Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps
Like so many of his contemporaries in rock 'n' roll, the young Gene Vincent served an apprenticeship amidst a poor community in the deep South, integrating his country music roots with the rhythms of R&B. Vincent Eugene Craddock, born February 11, 1935, showed his first real interest in music while his family lived in Munden Point, VA, near the North Carolina line where they ran an old country store. Gene acquired his first guitar at the age of 12 when he was visiting a friend in West Virginia who had a guitar-playing sister. This buddy gave Gene the guitar and told him to keep it, a gesture that baffled Gene, not knowing if the gift was out of fate or just a friend trying to get rid of the sister's practicing sounds. Passers-by would sit on the porch as a teenage Vincent played the blues, gospel and country tunes of the day. His father (Ezekiah Jackson Craddock) and mother (Mary Louise) eventually gave up the store and moved back to Norfolk, VA. Gene dropped out of school to serve in the military. In February of 1952 he joined the US Navy, but would never see any military action.
Three years later during a July weekend, while still in the navy, Gene had an accident while riding his brand new Triumph motorcycle. A woman in a Chrysler ran a red light, hit Gene and put him into the naval hospital with a severely smashed left leg. By all accounts Gene's doctors were considering amputation but he begged his mother not to allow the operation. He was released from the navy and was to spend the rest of 1955 in and out of the hospital. His leg remained severely damaged and steel brace was attached. The navy may have lost a sailor, but the world gained a rock 'n' roll legend.
In September 1955 Gene was well enough to attend and see Hank Snow's All Star Jamboree in Norfolk, VA, brought into the town by the local country radio station WCMS, the hottest station in town. This show featured country stars: Cowboy Copas, the Louvin Brothers and Jimmy Rogers as well as a young hillbilly cat from Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Presley. At that time Gene was 5' 9" tall, weighed 150 pounds (he gained weight in the late 60's), had dark curly hair, brown eyes, enjoyed swimming, was an avid football fan and his favorite food was a cheeseburger.
By early 1956, his leg still in plaster, Gene began hanging around this radio station occasionally singing with the staff band, The Virginians. He regularly appeared on WCMS's Country Showtime program and would perform a song called "Be Bop A Lula."
Here's three versions of how "Be Bop A Lula" came to be. The song was supposedly based on a comic strip heroine called Little Lulu and Gene said he co-wrote it with fellow hospital patient Donald Graves. Then Sheriff Tex Davis, a local DJ, saw some potential in Gene and the weird song he sang and decided cut himself into the writing credits by buying Graves' rights to it for a mere $25. But, another story ignores Donald Graves completely and claims Gene and Sheriff Tex wrote the song together one afternoon while listening to a 78-prm recording of "You Can Bring Pearl with the Turn-Up Nose, But Don't Bring Lulu." A third version has Graves writing the song entirely on his own and selling to Gene for $50. The real story still remains in question. It is a fact, though, that Sherriff Tex Davis did sign a bewildered Gene Vincent to a management deal and later did co-write songs with Gene.
Out of the Virginians a new band was created for Gene featuring "Galloping" Cliff Gallup on lead guitar, "Wee" Willie Williams on rhythm guitar, "Jumpin'" Jack Neal on upright string bass and 15 year-old Dickie "Be-Bop" Harrell on drums. Gallup, at the ripe old age of 26, was the group's elder statesman steeped in the traditions of country music and mainstream jazz (influenced strongly by Charlie Christian). Cliff smoothly rocked his Gretsch Black Duo Jet single cutaway guitar, with studio added echo, into a frenzy. His guitar work played a big part in Gene Vincent's early success. Gallup's lead licks on Gene's first recordings have become the "bible" for hundreds of rock 'n roll guitarists ever since.
