent: Rock 'n' roll's 'Screaming End'

Managing editor

Ask a music fan to name some of the great 1950s rock ‘n’ rollers and most likely you’ll hear the names of the usual suspects.

Those first to be mentioned would likely include Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard.

Others might mention Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino.

Billy Haley, of "Rock Around the Clock" fame and Bo Diddley might also get a mention. Indeed, all of the aforementioned artists were among the very first group of inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during its inaugural year of 1986.

During the following year, more early rock ‘n’ rollers were among the 1987 inductees, including Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson and Big Joe Turner. Even early 1960s rock bands, such as the Beach Boys and The Beatles were included in that group.

But it wasn't until 1998 that oner of the greatest early rock ‘n’ roll artists ever finally was posthumously inducted in the Rock Hall.

Not only was he among the first group of rock ‘n’ rollers, scoring his biggest hits in 1956 and 1957, he went on to have a massive influence on the next generation of rockers, including the Beatles and Jeff Beck, to name just a couple of examples.

His birth name of Vincent Eugene Craddock would understandably not be familiar to many rock ‘n’ roll fans. They would more likely recognize him by his stage name — Gene Vincent.

Even if his name isn't always included among the great early rockers, it should be. He and his band, the Blue Caps, recorded their biggest hit in 1956 — "Be-Bop-A-Lula."

It's remained a standard to this day. It also had a massive influence on a group of lads across the pond in Liverpool.

I’ve seen an interview with Paul McCartney where he said "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was the first record he ever bought. He went on to relate what a big deal in was to him and how much thought and consideration he put into that initial purchase.

John Lennon thought enough of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" to not only include it on his personal jukebox after The Beatles achieved their worldwide fame, but also to record the song as a cover version.

Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is the third track on Lennon's 1975 solo album "Rock ‘n’ Roll" — his tribute to those 1950s and early 1960s rockers.

Lennon included "Be-Bop-A-Lula" amidst other tracks of his "Rock ‘n’ Roll" Album, including "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly, "Rip It Up," recorded by both Little Richard and Elvis Presley and "Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry.

Even so, Vincent did not got his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 1998 — 12 years after most of his peers.

Even then, the Rock Hall might have been shamed into their belated recognition of Vincent's massive musical contributions.

During the previous year, in 1997, Vincent had been the very first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

To the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's credit though, a committee also recognized the contributions of Vincent's band, the Blue Caps. in 2012, the Blue Caps were inducted into the Rock Hall in their own right.

Even Vincent's pal, fellow rock ‘n’ roller Eddie Cochran, was included in that initial batch of 1986 inductees.

Cochran tragically died and Vincent suffered severe injuries in an auto accident in a taxi being driven in England in 1960.

Vincent's injuries included more damage to a leg that had already been left shattered following a previous accident.

That earlier injury occurred after a young Vincent had reenlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1955.

He used his enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorcycle. Unfortunately, he was soon injured when an automobile driver collided with him.

His injuries included a shattered leg. Doctors wanted to amputate it, but Vincent refused the procedure. Doctors were able to save his leg, but he was left with a limp and chronic pain. He would also have to wear a metal leg brace for much of the remainder of his life.

His leg injuries would have an impact on a movie in which Vincent performed. With his leg injury acting up, it had to be reset just before he was set to film a musical performance in the movie "The Girl Can't Help It," starring Jayne Mansfield.

With the movie's director not want to show him performing in a cast, they got around the issue by having his pants cover most of the cast and personnel in the studio's wardrobe department painting the lower half to resemble the boots he wore.

Vincent is not only known for his own recordings, but also for including one of the great early rock guitarists, Cliff Gallup, in the original versions of his band, the Blue Caps — with guitar master Jeff Beck citing Gallup as among his greatest influences.

When Vincent's record sales slowed down in the U.S., he accepted an invitation to go to Britain in the early 1960s, where he won a regular slot on a British rock ‘n’ roll show called "Boy Meets Girl."

The show's producer, Jack Good, is credited with convincing Vincent to dress in black leather, which is the image many British youth have of him.

Vincent had the adoration of young British music fans in the 1960s as can be seen on video today by the excited reception they gave to his musical performances.

He and the early Beatles even became pals, with The Beatles opening for Vincent in those pre-Beatlemania days, when he was a bigger star in Britain than they were.

Not only did Vincent and The Beatles play on the same bills in England, they sometimes shared billing overseas in Hamburg, Germany.

Although still a star in Britain, across Europe and in Japan, Vincent was not as successful back in the states.

He died following issues including a bleeding ulcer in 1971 at the too-young age of 36, but his fame endures among early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly fans to this day.

Vincent liked all kinds of music. He recorded a version of "Rocky Road Blues" by Bill Monroe and even recorded his version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Flashing forward to 2010 and Jeff Beck would include an instrumental version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on his album "Emotion and Commotion."

Although Beck played everything from jazz fusion to rock, from blues to opera, I wondered how he came to decide to record his own version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

After hearing Vincent's version, I think I know from where his inspiration derived.

In some of his later performances, Vincent would sometimes raise his eyes upward as if gazing toward the heavens, especially during instrumental interludes.

I guess maybe he's looking over that rainbow he celebrated in song.

Contact James Beaty at [email protected].

Managing editor

James Beaty is managing editor at the McAlester News-Capital

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