Spent Brothers Productions Gene Vincent Website

Gene Vincent in South Africa 1965

Magazine cover
The original article submitted to the magazine, later slightly modified by the editor Trevor Cajiao

Gene Vincent’s performances in South Africa in late 1965 have hitherto been somewhat shrouded in mystery. Recently new information has come from one of the musicians who backed him during that period. Contrary to the previous received wisdom, Gene actually spent a considerable time in the country, performing many times, before he returned to the USA.

Durban Daily News 3 Dec 1975

The above cutting from the 3 December 1965 edition of the Daily News in Durban reports that ‘the popular American vocalist currently appearing at a local hotel, heads the bill of a “packaged show” at Durban’s Icedrome’ skating rink the following day. The photograph shows Gene with Jackie Frisco and members of The 004, “one of the leading pop bands in the country”. Jack Russell, who still has one of the studs from Gene Vincent’s leg brace as a keepsake, has revealed many more details about Gene’s visit to South Africa. “Gene came to The Al Fresco lounge in October 1965. I was a member of a British band called 004. We had been offered a six month contract to appear at the Al Fresco by Trevor Boswell as a result of the failed Dusty Springfield tour of 1964 when Dusty was deported for refusing to play to segregated audiences. Pete Clifford was Dusty’s lead guitarist and put 004 together to satisfy the opportunity presented by the South African market which at that time was starved of outside talent. 004 consisted of Pete Clifford on lead guitar, Brian Gibson lead vocal and guitar, Jack Russell bass guitar and vocals with Pete Stember on drums. We had been resident at The Al Fresco since June when Gene arrived in late September.” Once the band had met Gene, they “rehearsed with him once or twice but most of his stuff was well known to us by ear even if we had never played it…And we were all competent professional musicians with lots of UK and foreign experience anyway.”

Gene Vincent on stage afternoon show Christmas Day

Jack thinks that local entrepreneur Joe Fusco, who he describes as a “dodgy…slimy little man but a lot of fun too” who “was always on the lookout for a fast buck”, was responsible for Gene’s trip to South Africa. On 19th September, Gene finished his three month summer season at the Rainbow Theatre on Blackpool’s south pier. Joe Fusco’s daughter Jackie, sister-in-law of Michael Hayes (better known as Mickie Most), who had adopted the stage name Frisco, was Gene’s partner at the time. They had first met when Gene played some dates in South Africa with Mickie Most in May 1961, when she was a young teenager. They got together when Jackie went to the UK in 1964. She had been with Gene in Blackpool and travelled to South Africa with him. Once they had settled in, the Al Fresco, a night club “bolted on to the Esplanade Hotel in Durban”, hosted a new show every night except Sunday, plus a matinee on Saturdays. The show comprised The 004’s own set, a set by Jackie Frisco (“thank goodness it was short” says Jack), followed by the headliner Gene. The show “started at 7.30 and closed at about 11.00. Gene would come on around 10 ish” and “would do about half an hour sometimes more depending on how he felt.” Songs performed by Gene in the shows included Bluejean Bop, What’d I Say, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Susie Q, the Roger Miller ode to Moonshine whiskey Chug-A-Lug, Corinne Corinna, and the inevitable Be-Bop-A-Lula. “There was no list, he just called out songs”. Gene usually sang “5 or 6 songs with some patter between…Typical evening audiences would be fifty to a hundred with more at the weekend. Saturday mornings could be 200 youngsters 16 to 25 ish…you could be playing to two people and still have to go on!” Gene was still in robust form on stage, Jack remembers that he “broke one of my mike stands doing Be Bop a Lula, smashing it repeatedly on the floor.”

Gene Vincent on stage afternoon show Christmas Day

On Saturday, 4th December, Gene closed the show, compered by Jack Briant, at the Icedrome. Other performers were The 004, Jackie Frisco, and Dunny and the Showmen. “It was a cavernous place with 6000 seats!! I seem to remember we got about 2000 people in and they were dwarfed by the size of the place. It was a good night however and the press reports were generous as I remember.” Jack recalls that Gene remained resident in Durban until 1966. “Gene stayed on until early in January, we certainly did Christmas and New Year with him.” Christmas Day in 1965 was on a Saturday, so there were the usual two shows that day.