Sheriff Tex had met top Capitol producer, Ken Nelson, at a DJ. convention in Nashville and became aware of Capitol's desire to sign their own rival to Elvis Presley who had now left Sun Records to join RCA. Tex took Gene and his band into WCMS studios on April 9, 1956 where they recorded "Be-Bop-A-Lula", "Race With The Devil" and the country ballad "I Sure Miss You." After sending demos of these songs to Ken Nelson at Capitol it was a long three weeks before Nelson contacted Tex Davis (because Capitol also had over 200 other audition demo tapes to review from would-be rockers) with the message to get Gene Vincent and his band to Nashville for a May 4th recording session at Owen Bradley's studio.
Upon being summoned to Nashville, Gene quickly gathered the guys together, only to find themselves fogged in at the Norfolk airport. They were upset about possibility missing the scheduled recording date, so they turned their troubles into song. They hauled out their instruments and had the airport rockin' within minutes. The fog lifted, and when the first available west bound plane arrived, five passengers give up their seats so the boys could make it to Nashville in time for the session.
Owen Bradley had previously recorded both Buddy Holly and Johnny Carroll. It was Carroll's suggestion to add exaggerated echo. This resulted in a new modified sound, devised by engineer Mort Thomasson, that was used to enhance Gene's voice and the band's sound. On May 4th 1956 Gene and his band, renamed the Blue Caps, assembled for their historic first session at Bradley's studio. Nelson, being unsure of the band's abilities, had assembled stand-by, top-line session musicians, Grady Martin, Hank "Sugarfoot' Garland, Buddy Harman and Bob Moore, for the recordings. But after Cliff Gallup broke into the manic lead intro of "Race With The Devil" the session men beat a hasty retreat. No improvements could be made on that!
Gene and the Blue Caps recut the three numbers that had been sent to Nelson as demos plus a Jack Rhodes song previously recorded by Jimmy Johnson on Starday. This song, "Woman Love" (initially promoted as the A-side) was coupled with "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and released on June 2nd as Gene's first single. By the end of the month, with the DJs primarily giving airplay to the "Lula" side, the record had sold over 200,000 copies. Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps had certainly arrived!
With "Be-Bop-A-Lula" selling like hot cakes, Ken Nelson wanted Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps back in the studio to record enough material for an album and another hit single. He got both. During the four day session from June 24th to 27th, 1956 Gene cut sixteen tracks including "Bluejean Bop" which became not only the title of his first album, but also the A-side of his third single and which, like "Be-Bop-A-Lula," also went Gold. Because events had occurred so fast, Nelson was unable to come up with a whole album of new rock 'n' roll songs, so he had to rely on a selection of old standards to fill in the gaps. Numbers like "Jezebel," "Peg O' My Heart" and "Up A Lazy River" were hardly rock 'n' roll but, by combining Gene's unique vocal range with Cliff Gallup's intricate guitar work, Nelson was able to capture Vincent's distinctive ballad style which contrasted effectively with the raw aggression of his up-tempo rockers.
Gene and the Blue Caps themselves contributed some pretty wild numbers for the session. "Who Slapped John?" and "Jumps, Giggles and Shouts" were indicative of the somewhat hastily composed rockers included on the "Bluejean Bop" album. The spontaneous "whoops" and "yells" of Dickie Harrell and other band members became the trademark of those early Blue Caps sessions which were recorded under near "live" studio conditions. Ken Nelson also came up with some new material for the session, including a tailor-made Jerry Reed song "Crazy Legs" (released later as a single) and two Bobbie Carroll numbers "I Flipped" and "Well I Knocked Bim Bam" (that wasn't issued until years later). One of Gene's best loved numbers, "Gonna Back Up Baby" (recorded in three takes) came from the pen of Texan, Danny Wolfe. This tune is clearly one of the most underrated pieces of rock 'n' roll genius ever recorded!
Throughout the Summer of 1956 Gene was able to capitalize on the success of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" to the extent that the failure of his second single "Race With The Devil" was of little consequence. The failure was due, in part, to Capitol's poor judgement, knowing that a devil reference might, and did, curtail DJ airplay. But towards the end of the summer, the near constant touring proved too much for Willie Williams and Cliff Gallup who both decided to quit the Blue Caps. In Gene's famed but brief appearance in the epic rock 'n' roll movie "The Girl Can't Help It" the "Be-Bop-A-Lula" sequence revealed a cool, young Russell Wilaford taking over Gallup's lead guitar role, while the rhythm guitar vacancy had been filled by an eager Paul Peek. Though Wilaford was also heavily featured in a series of Capitol publicity shots, his spell with Gene was short-lived and he never got to play on any Blue Cap recording sessions.
