Vincent Eugene Craddock (February 11, 1935 - October 12, 1971), known as Gene Vincent, was an American musician who pioneered the styles of rock and roll and rockabilly. His 1956 top ten hit with his Blue Caps, "Be-Bop-A-Lula", is considered a significant early example of rockabilly. He is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Vincent Eugene Craddock was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on February 11, 1935. His musical influences included country, rhythm and blues and gospel music. He showed his first real interest in music while his family lived in Munden Point, Princess Anne County (now Virginia Beach), Virginia, near the North Carolina line, where they ran a country store. He received his first guitar as a gift from a friend at the age of 12.
His father, Ezekiah Jackson Craddock, 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. His mother, Mary Louise Craddock, maintained a general store at Munden Point. Craddock's parents moved the family and opened a general store and sailors' tailoring shop in Norfolk.
Having spent his youth in the Norfolk area, Craddock dropped out of school at 17 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1952. Craddock's parents signed the forms allowing him to join the Navy. He completed boot camp and joined the fleet as a crewman aboard the fleet oiler USS Chukawan although he spent two weeks training period in the repair ship USS Amphion before returning to the Chukawan. Craddock never saw combat but completed a Korean War deployment. He sailed home from Korean waters aboard battleship USS Wisconsin, but was not part of the ship's company.
Craddock planned a career in the Navy and, in 1955, used his $612 re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorbike. In July 1955, while in Norfolk, a motorcycle crash shattered his left leg. He refused to have it amputated. The leg was saved, but the crash left him with a limp and pain. He wore a steel sheath around the leg for the rest of his life. Most accounts relate the accident as the fault of a drunk driver who struck him, although some claim Craddock had been riding drunk. Years later in some of his professional music bios, there is no mention of an accident, but it was claimed that he was wounded in combat in Korea. He spent time in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was medically discharged from the Navy shortly thereafter.
Early music career:
Craddock became involved in the local music scene in Norfolk. He changed his name to Gene Vincent, and formed a rockabilly band called the Blue Caps (a term used in reference to enlisted sailors in the U.S. Navy). The band included Willie Williams on rhythm guitar, Jack Neal on upright bass, Dickie Harrell on drums, and lead guitarist, Cliff Gallup. He and his band are named Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps.
Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps soon gained a reputation playing in various country bars in his native Norfolk, Virginia. There, they won a talent contest organized by local radio DJ "Sheriff Tex" Davis, who became his manager.
In 1956 he wrote "Be-Bop-A-Lula", which drew comparisons to Elvis Presley and which Rolling Stone magazine lists as No. 102 or 103 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Local radio DJ "Sheriff Tex" Davis arranged for this to be demo-ed and this secured him a contract with Capitol Records. He signed a publishing contract with Bill Lowery of The Lowery Group of music publishers in Atlanta, Georgia. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was not on Vincent's first album and was picked by Capitol producer Ken Nelson as the B side of his first single. Prior to the release of the single, Lowery pressed promotional copies of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and sent them to radio stations throughout the country. By the time Capitol released the single, "Be-Bop-A-Lula" had already gained attention from the public and radio DJs. The song was picked up and played by other U.S. radio stations (obscuring the original "A-side" song), and became a hit and launched Vincent as a rock 'n' roll star.
After "Be-Bop-A-Lula" became a hit (peaking at No. 5 and spending 20 weeks on the Billboard Pop Chart, and No. 5 and 17 weeks in the Cashbox Chart), Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps were unable to follow it up with the same level of commercial success, but released critically acclaimed songs like "Race With The Devil" (No. 96 in Billboard and No. 50 in Cashbox) and "Bluejean Bop" (No. 49 in Billboard).
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 and left in early 1957. Gallup came back to do the next album, left again, then Russell came back and exited before Johnny Meeks entered the band. The group had another hit with 1957's "Lotta Lovin'" (highest position No. 13 and spending 19 weeks in Billboard, and No. 17 and 17 weeks in Cashbox). Vincent was awarded gold records for two million sales of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and 1.5 million sales of "Lotta Lovin'". The same year he toured the east coast of Australia with Little Richard and Eddie Cochran, drawing audiences totaling 72,000 to their Sydney Stadium concerts. 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.