Gene Vincent on stage afternoon show Christmas Day

Jack has fond memories about his time with Gene. “He was utterly charming to work with, a perfect gentleman, no airs and graces, one of the boys. He drank quite a few beers but I never saw him drink any hard liquor (unlike the rest of us)”. Gene also had a fund of tall stories. Gene, who “would regularly bind up his leg in our small suite of rooms at the hotel where we lived and worked…told us that the injury that caused his disability was caused while he was a young sailor in the US Navy. He claimed he was on a covert mission to the coast of North Korea intended as a rescue for some downed pilots. He was aboard a submarine and went ashore in an inflatable. There was an exchange of fire and Gene was hit in the leg. His problems began there. It always seemed an outlandish story to me but there was something about his telling of it that made one half believe it.” “Another story concerned Gene, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. They had been booked on a tour and the trio decided that Carl Perkins should play guitar on the tour…The trio went looking for Carl and found him ploughing a field. They were in a brand new car just bought by Johnny Cash who had recently had one of his first hits. The car had white wall tyres. They called across the field to Carl who came over covered in mud and dust. When they asked him to come on the tour his response was to urinate on Johnny Cash’s white wall tyres as a means of saying no! He was by all accounts so disillusioned by the Rock scene at the time that he wanted to stay on the farm. They did eventually persuade him to join them however and left the plough right where it was.” A rather less amusing alleged incident had Gene shooting a man in the rest room of a gas station in the southern states of the USA, who he thought was bent on robbery. “He said he was arrested for shooting the black guy but released without charge.”

Gene Vincent on stage evening show Christmas Day

Another odd story concerning Gene was when he “stayed at a block of flats near the Durban beachfront…Because Gene didn’t like climbing stairs the block manager persuaded an old resident who lived on the ground floor to let Gene have his flat for the duration…What no-one took into account was the old man’s dog. The dog was in the habit of jumping out of the flat window whenever it needed a wee. Of course the next time its bladder called the dog jumped 12 storeys to its death. Gene was upset but you can imagine how everybody laughed at the story.”

Gene Vincent on stage evening show Christmas Day

Towards the end of his stay in South Africa, Gene told the band that he wanted them to go to the USA with him. “But frankly we thought that…he was a spent force and no good could come of it for us. He was flat broke when he arrived. He told us that in the months leading up to his arrival in SA he used to go along to other artists concerts in order to get fed at the after show party, where he was of course an honoured guest. Again it was easy to write him off but…he was one of the architects of Rock and Roll…and a great stylist in many ways. He also had a good voice, quite quirky but instantly recognisable, I never heard him sing a bum note”. Jack did not know where Gene went after he left in January, “although there was some talk of going to his sister back in the USA.”

I am greatly indebted to Jack Russell for his time and memories, and to Nick Warburton who brought us together.

Photographs used by kind permission of Jack Russsell
©Derek Henderson 2012

I’m Back and I’m Proud

I’m Back and I’m Proud RPM Records RETRO 889 (UK) 2011

CD cover
The original liner notes for the CD, later slightly modified by John Reed

By the late 1960s, Gene Vincent was still performing, but playing small clubs with pick-up bands and scraping a living. In May 1969, in an attempt to renew record company interest in him, Gene recorded 3 new songs plus a version of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven in a home studio, and these recordings were touted around various companies including A&M, Dot and Liberty, without any success. The songs were never recorded again in any of his subsequent sessions. Gene had retained contact with his English fan and friend Adrian Owlett over the years. “Gene was in the habit of telephoning in the middle of the night UK time being fairly unconcerned with the time difference. One morning at about 3 he called to play me a tape of Rainy Day Sunshine which he had just that day recorded. It was unmixed and the quality was not too great but the voice was still there. He told me that he was getting this track and three others cut to acetate and that he would mail them to me”. (1) The disc arrived shortly afterwards and Adrian, after making a tape safety copy, “arranged to see many industry A & R people but it was a time when you couldn’t get arrested for singing rock ‘n’ roll.” (1) One Sunday a little later, Adrian, listening to John Peel’s show, heard “the curiously named ‘Family’ and their set was, surprisingly, comprised mainly of regular rock ‘n’ roll standards…I decided to contact him and to my surprise received a response asking me to give him a call concerning the Gene Vincent tracks that I had told him I had.” (1) Adrian made contact and met up with John, playing him a tape of the new recordings, and giving John Gene’s address and telephone number. In July that year, John Peel had got together with the UK head of Elektra Records Clive Selwood (who, with his wife Shurley, also managed John) to form Dandelion Records, allegedly named after a hamster that Marc Bolan had given John. To be distributed in the UK by CBS, the idea of the label was to issue releases by performers that John liked but who had no record deal. These records sold in small quantities and the label folded in 1972. They are now quite treasured as memorabilia of a rather whimsical period of UK rock music. John told Adrian that he would love to have Gene on his fledgling label. In the first week of August, Clive and Shurley Selwood travelled to Los Angeles to finalise the deal with Gene.