By October, 1956, with "Be-Bop-A-Lula" finally fading from the charts, after a massive twenty week run, it was time for more studio work. The album "Bluejean Bop" had sold well, so Ken Nelson was obviously intent on retaining its successful formula. In order to do this, Cliff Gallup accepted an invitation to return to the recording studio for the October sessions in Nashville. This time more original numbers were recorded and the Blue Caps were wilder than ever. Titles that included the sinister "Cat Man," "Pink Thunderbird," "Cruisin'" and "Double Talkin' Baby" all echoed the sentiments of America's rebellious youth. Only two "standards" were used on the second album, but both the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away From Me" and Al Hibbler's "Unchained Melody" were given that exceptional Vincent treatment. On the final day of the October sessions The Jordanaires were brought in to add backing vocals to "Important Words," "You Better Believe" and "Five Days, Five Days." Twelve of the fifteen numbers cut were issued in March of the following year as Gene's second album titled: "Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps."
Gene rounded off 1956 with a long stint at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas where his unusually wild stage act backfired on the management as the gamblers left their tables to watch the show rather than helping to swell the Sands coffers! But the strain on Gene's damaged leg was beginning to take its toll. Still in a plaster cast from previous hospitalization the leg began to bleed regularly and cause Gene considerable pain. Before the end of the year it was clear that Gene needed a long rest. Coupled with this, a third original Blue Cap, bassist Jack Neal, decided to quit and Sheriff Tex also parted company with Gene at about the same time.
Though 1956 had obviously been a great year for Gene, having seen the launch of his rock 'n' roll career, it had not been without its problems. In a matter of months Gene found himself managerless, without a complete band and in desperate need of medical treatment to his injured leg. In many ways it was a Godsend that Gene and The Blue Caps were ordered off the road until a legal dispute over their management had been resolved. Reluctantly returning to naval hospital at least gave Gene a much needed rest as well as giving him time to contemplate what 1957 might have in store.
Early 1957 saw Gene badly in need of a new manager and a new band as only Dickie Harrell had remained from the original Blue Caps. It was newcomer Paul Peek who was instrumental in helping Gene shape the second Blue Cap group. Paul had played pedal steel with a South Carolina outfit, Country Earl and the Circle E Ranch Gang, and wanted Gene to hear their lead guitarist Johnny Meeks of Greenville, SC. Gene, still upset over the loss of Cliff Gallup, was more than impressed with Meeks and quickly signed him up along with Paul and fellow South Carolinian Bill Mack on bass. Peek switched to backing vocals and became one half of the famous Blue Cap "clapper-boys" ... the other half being Tommy "Bubba" Facenda, a neighbor and old pal of Dickie Harrell's. Facenda was a good looking kid of Italian decent who quit school to go on the road with Gene.
After a short tour of Ohio with Sanford Clark, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, Gene and the Caps found themselves on a week long series of shows in Philadelphia with Eddie Cochran. It was about this time that Bill Mack, after a disagreement with Gene, was replaced by bassist Bobby Lee Jones. Soon after that, Ken Nelson signed an agency deal for Gene with the Dallas based McLemore Artist & Services Bureau. Ed McLemore already handled Sonny James, Buddy Knox and Johnny Carroll. Both Knox and Carroll became close friends with Gene with Carroll even adopting many of Gene's vocal and stage mannerisms as did many of the Dallas based rock 'n' roll bands (for example "My Little Mama" by Gene Rambo and The Flames is about as close to the Blue Cap sound as any band was or is likely to get). So Gene Vincent had a new and wilder band and new more efficient management. . . .but what he needed most was a new hit record. And soon they had two: "Lotta Lovin'" and "Dance to the Bop."