"Dance to the Bop" was released by Capitol records on October 28, 1957. On November 17, 1957 Vincent and His Blue Caps performed the song on the nationally-broadcast Ed Sullivan Show. The song spent nine weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at No. 23 on January 23, 1958 and No. 36 and 8 weeks in Cashbox, and would be Vincent's last American hit single. The song was used in the movie Hot Rod Gang for a dance rehearsal scene featuring dancers doing 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. 'Town Hall Party' drew in excess of 2,800 paid admissions each Friday and Saturday with room for 1,200 dancers. The show was also on from 8:30 to 9:30 pm over the NBC Radio network. It was also shown on KTTV, channel 11 from 10 pm to 1 am on Saturday nights. Appearances were on October 25, 1958, as well as July 25 and November 7, 1959. Songs performed were: "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".
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 him to leave the US and try his hand in Europe.
On 15 December 1959, Vincent appeared on Jack Good's TV show Boy Meets Girl, his first appearance in England. He wore black leather, gloves, and a medallion, and stood in a hunched posture. Good is credited with the transformation of Vincent's image. After the TV appearance he toured France, Holland, Germany, and the UK performing in his US stage clothes.
On 16 April 1960, while on tour in the UK, Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and 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 States after the accident.
Promoter Don Arden had Vincent return to the UK in 1961 to do an extensive tour in theatres and ballrooms with Chris Wayne and the Echoes. Due to the overwhelming success of this tour, Vincent subsequently moved to England in 1963. The accompanying band, Sounds Incorporated, a six-piece outfit which included three saxophones, guitar, bass and drums, later went on to play with the Beatles at their Shea Stadium concert.
He 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.
Vincent's attempts to re-establish his American career in folk rock and country rock proved unsuccessful; he is remembered today for recordings of the 1950s and early 1960s appeared on the Capitol Records label. He also put out tracks on EMI's Columbia label (the British label, not the U.S. CBS/Columbia), including a cover of Arthur Alexander's "Where Have You Been All My Life". A backing band called the Shouts joined him.
In 1966 and 1967, in the States, he recorded for Challenge Records, backed by ex-members of the Champs and Glen Campbell. Challenge released three singles in the US, and the UK London label released two singles and collected recordings on to an LP, Gene Vincent, on the UK London label in 1967. Although well received, none sold well.
In 1968 in a hotel in Germany, Gene Vincent tried to shoot Gary Glitter he fired several shots and missed and a frightened Glitter left the country the next day.
In 1969, he recorded the album I'm Back and I'm Proud for long-time fan John Peel's Dandelion label, produced by Kim Fowley with arrangements by The Byrds' Skip Battin and backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt. He recorded two other albums for the Kama Sutra label, reissued on one CD by Rev-Ola in March 2008.
On his 1969 tour of the UK he was backed by the Wild Angels, a British band who had worked at the Royal Albert Hall with Bill Haley & His Comets and Duane Eddy. Because of pressure from his ex-wife, the Inland Revenue and promoter Don Arden, Vincent returned to the US.
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 (from the Bluecaps) and Kansas Hook. 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 and two shows at the Wookey Hollow Club in Liverpool on October 3 and 4 before his health gave out. Vincent returned to the US and died a few days later. Four of these tracks were later released on the BBC's own label pre-fix BEEB001 called The Last Session; this includes a version of "Say Mama". The four tracks are now on Vincent's White Lightning album.
Death and legacy:
Vincent died on October 12, 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer while visiting his father in California, and is interred in the Eternal Valley Memorial Park, Newhall, California.
He was the first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame upon its formation in 1997. The following year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Vincent has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1749 N. Vine Street. In 2012, his band, the Blue Caps, would be retroactively inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by a special committee, alongside Vincent.