Gene Vincent was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1935. Despite a serious motorcycle accident in 1955 whilst he was on leave from the US Navy, when his left leg was permanently damaged, he went on to make a successful career in the music industry. In 1956, his first single Be-Bop-A-Lula on the Hollywood based Capitol label was a smash hit internationally within weeks of its release and earned him a gold record for 2 million sales within a year. His subsequent two singles made the charts, and in 1957 he had another huge seller, Lotta Lovin’, for which he received a gold record for sales of 1.5 million. This CD contains re-workings of these two songs. Touring widely with his acclaimed backing group The Blue Caps, Gene was renowned for his wild stage act, and made appearances on TV and in several films, including the excellent The Girl Can’t Help It, which also featured a number of other great rock ‘n’ roll performers, including his soon to be buddy, the short-lived Eddie Cochran. His final USA chart single, Dance To The Bop, spent 9 weeks in the Billboard chart. When his career in his home country faded in the late 1950s, a visit to England for TV performances and live performances re-ignited his star, and, until the emergence of The Beatles, Gene Vincent was the biggest live draw on the touring circuit in the UK. He had 5 singles in the UK charts during the years 1960 and 1961. By 1965, with 8 albums under his belt, however, his popularity had waned and, after living in the UK for 3 years, Gene returned to obscurity in the USA. In 1966, Challenge Records recorded several sessions with Gene which produced three poorly selling singles. In the UK and France the next year, these recordings were collected together onto a very good eponymous album on the London label and attracted enough interest for Gene to make an enthusiastically received tour of France. In the UK, Capitol Records released Best Of Gene Vincent LP, the first of very many reissue records. John Peel, the popular pirate radio DJ, now presenting the programme Top Gear on the newly opened BBC Radio 1 station, played a track on air and expressed his admiration for Gene’s records.

The colourful Kim Fowley “had been a fixture around the Los Angeles music scene since the time of Phil Spector. At some six feet four inches tall and with crazy eyes…(he) always had a hustle going.” (2) He and Gary Paxton had recorded the 1960 hit Alley Oop by the non-existent Hollywood Argyles, and Fowley was involved with other successful novelty singles: The Trashmen’s Surfing Bird, Paul Revere and The Raiders’ Like, Long Hair, B Bumble and The Stingers’ Nut Rocker, The Rivington’s Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow, and Popsicles And Icicles by The Murmaids. During the mid 1960s, he spent some time in London as P J Proby’s publicist, and writing and producing singles by then obscure musicians such as Cat Stevens and Ritchie Blackmore. He also recorded himself, producing a record about the psychedelic experience The Trip in 1965, and They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Ha in 1966. Exactly how Kim Fowley came to act as producer for the proposed Dandelion album is rather obscure. Susan VanHecke suggests that he was an acquaintance of “Bones” Howe, now well known for his production work with The Mamas And Papas, Fifth Dimension and The Association, who was then producing Gene’s younger sister under the name Piper Grant. “She’d put a plug in for her currently hit-less brother, and Howe had passed the word to Fowley.” (3) Clive and Shurley Selwood had a meeting with Gene and Kim at the Hotel Roosevelt. “It was a most bizarre evening. Gene introduced Kim…Kim advanced across the room and said ‘Hey, grease me some of that teenage dogshit!’ Gene talked about the album cover and said ‘Why don’t we have a picture of me standing around my star’” (in the Hollywood Hall Of Fame in the sidewalk opposite the Capitol Tower). (4) Clive thought that was a good idea but that “Gene was a bit odd and Kim Fowley was considerably odder” (4). However, they agreed a deal on the album.

Some pre-recording rehearsals, took place at “Skip” Battin’s house in Laurel Canyon. Battin had been brought in as musical director and bassist. He, like Fowley, had collaborated with Gene Paxton, recording several reasonably successful singles, It Was I, Fancy Nancy, and a cover of Marvin and Johnny’s R & B hit Cherry Pie, under the name Skip and Flip. He is better known today for his work with The Byrds from 1970 to 1973, and later The New Riders Of The Purple Sage and The Flying Burrito Brothers. “I worked with Gene very closely and we pretty well let him do what he wanted. We got together maybe half a dozen times over a period of about two weeks.” (5) Gene and Kim were interviewed for The Globe newspaper around this time, saying “We won’t be doing any intellectual rubbish on this album. Today’s public demands simple – real music”. (4) Fowley had lined up an impressive group of musicians to record with Gene. Gene had wanted his old acquaintance Al Casey, the veteran recording session guitar player who had backed him on some of his Challenge recordings, but his schedule wouldn’t allow it. A little known Jim Fonseca was set for the rôle of lead guitarist, Mars Bonfire a Canadian best known for writing Born To Be Wild for Steppenwolf, which featured in the soundtrack of the film Easy Rider, would cover rhythm guitar duties, Grant Johnson keyboards, and on drums, Jim Gordon, who had backed The Everly Brothers, played on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album and was a very sought after session player. Later, changes and additions would be made.