Despite the success, the burden of heavy touring had forced Dickie Harrell to quit the Blue Caps before the Sunday, November 17, 1957 Ed Sullivan Show appearance, but at Gene's request he reappeared for the TV performance and can be seen, as recently discovered clips reveal, standing behind his drums frantically keeping the beat to wild stage versions of "Lotta Lovin'" and "Dance to the Bop." The latter part of 1957 saw the group back in the studio again recording fresh material for an album to capitalize on the last two hit records. Fifteen tracks were cut during these sessions with most of them finding their way onto Gene's third album, "Gene Vincent Rocks and the Blue Caps Roll" released in March of the following year. For the first time a piano was used during a Blue Cap session, being played by Max Lipscomb (later known as Scotty McKay) who had joined Gene principally as a rhythm guitarist just prior to the Ed Sullivan Show appearance.
By the turn of 1957 changes in the Blue Caps line-up became commonplace with Gene being unable to keep the same personnel together for more than a few months at a time. Shortly after the later 1957 sessions Lipscomb, Peek and Facenda left to pursue solo careers. Gene was concerned because he had a new movie, "Hot Rod Gang," coming up in which four of his songs were to be featured. He enlisted Grady Owen on rhythm guitar and a 15 year old Juvey Gomez as a replacement for Dickie Harrell who this time quit for good. Peek and Facenda were persuaded to return for the film as their clapper-boy routine and backup vocals were an indispensable ingredient of the Blue Cap's stage act. Their close-up harmonizing role flanking Gene on the superb "Baby Blue" in " Hot Rod Gang" is a magnificent illustration of the Blue Caps in action at the height of Gene's career.
Just prior to the filming for "Hot Rod Gang" Gene had once again completed a recording session which subsequently would become regarded as one of the most historic in rock 'n' roll, not because it produced any major hit records, but because Eddie Cochran had decided to sit in anonymously and provide backing bass vocals to complement those of Peek and Facenda. This resulted in some of the most exquisite harmonies in rock 'n' roll as they laid down tracks like the classic "Git It," "Peace Of Mind," "The Wayward Wind" and a beautiful version of the standard "Now Is The Hour." Cochran's distinct bass vocals are clearly audible on some eight numbers. Gene also cut, without Eddie's assistance because he was recording "Summertime Blues at the time, further memorable tracks like "Rocky Road Blues," "Dance in the Street" and "Summertime," an imaginative upbeat adaptation of the Gershwin's Porgy & Bess musical production tune. Most of these cuts found their way on to what has been considered by many to be the definitive post-Cliff Gallup album, "A Gene Vincent Record Date."
Following the "Record Date" sessions and the filming of "Hot Rod Gang" the band hit the road again to tour extensively. Gene went out to perform in the US and Australia with Eddie Cochran and Little Richard. The strain of touring with one of the wildest rock 'n' roll outfits around, while at the same time enjoying little or no chart success, proved too much for some members of the Blue Caps. By October, 1958, Gene's next visit to the Hollywood's Capitol Tower Studios, the Blue Caps were nearing their end as a working unit. It was, in fact, the last Blue Caps recording session. The name was never to be used again. Johnny Meeks, now Gene's longest serving Blue Cap, remained on lead guitar. Sax session men Jackie Kelso (tenor) and Plas Johnson (baritone) were brought in to augment the musical backgrounds. Gene's voice sounded as good as ever and he cut a number of classic recordings, including the evocative ballad, "The Night Is So Lonely," the equally impressive "Important Words" and a sweet version of "Over The Rainbow." On the rocking side, the highlight of the session was the Johnny Meeks composition "Say Mama" (released as a single) which is surely one of the most perfect rock 'n' roll records of all time. ("Say Mama" was and is in the repertoire of almost every rock 'n' roll on earth). Add to this, two brilliant Johnny Burnette songs, "My Heart" and "I Got To Get To You Yet" as well as several other very strong originals.
