Gene Vincent & the Bluecaps

Gene Vincent in a typically tortured pose.
With the Blue Caps and white Stratocaster, where’s that Strat today?

Clapper boys Paul Peek and Tommy Facenda in green jackets.

More pix from the same photo shoot.

Johnny Meeks, second from right replaced Cliff Gallup in early ’57.

The Blue Caps were colorful even in black and white. Cliff Gallup on the left.

From the TV show Town Hall Party, 1958.

From the movie Hot Rod Gang.

1965, already looking old.

Gene Vincent. He sure was photogenic. I thought I’d share these photos, outtakes from photo sessions of which you’ve probably seen the more common shots. Gene had a short and sad life. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Feb. 11, 1935, Vincent Eugene Craddock joined the Navy at age sixteen and was discharged after a motorcycle accident shattered his leg. While recuperating, he wrote the song Be-Bop-A-Lula which came to the attention of Sheriff Tex Davis who became Gene’s manager. After cutting a demo at a local radio station, Davis took it to Capitol Records’ A&R man/producer Ken Nelson who brought Gene and his newly assembled band– the Blue Caps to Owen Bradley’s Nashville studio to cut it with three other tunes in May of ’56. Capitol issued it in June with the incredible Woman Love on the flip side (kicking off years of debate as to if Gene is saying “huggin'” or “fuckin'” underneath all that echo). Be-Bop-A-Lula shot to #1, most people thought it was the new Elvis record (including Elvis’ mom who sent Elvis a post card to congratulate him on his latest smash). Gene never could follow up the incredible sucess of Be-Bop-A-Lula but he cut five great albums for Capitol– Bluejean Bop, Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps, Gene Vincent Rocks…and the Bluecaps Roll, A Gene Vincent Record Date and Sounds Like Gene Vincent (a sixth album Crazy Beat was issued in the UK), as well as a couple of dozen great singles, many of which aren’t on the albums. The Blue Caps were an incredible band, their first lead guitarist– Cliff Gallup a rather anti-social genius who played with a flat pick and two finger picks, quit the band in early ’57 and was replaced by Johnny Meeks who was nearly as good. The other original members- Willie Williams- guitar, Jack Neal- upright bass and Dickie Harrel (who cut a solo LP for Capitol of all drum solos)- drums stayed together until late ’57 until drifting off one by one. The ever changing line up included two “clapper boys” who basically jumped around the stage since Gene, with his bum leg, was basically immobile. One of these guys was Paul Peek who was responsible for Gene seeing Esquerita who he brought to Capitol in 1958. Peek also cut a couple of excellent singles for NRC including The Rock A-Round with Esquerita on piano. The other, Tommy Facenda is best remembered for the single High School USA which was issued in fifty different versions with local high schools named for each region. By 1958 Bobby Jones who had replaced Jack Neal was playing electric bass and the sound of the Blue Caps was never quite the same, although they still made some great records including Get It with Eddie Cochran’s voice quite audible singing back up. Here’s a few more favorite tunes that never made it to 45– Flea Brain, Cruisin’, Rollin’ Danny, Brand New Beat, and Time Will Bring You Everything (Gene really excelled at ballads).

When Gene’s raw style of rock’n’roll went out of style in the U.S. he headed for the U.K. where promoter Jack Good dressed him up in a leather sweat suit. The Teddy Boys loved Gene and he was always a good draw in England. He married Mickie Most’s sister Shelia and cut some sub-par discs over there. In the U.K. he was in a car accident that killed his best pal Eddie Cochran, and aggravated his already painful leg injury. When he parted ways with Capitol he cut some good, almost garage band style sides for Challenge (the best being Bird Doggin’) and two mediocre LP’s for Dandelion.

Gene was a bad alcoholic who blew through his money in record time, he had plenty of problems with the IRS, alimony, and his own self destructive behavior. He drank himself to death, his liver finally packing it in in October of ’71. He was only 36 when he died. He was drunk, bloated, paranoid, and broke. Gene’s final days are as sad as it gets. But these photos remind us of Gene Vincent, when he really was Gene Vincent. A photogenic little greaseball if there ever was one.

26 thoughts on “Gene Vincent & the Bluecaps”

  1. Love those photos! Gene was the greatest! Check youtube for some more post-caps, post-capitol great moments: there are three songs from a belgian TV show 1963 where Gene is backed by The Sunlights and, while they really can’t compete with any of the Blue Caps incarnations, Gene rocks and The Sunlights ROLL! I bet these kids had the time of their lives playin’ behind their idol!

  2. I actually found that Dickie Harrell drum lp on Capitol a couple months ago at a thrift shop.The cover is great too. Song titles like Goon Bat, Thumper-Stumper, Hong Kong Hop,and Rock a Little Faster make you think you're gonna have a wailing good time . NOT!!! Oh well it's still fun and Gene was the greatest.

  3. Jeezus does Gene look terrible in the 65 video. I woulda never guessed he was a mere 30 years old there. But he looks pretty good in the 58 video. 7 short years. Is that what the climate and terrible English cuisine did to him !?The early material has such a great “balance” of singing, musicianship, lyrics, energy – it's just ALL there.

  4. I'd guess that's what the booze did to him. He seems to foreshadow Johnny Thunders…a stylish elemental rocker brought low early and dead young as a result of his addiction.

  5. Perhaps you can busk out on the street or down in the subway dressed like one of Gene's clapper boys as I doubt U2, Bruce Springsteen or Lady Gaga are hiring clapper boys. come to think of it, maybe Jonathan Richman has clapper boys…

  6. Many a time, when the feeling of being just a Jordanaire in the Elvis movie of life got me down a bit, I've pretended I was a “clapper boy” in the Gene Vincent show of life.That cheered me right up, it did.

  7. Ah, sweet Gene Vincent. I've never seen Hot Rod Gang, is that the only scene with the Blue Caps? You know I've heard Buddy Holly had one of them white Stratocasters on order before he died, but he never got to play it. I think I'm goin' to start tuckin' my necktie into my shirt like that.

  8. ” I've never seen Hot Rod Gang, is that the only scene with the Blue Caps? “If I remember correctly Gene's in a few scenes although there's only one or two songs in it…

  9. Somewhere I read a great, in depth article about how Gene basically built Capitol but basically got nuthin' in return.PJL

  10. Be Bop A Lula should have been #1 on the charts, unfortunately it only reached 7. It was always be #1to me tho…

  11. “Be Bop A Lula should have been #1 on the charts,”It was #1 in Cashbox, although not Billboard.Cashbox was a bit more accurate since it counted jukebox plays and sales so it gave R&R and R&B a better representation. “Somewhere I read a great, in depth article about how Gene basically built Capitol but basically got nuthin' in return.”I think w/ Sinatra and Nat Cole they were doin' fineand Gene's sales were a piss in the ocean in comparison. Eventually Ken Nelson would gain them a huge part of the country market in the 60's by cornering the Bakersfield sound w/Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Rose Maddox, etc.

  12. Gene Vincent's second album is the ultimate example of timeless 50s rock'n'roll.Only early Elvis and Little Richard has matched it for sheer boppin' energy. Whether GV is singing “Red Blue Jean And A Ponytail”, the menacing “Catman”,(The Birthday Party did a fine version on their ultra rare debut album…) or the wistful beauty of “I Sure Miss You”, this is a fantastic record. Gene never matched these heights again, although he made many individual excellent tracks. Ian Dury summed it up perfectly in his glorious “Sweet Gene Vincent”. Thanks for the excellent post.

  13. I got the first photo on a big fat poster from the 70's or early 80's. It's framed on the wall in the “record listening room” at the moment/Mike

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