Clive Selwood had used his company contacts to book the Elektra Sound Studios on North La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles. It wasn’t what Kim Fowley had wished. “I wanted to record in the South at Malaco studios. I felt it would be the ideal environment for Gene Vincent.” (4) But Elektra executive David Anderle was having none of that. He also insisted that Fowley use the recording engineer Allan Emig, “an older man into jazz and folk, nothing to do with this type of music.” (4) The first session took place on 21 August, when the tracks Be-Bop-A-Lula and Rockin’ Robin, a novelty song that was Bobby Day’s only hit in 1958, were recorded. The session was not a happy one and the recordings were either scrapped or recorded over. Gene telephoned Adrian, telling him he “was struggling with a ‘new’ approach to recording whereby tracks were assembled almost without his attendance being required…Gene told me that he was working with a ‘maniac’ and he was eyeball to eyeball about the guitar sounds that were coming out.” (1) He also telephoned Clive Selwood. “We had a series of mad phone calls from Gene. He’d…keep going on about Kim, he said, ‘I can’t work with him.’ Shurley mainly took the calls.”(4) But perversely, Gene didn’t want Fowley replaced either, so the sessions went ahead anyway. Gene was very unhappy with Fonseca’s work on lead guitar and he was removed. After some discussion, Red Rhodes, the pedal steel guitarist who had played on sessions by The Ventures, The Byrds and ex-Monkee Michael Nesbith, and was due to play on some country style songs on the sessions, revealed that he performed locally with legendary ex-Blue Cap lead guitarist Johnny Meeks. Johnny was duly contacted and came on board.

A second session took place on 28 August, when cuts of In The Pines, a version of a very old traditional American folk song; Ruby Baby, a Leiber and Stoller song which was an R & B hit for The Drifters in 1956; White Lightning, a number one hit for country singer George Jones in 1959 which was written by The Big Bopper; and Gene’s old hit single Lotta Lovin’ were laid down. “Gene was a difficult artist in some ways. He was a bit of a perfectionist, and Kim likes to move pretty quickly. Gene tried very hard, but he was pretty sick at the time. His leg was bothering him and he was in constant pain.”(5) Another curious factor in the process was that Gene had sworn off alcohol for the duration. Red Rhodes told Britt Hagarty “Gene was straight and looked fine…We were drinking beer, but he wasn’t. Though he looked like he wanted to.” (5) Then there were the liggers. Gene used to hang out at the Shamrock drinking den on Santa Monica Boulevard, where Jim Morrison, singer with The Doors encountered him and became a drinking buddy. Jim idolised Gene and modelled his stage persona on him. “From his leather suits to his stage posture of clinging to the mike stand, sometimes as much for dear life as his mentor, Morrison had taken it all from Gene…Both men were…helplessly in tune with the times that shaped them, and both men also drank to excess to dull the noise in their heads.” (2) Around The Doors was a coterie of fellow artists and hangers on who liked to party. They started turning up at the studio. At one time or another, members of The Doors, John Sebastian, originally with The Lovin’ Spoonful but now a solo artist, Linda Ronstadt, man-about-town Rodney Bingenheimer, and even an eleven year old Michael Jackson dropped in. Interestingly, the latter also recorded Rockin’ Robin a couple of years later for his first solo album, and had a big hit with it when it was issued on single. On one occasion, “Gene was getting ready to do ‘Sexy Ways’, and said on the microphone so that everybody could hear, ‘Who are our uninvited guests here?’” When told they were The Doors’ drummer John Densmore and producer Paul Rothchild, Gene said “’I have a gun in my boot, I will pull the gun out of my boot and shoot at them through the window unless they leave.’ They got out of there quick.” (4)