Sadly, Gene appeared to have lost favor with the DJ's and little airplay was given to his subsequent releases A factor might have been Capitol Records, who claimed they never got involved with the "payola" game that gave bribes to key radio stations and DJs to play a certain recording to help make it a hit. By the end of 1958 the Blue Caps finally fell apart and Gene quit the Dallas based McLemore agency. Another phase of Gene's career had ended and the future seemed bleak.
Despite the final split of the Blue Caps and a lapsed contract with the McLemore Agency, Gene continued to tour extensively. He would either use pick-up bands or The Silhouettes whose drummer, Clayton Watson, introduced Gene to guitarist Jerry Merritt. Merritt became a close friend of Gene and the pair began to tour California and the northwest states. In the summer of 1959 Gene and Jerry took on a three week tour of Japan. Their arrival at Tokyo airport was greeted by over 10,000 ecstatic fans and similar frenzied scenes accompanied each sell-out house throughout the tour. Gene left early and Jerry impersonated Gene for the last three dates. Following their return from Japan, recording dates were arranged at the Capitol Tower for early August. Fourteen titles were cut between the 3rd and 6th. Apart from Jerry Merritt on lead guitar, the session musicians included jazz bassist Red Callender, Jackie Kelso, once again on sax, Jimmy Johnson on piano and Sandy "Let There Be Drums" Nelson on percussion. Vocal backing was provided by The Eligibles and the album that resulted, "Crazy Times," proved to be one of Gene's most commercial to date, even thought the great lead guitar sounds that Johnny Meeks used to play were noticeably absence.
Rockabilly artist Whitey Pullen was acting as Gene's manager at the time and he and Jerry Merritt wrote "She She Little Sheila" ... a song that would give Gene chart success in England two years later. Pullen also wrote "Everybody's Got A Date But Me" while Gene contributed the tongue-in-cheek "Darlene" (the lyrics supposedly referring to his current wife), "Pretty Pearly" and an adaptation of the old traditional song "Green Back Dollar." Other songs recorded at the August sessions included Bing Crosby's "Accentuate the Positive" and Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" along with some hot sax and guitar based rockers like: "Why Don't You People Learn To Drive," "Hot Dollar," "Big Fat Saturday Night" and the Japan tour inspired "Mitchiko from Tokyo." Two of the session's songs, "Wild Cat" and "Right Here On Earth," were chosen from the fourteen to make up Gene's next single release. Although a strong pairing, the single failed to make any impact in the US and likewise the resulting "Crazy Times" album would contribute little towards reviving a fading career in America.
It was time for Gene to move on to fresh pastures. In December of 1959 he arrived in London having been invited to headline a number of appearances on the popular "Boy Meets Girls" show. Gene's decision to tour the UK and appear on British TV was crucial. It not only saved him from impending obscurity but opened up his career to a whole new, expectant and adoring European audience. Gene Vincent arrived on British soil on December 6th 1959 to a hero's welcome. Although he had not had a major UK hit for over three years, a cult following had grown in Britain based largely on the images conjured up by his many previous Capitol LP, EP and single releases all superbly packaged with cover photographs depicting a wild and tortured American rocker. Jack Good, the British impresario who had booked Gene for his "Boy Meets Gils" TV shows, was less than impressed upon meeting Gene for the first time. Contrary to the wild man image created by the stores of wrecked motel rooms across America, Gene came across as an extremely polite Southern country gentleman, addressing Jack Good as "Sir." Jack set about changing Gene's image, dressing him from head to toe in black leather and draping a silver chained medallion around his neck. Many of Gene's British followers identified with the black leather "biker" image and Gene's popularity duly soared. Even more so after his much-talked-about appearance on his first Jack Good "Boy Meets Girls" show ... a TV image that, for those who witnessed it, has failed to diminish even thirty years later.
Gene's early live shows in Britain were equally impressive commencing on December 7th at the Tooting Granada with "Boy Meets Girls" host Marty Wilde. Later Gene caused a sensation at the Paris Olympia before beginning a long series of one night stands promoting his new UK single "Wild Cat" which reached the British Top 30 in January, 1960. In March 1960 Gene's next U.K. single "My Heart" followed "Wild Cat" onto the charts, going on to peak at No. 16 equalling "Be-Bop-A-Lula's" highest UK placing three years earlier.
