American Rock’n’Roll musician Gene Vincent (Vincent Eugene Craddock) was born February 11, 1935 in Norfolk, Virginia. 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. 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 sailed to Korea and sailed home from Korean waters aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin. In 1955, Gene used his $612 re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorcycle. Sadly 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 spent time in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was medically discharged from the Navy shortly thereafter and wore a steel sheath around the leg for the rest of his life.
Gene Vincent became involved in the local music scene in Norfolk 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 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 was listed at 103,in Rolling Stone magazines “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.”Be-Bop-A-Lula” was not on Vincent’s first album and was a the B-side of his first single, however “Be-Bop-A-Lula” was more popular than the A-side 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, despite releasing critically acclaimed songs like “Race with the Devil” and “Bluejean Bop”.
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’” and Vincent was awarded gold records for two million sales of “Be-Bop-A-Lula”,and 1.5 million sales of “Lotta Lovin’”. In 1957 he toured the east coast of Australia with Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. 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. His next song “Dance to the Bop” Was performed by Vincent and His Blue Caps on The Ed Sullivan Show and 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 IN 1959 performing “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. This was broadcast on NBC AND. KTTV
In 1959 Vincent left the United States for Europe following 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 to his departure. Vincent appeared on Jack Good’s TV show, Boy Meets Girl, wearing black leather gloves and a medallion. Following this TV appearance he toured France, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK performing in his US stage clothes. Sadly in 1960, while touring 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.
Vincent returned 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.
Sadly Vincent’s attempts to re-establish his American career in folk rock and country rock proved unsuccessful; although he released a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “Where Have You Been All My Life?” With A backing band called the Shouts. . In 1968 in a hotel in Germany, Vincent tried to shoot Gary Glitter but sadly missed. In 1969, he recorded the album I’m Back and I’m Proud for long-time fan John Peel’s Dandelion Records with backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt. He also recorded two other albums and 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.
He then returned to the US Where 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 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. Four of these tracks were later released as The Last Session; together with a version of “Say Mama”. The four tracks are now on Vincent’s album White Lightning.
Sadly Vincent died at the age of 36 on October 12, 1971, from a ruptured stomach ulcer, while visiting his father in California,and is interred in Eternal Valley Memorial Park, in Newhall, California. He was the first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame upon its formation in 1997 and His 1956 top ten hit with his Blue Caps, “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, is considered a significant early example of rockabilly. In 1972 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.