The final recordings took place on 2 September, when a total of ten masters were cut in one session. The previous take of Ruby Baby had since been discarded and was recorded again towards the end of the session. Firstly, Gene recorded a quartet of country style songs: the traditional Circle Never Broken; Black Letter, a version of Ernest Tubb’s 1944 hit Soldier’s Last Letter; Rainbow At Midnight, a hit for The Carlisle Brothers and for Ernest Tubb in the late 1940s; and the Hank Williams classic (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle. Red Rhodes played steel guitar on these songs. Next Gene tried to record Sexy Ways, a song that was a controversial hit in 1954 for prototype rock ‘n’ roll singer Hank Ballard with The Midnighters. For whatever reason, the take was discarded, and Gene returned once more to ballad mode, recording Scarlet Ribbons, a song best known in the UK for the version by Harry Belafonte in the early 1950s. On this song, he was joined on vocals by Linda Ronstadt, who went on later to fame and fortune as a very successful country rock performer and recording artist. Johnny Meeks and Red Rhodes played together on the track. Finally, Gene returned to rocking for the final selection of songs. Firstly, he tackled Rockin’ Robin again. Satisfied with that, they moved on to cut a version of Ruby Baby that they were content with. Then Sexy Ways and, finally, a beefed up version of his first hit renamed Be-Bop-A-Lula ’69 were in the can. Johnny Meeks played lead guitar on these four tracks. And so it was all over except mixing the masters, assembling the running order and finalising the artwork. Clive Selwood later commented “The album damn near broke us, it never covered its costs.” (4)

When the album was complete, Gene called Adrian Owlett and asked him to write the album notes. The “next call I had from Peel was an invitation to hear the newly received master tape and I duly went up and spent another pleasant evening heightened of course with some brand new Gene Vincent recordings.” (1) Adrian was very touched by the recorded dedication to him and John that Gene had inserted into the introduction to (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle. John Peel also asked Adrian to write the notes for the release. Adrian was pleased to do this, but “had some difficulty actually getting the correct names of the personnel involved! John Lennon had offered to make a note and a drawing for inclusion but for some reason this never happened.” (1) John Lennon and Gene had recently been reunited on 13 September when they both performed at a Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival Show in Toronto.

In late 1969, the album, entitled I’m Back And I’m Proud was issued by Dandelion in the USA, and in the UK, a single coupling Be-Bop-A-Lula ’69 with Ruby Baby was released ahead of the album, but to no chart success. The next year, the album was issued in the UK, and a second single coupling White Lightning (a song he and Eddie Cochran had sung together on the famous Jack Good UK TV show Boy Meets Girls in February 1960, just two months prior to the latter’s death in a road accident) and Scarlet Ribbons was released. A review of the single in the weekly music paper NME on 9 May informed its readers that “it is a rocker impregnated with a strong country feel. The mid-tempo beat is compelling and the novelty lyric praising bootleg liquor is amusing.” It also failed to sell significantly. The album, however, did cause interest amongst European Gene Vincent fans, and on the back of it he came over to tour, playing ten dates in France in October, and the next month, nine dates in England including a sell out performance at the London Palladium, where he was introduced by Radio 1 DJ Emperor Roscoe, plus one date each in Northern and Southern Ireland.

Gene Vincent went on in 1970 to record two further albums on the Kama Sutra label, some tracks being issued on singles, but with no commercial success. He toured France again in June that year. His life went into serious decline and, following a disastrous tour of the UK in the autumn of 1971, he returned to California and died from an upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage shortly afterwards. He was 36 years old. Over the decades since, he has been a much reissued performer, and is now considered a major rock icon. In 1986, the I’m Back And I’m Proud album became the very first Gene Vincent CD release on Adrian Owlett’s Nightflite record label. All Gene Vincent’s many studio recordings are currently available on CD.

(1) Email from Adrian Owlett to the author 6 February 2011
(2) Mick Farren “There’s One In Every Town”, The Do Not Press Limited, 2004.
(3) Susan VanHecke “Race With The Devil”, St. Martins Press, 2000.
(4) Steven Mandich “Sweet Gene Vincent The Bitter End”, Orange Syringe Publications, 2002.
(5) Britt Hagarty “The Day The World Turned Blue”, Blandford Press, 1984.
©Derek Henderson 2011

Gene Vincent in Europe

Original Cool #28 Jun/Jul 97
Reading through the articles on the Blue Caps in Original Cool (issues 1, 9 and 22) once again brought home to me the cultural chasm which separates Europe and the USA. I suspect that the differing value systems are rooted in attitudes towards judgement of worth in traditionally cultural terms, and those promulgated in the mass media, primarily in TV and the tabloid newspapers, where the transcending benchmark is (financial) success. Add to this the cult of Youth and The Modern, and a climate where ignorance and a detachment from any awareness of history bloom freely. I can find little sympathy with any environment where it is possible to be famous for being famous, or adulated because of material affluence. Due to the globalisation of popular culture via TV, these shallow attributes can now be found amongst young people everywhere - in Europe, in China…