To add to the on-stage excitement, Gene was joined by his old pal Eddie Cochran for the famed but fateful "Anglo-American Beat Show" tour put together by Larry Parnes. On April 17, 1960, after hurriedly leaving a Bristol gig, Gene, Eddie Cochran and Eddie's girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley took a late night taxi on route to London. They were all in the back seat. In the town of Chippenham, Wilshire, around 1:00 am, the cab rounded a curve and hit a cement post at 70-mph. The accident ended Eddie Cochran's life and severely reinjured Gene's leg leaving him with a limp the rest of his life. Gene's own words on the accident: "When the three of us traveled together, Shari always sat in the middle; but, because of the crowd of fans I got in the cab first, then Eddie, then Shari last. With Eddie in the middle, the only way he could have flown out that door was if he was he tried to cover Shari. The only way I came out alive was because I had taken a sleeping pill. After the crash, I woke up and carried Eddie over to the ambulance even though I had a broken arm. I was in such a state of shock that I though nothing was wrong with me. Eddie died two days later on Easter Sunday; somehow, I didn't."
This short historic Vincent-Cochran tour has been well chronicled over the years. In the late 1980's Liverpool Empire Productions offered a tribute in the form of a successful stage musical, "Be-Bob-A-Lula." While on the tour Gene and Eddie were working on an arrangement of the old Al Dexter country novelty, "Pistol Packin' Mama" and plans were made to record the song together. Regrettably Eddie's untimely death prevented the completion of those plans but Gene did return to the UK after Eddie's US funeral and cut the song at EMI's Abbey Road Studios on May 11, 1960. Backing was provided by The Beat Boys featuring a young Georgie Fame, who was also touring with Gene, on piano. At the same session Gene also recorded a beautiful ballad, "Weeping Willow" with the Norrie Paramor Orchestra. The song, dedicated to Gene's mother, was credited to Debbie Lynn, but was almost certainly written by Gene himself as Debbie was his step-daughter by Darlene and Lynn was his sister. "Pistol Packin' Mama" was released almost immediately, broke into the charts in mid-June and went on to give Gene his biggest UK hit at No. 15.
Gene returned to the US on the strength of a hoax telegram informing him of the death of his daughter Melody Jean. While he was away, Capitol Records of the UK attempted to keep Gene's chart successes going by releasing "Anna-Annabelle" (recorded in 1958) and "Jezebel" (recorded in 1956). Neither hit big. The music press quite rightly criticized the release of "Jezebel" ... claiming it to be a retrograde step issuing a song some 3 years after its original recording.
Gene returned to Britain in the early Spring of 1961 armed with a double-sider he had recorded with the Jimmie Haskell Orchestra during his last major session at the Hollywood Capitol Tower in January 1961. Both "Mister Loneliness" and "If You Want My Lovin" were very commercial but neither failed to register. It wasn't until Capitol decided to delve into the older material again that Gene found himself back in the UK Top 30 chart with "She She Little Sheila" recorded back in 1959 during the "Crazy Times" sessions with Jerry Merritt. During this period Gene was touring with a brand new British band, the celebrated Sounds Incorporated. In late July Gene went into Abbey Road Studios again and recorded a great rocker, "I'm Going Home," with Sounds Incorporated providing a driving sax based backing. It deserved a higher placing in the charts other than #36, but this powerful release was significant in that it provided Gene with his last chart success on either side of the Atlantic.