To understand the enduring nature of Gene Vincent’s appeal in Europe requires a knowledge of the milieu into which he burst into prominence in 1959. Europe in the 1950s was a dreary place, the many afflictions of the Second World War lingered on. Popular culture had undergone little change over the previous two decades. Music played on radio was largely dull popular songs or middle-brow classical music. TV was by no means ubiquitous, and there were just two channels in Britain, one with inane adverts, the other without and very staid. Fashion was something the rich could indulge in. The concept of the Teenager was something alien where most young people looked pretty much like their parents and had many of the same aspirations. What would you desire after the holocaust? A quiet and safe life.

This cosy pattern, however, began to erode with various incursions from the States. There’s a whole book waiting to be written about about the cultural revolution wrought by the introduction and promulgation of jeans in Europe. Here was a garment that young people could actually afford (in 1960, my employment as a Pharmaceutical Apprentice paid $4 a week!). It had the added appeal that it was casual, something one’s parents disapproved of (one was supposed to dress up smartly to go out on Saturday night), and was not worn by them. Then there were strange films suddenly bringing awareness of a youth culture unlike anything one could dream of. Young people with their own cars! AND, there was this (what we thought to be) NEW MUSIC. Looking back at the old footage, it is rather difficult to see what Bill Haley and His Comets had going for them, yet they created a sensation when they came to Europe. Suddenly it seemed, the floodgates opened. You could actually buy records like these! The good old BBC didn’t play them, but your friends did, and so did a radio station broadcasting in English to Europe from Luxembourg, of all places. Rock ‘n’ roll! We had never heard anything like it. It was exciting, incomprehensible, and our parents at best tolerated it. Whilst tapping your feet, you could firstly try and figure out what the words were, and then spend a somewhat longer time attempting to decipher them into something vaguely capable of assimilation.

So, by December 1959, we had progressed to some knowledge about teenage rebellion and so forth. We had seen and been smitten by James Dean, we had goggled at Little Richard in The Girl Can’t Help It, and we had our collections of 78s and these new 45rpm records you had to have a special player for. You might even know someone who owned a long player. There had even been the odd TV performance by Buddy Holly and The Crickets, and Charlie Gracie. But don’t get me wrong, there was still a LOT of puerile pop music about on radio and TV, and record. Another development of youth culture (we now knew about this stuff), was a division that happened amongst young people themselves. The original guys who locked into rock were the Teds, with their characteristic drape jackets, drainpipe trousers, and crepe soled shoes. As financial straits eased, and Hire Purchase schemes (dubbed the Never Never in the UK) became available, young people began to obtain their own transport.

We’re not talking Chuck Berrymobiles here, we’re talking British motorcycles (then the finest in the world). And, of course, following on from the motorcycle racing field where leathers were compulsory for safety reasons, a whole new fashion for black leather was born. Not many of us could afford the trousers, but the black leather jacket became something other than a practical motorcycling garment. And the wearers became Rockers. They were a subculture among young people, but an enduring one.

Advert for Triumph motorcyles/Lewis Leathers

Now, place yourself amongst your family on an early Saturday evening before you hit the town pub with your mates, tuning in to a youth oriented TV show produced by Jack Good called Boy Meets Girls . You’ve read in the music papers that an American singer who had a hit a few years back is going to appear. That’s ALL you know, except you remember a somewhat wild guy in strange clothes in that Girl Can’t Help It film, The opening titles flash up in complete silence, the screen goes black, the words GENE VINCENT appear bottom left, a side spotlight hits a face in extreme close-up, and a guitar starts playing the intro to Baby Blue.

Gene Vincent on Boy Meets Girls TV show

As the apparition starts to sing in his now famously unique voice, the camera pulls back to reveal he is crouching over a microphone stand, clad in black leather from head to toe. I can tell you, that moment changed people’s lives. I can still clearly remember the gobsmacked discussion of this event later. And we were hooked. What other possibility was there than to go to as many concerts as possible? The money would have to be found. So, my first ever live performance was seeing Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran in London in April 1960. And, as anyone who has seen Gene perform will bore you to tears with, he was dynamite. I have seen many, many other performers in concert, all the famous rock ‘n’ rollers (except Elvis Presley), but Gene was something else. He was mad!

All over Europe, where Gene was the biggest live draw until the blossoming of the Beatles mega-career, other people were having the same revelation as we had. He quickly became a legend. Whether he had a hit record or not (Capitol were particularly ineffective in promoting him record-wise) didn’t mean a bean. we bought the records, of course, and cherished them, but the legend grew until he is now a rock icon. And as my generation grew older, but not much wiser, we played the records and told the stories to our children. This, and the fact that there is a prevailing culture amongst the not-so-young that a good record is a good record whatever the date on it (just look at the booming market in CD re-issues) leads to the continuing acclaim for the main man here in Europe. GENE LIVES.

(Slightly adapted from a piece originally published in ORIGINAL COOL Jun/Jul 97)

©Derek Henderson 1997

A Record Date With Gene Vincent (deceased)

Now Dig This #135 June 1994
In 1993, She She Little Sheila and I decided to embark on a pilgrimage which did not, for a change, involve camping at high altitude, yaks or dysentery, and so we turned our eyes towards the USA. In July, we flew over to Miami and hence on to savour the many delights of New Orleans, including Tipitina’s, and then made a visit to Memphis to stand in that famous little recording studio at 706 Union Avenue, and take a nostalgic stroll down Beale Street. Moving on to San Diego, we began a leisurely drive up Highway 1 to visit friends in San Jose, and hang out in San Francisco, one of our favourite cities. Following publication of my Gene Vincent Discography, I had been invited whilst in Los Angeles to tour the old studios in the famous Capitol Tower, where Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps recorded a wealth of classic tracks in the late 50s.

One sunny morning in August, we drove up to Hollywood from our hotel in the Korean district, and went looking for Gene’s star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. This did not take long because it is directly opposite the Capitol Tower, near where we had parked.

Gene Vincent's Hollywood Star
Derek and Gene Vincent’s star

Mario Lanza’s star is to the north and Russ Morgan (?) to the south. The top of the Tower was not showing its normal Capitol logo as it was cloaked in a huge Beach Boys banner.

The Capitol Tower
Derek in Vine Street opposite the Tower

Going into reception, we were directed to Michael Frondelli’s office. He was the Director of Studio Operations, who had sent us the invitation. We were warmly greeted by Paula Salvatore, the Recording Studio Manager, and chatted for a while about Gene whilst Michael was being found. Paula mentioned that there had been a big function for The Beach Boys in the studios the night before, celebrating their 30th Anniversary. For the occasion, loads of sand had been trucked in and poured on the studio floors to create a “beach party” ambience. I remarked that this could only happen in America and Paula narrowed that to “LA”. She mentioned the possible bio-pic on Gene and asked if I knew anything about it. When Michael arrived, he was also most friendly and helpful. I asked him whether he had had any input into the 6CD Box Set, but he didn’t seem familiar with it, as it would have been put together by the record company archive department. In his office, Michael showed us a large enlargement of one of the famous black and white publicity shots of Gene and The Blue Caps in Studio B, where Gene appears to have no legs because they are hidden by Paul Peek’s and Tommy “Bubba” Facenda’s. There is another large copy of this in the corridor leading to the old studios. This has since been autographed by Johnny Meeks, Paul, Bubba and Dickie Harrell, during their California tour a year or so back. I mentioned that I had always been amused by the hole in Gene’s guitar in the picture, and Michael said that this was for the insertion of a microphone. This seemed unlikely to me as Gene did not play on any of his Capitol recordings. A few months later Dickie Harrell wrote to me saying that he had caused the hole in the guitar by throwing a cherry bomb at Gene during some typical Blue Caps’ horseplay. In his office, Michael also has an original Fender guitar amp as used by Johnny in the pictures.

After this discussion, we were given a tour of the old studios by Curt Anderson, who worked in Studio Set Up, a cordial young man who is a fan of the “old music”, as he described it. It was a thrill to stand in Studio B and the control room in which so much great music has been produced. Although the studio has been modified by being knocked through into Studio A, the original wall panelling, as seen in the photographs, is easily recognisable. I asked Curt’s opinion about the missing backing vocal overdubs on “Lonesome Boy”, “You Are The One For Me”, and “I Might Have Known” in the Box Set versions. I had already confirmed with Johnny at Keighley in July, that he and Clifton Simmons “and maybe Grady (Owens)” had “sung that ooh-wah stuff” on the sessions of October ’58, after the “Clapper Boys” Paul and Bubba, had parted company with Gene. Curt’s suggestion was that these recordings would have been done on a three track tape, with lead vocals on one, instrumental backing on the second, and the backing vocals over-dubbed onto the third track of the master. Somehow the third track must have been ignored during copying, transfer or re-mastering for the CDs. Although Curt was an Eddie Cochran fan, he was not aware that Eddie had sung backing vocals on the sessions on 25th to 29th March 1958, and he was gob-smacked that I had seen Gene and Eddie perform in London in April, 1960.