Gene was now nearing the end of his contract with Capitol. His last session at the Tower in Hollywood yielded his final US single, "Lucky Star," recorded with the Dave "The Champs" Burgess Band. Now a frequent visitor to Britain, Gene returned again towards the end of 1961 to tour and also to appear in the movie "It's Trad, Dad." Gene recorded the frantic "Spaceship To Mars" (a song he never liked) with Sounds Incorporated for the film and also cut a slightly different version with the possible intention of a single release. Although Gene gave an exciting movie performance (dressed all in white leather) Capitol saw fit to withhold "Spaceship To Mars" choosing instead to promote the earlier recorded "Lucky Star." A UK tour with Brenda Lee in early 1962, hailed as the "King and Queen of Rock" tour, continued to give Gene plenty of exposure in Britain where he had by now established an incredibly loyal following amongst rock 'n' roll fans. In July of 1962 Gene teamed up with producer Bob Barratt to record four songs in a very commercial vein. The first two, "King Of Fools" (written by Barratt) and a re-worked twist version of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" were released in September. Both sides received a fair amount of UK airplay but Gene's expired work permit prevented him from getting on the road to promote the record for a while, despite the fact he had even applied for British citizenship. He did manage to perform the follow-up "Held For Questioning'" on the "Thank Your Lucky Stars" show, but unfortunately this was some three months after the record's release. Consequently another terrific recording by Gene failed to register.
These failures were not all due to Gene nor his record company, Capitol. Four young lads from Liverpool were beginning to make an impact and by the time Capitol released "Crazy Beat" in the UK in 1963, the Beatles had already chalked up three No. 1 hit singles. Rock 'n' roll and popular music in general would never be quite the same again. Although Gene's contract with Capitol expired in 1963, Columbia Records of London did not turn their back on the rock 'n' roll legend. Late in that year he was signed to Columbia/EMI for whom he cut four singles and an album. The first of these was an immaculate version of Arthur Alexander's "`Where Have You Been All My Life." It was up-to-date and was certainly one of the most beautiful songs he ever recorded. Gene also appeared in the Joe Meek movie "Live It Up" singing "Temptation Baby," the flip-side to "Where Have You Been All My Life." Despite an enormous amount of radio and TV promotion "Where Have You Been All My Life" failed to make the charts but the song had improved Gene's credibility no end and had set the scene for a hit making follow-up. Unfortunately this was not to be the case for the follow-up, a novelty nursery rhyme song performed to a twist beat, was probably the worst number that Gene ever recorded. "Humpity Dumpity" shattered his new found credibility. By the time Columbia released "La-Den-Da-Den-Da-Da" (an adaptation of an old Dale Hawkins song) it really was, as the B-side suggested, "The Beginning Of The End."
By the end of 1965, Gene's health and career had both hit bottom. He returned to California and, for all effective purposes, retired for close to 18 months, watching in horror as a second revolution changed the face of rock and "a bunch of lomg-haired hippies" took over. Gene didn't have the financial base to stay retired for too long. Any number of ex-managers, ex-wives and weird business associates ate up his royalties, and the need to return to work loomed large. And why not? At age 31, Gene should, in theory, have had a long life in front of him. In 1967 saw him back on the road, back in Europe, but unfortunately back into the same self- destructive lifestyle cycle.
About that time (early September, 1971) Ron Weiser of Rolling Rock Records, was curiously asking a local record store owner if she knew anything about Gene Vincent. She ironically replied that she heard he was in an apartment down the street. Ron made immediate contact and Gene recorded four vocal-only songs right in Ron's apartment, using a $140 portable reel-to-reel tape deck. Music tracks were added later. In 1980 an album, using these four songs as a base, was released. It also included many other tribute Vincent tunes by popular old rockabilly artists, including Gene's daughter, Melody Jean Vincent singing "Say Mama" while Johnny Meeks added in the guitar.
It was back to England one last time in mid-September of 1971 soon after the Weiser apartment tapings. Gene rehearsed about 12 songs for a tour, and recorded five of them with Richard Cole and the Kansas Hook band on Friday, October 1, 1971. This material (all but "Whole Lotta Shakin'") was released years later as "The Last Session." Gene managed to get through two shows at the Wookey Hollow Club in Liverpool October 3rd and 4th, 1971 before his health completely gave out and he flew back to California. Vincent Eugene Craddock died in Newhall, California, from a bleeding ulcer on October 12, 1971 at the age of 36.