Capitol Tower Studio B
Derek in Studio B

Studio B Control Room
Derek in Studio B Control Room

After the studios, Curt showed us some original microphones from the ’50s and the old metal stools, still favoured by bass players apparently. Ever helpful, he then took us up to meet the longest-standing studio employee, Senior Recording Production Engineer, Jay Ranellucci, who joined the company on April Fool’s Day, 1957. Jay was present on some Gene Vincent sessions, although as he said, “36 years is a long time”, and his memory of them was not vivid. He did recall Gene pestering Producer Ken Nelson for money, using “some story about hurting his leg in an accident”. Curt had passed on this piece of Capitol Tower folklore earlier. I got the impression that they were not aware that Gene had genuinely been crippled for life in the earlier motorcycle crash. I asked Jay if he still enjoyed the job. “Mostly - except the Rap”. I had been keen to talk to Ken Nelson during the trip, but had been unable to get a contact address. Jay told me that Ken, now in his 80s, was living in Oxnard, a town north of Los Angeles and directly on our route. Not having his phone number, Jay very kindly called directory enquiries there and then and got it for me.

Jay Ranellucci
Derek with Jay Ranellucci

During our visit, everyone had spoken warmly and respectfully about having Aaron Neville, another of my musical heroes, in the studios recently to record his Christmas album, Curt describing him as “a national treasure”. We were thrilled a few days later, to find that our friends had got us tickets to see The Neville Brothers playing live near San Jose. But that’s another story. Having voiced our thanks and said our goodbyes, Sheila and I went for a wander along Hollywood Boulevard for a while amongst the hordes of rubber-necking and camcorder-toting tourists. After a Mexican lunch and a quick trawl round Tower Records, we headed out of Los Angeles into the hills to Newhall and the Eternal Valley Memorial Park. Although we arrived after official closing time, a congenial and conducive lady found the location of Gene’s grave for me, and chatted for a while about him. She was only vaguely aware that someone who “had been famous” was buried there, and surprised to hear that he is still remembered in Europe. We found the grave after a short search. It is on a slope facing north towards the busy Highway. The cemetery is well maintained and the stone in good condition, if in questionable taste. There is a musical notation in the inscription of the first two bars of the chorus of “Be-Bop-A-Lula”.

Gene Vincent's gravestone
Derek pays tribute at Gene Vincent’s graveside

I left copies of both editions of my book at the graveside as my small tribute to the great performer, and washed the dust off the stone with the remains of my beer. It seemed an appropriate gesture. Afterwards, we drove into the tiny town of Newhall and drank a bottle of their best bubbly out of plastic cups in a self-service Italian deli whilst I imagined Gene in his decline, driving in to pick up his groceries and booze at the beginning of the ’70s.

Back at our hotel, I telephoned Ken Nelson. His wife answered and I was excited when Ken came on the line. Yes, it was Ken Nelson, but no, he had never worked for Capitol Records. Wrong Ken Nelson! That night, we ate dinner in a nearby, popular Korean restaurant where we were the only Caucasian customers. The waitress didn’t speak English and her small brother was hauled in to translate for us. The food was great, complemented by cold Korean beers, but the ambience was transformed by a resident DJ loudly playing such Korean favourites as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”. The next day, we drove through Oxnard, stopping for lunch, and keeping an eye out for elderly gentlemen with golf clubs, as we set out on the long, spectacular drive northwards on El Camino Real.

(Adapted in 1998 from a piece originally published in NOW DIG THIS June 1994)

©Derek Henderson 1994 & 1998

The Dallas Days

The Lost Dallas Sessions 1957-’58 Dragon Street Records DCD-70198 (USA) Rollercoaster Records RCCD 3031 (UK) 1998

Front cover of CD

The following is a slightly adapted version of the CD Liner Notes:

By January 1957, Gene Vincent was a veteran of the rockabilly life. His drag strip ride in six months from humble beginnings to a recording contract with the major Capitol record label leading to the instant world-wide fame brought by the mega-success of his first, self-penned, single Be-Bop-A-Lula (c/w Woman Love, a number considered unsuitable for airplay) had been followed by a gruelling round of touring (mainly open-air Summer Fairs characterised by mobbing induced by his dynamic stage act and the exciting backing from the now legendary Blue Caps). He had conducted eight further recording sessions in Nashville, and had performed on Alan Freed’s radio show and in the Hollywood film The Girl Can’t Help It. A residency at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas had been terminated early, according to Dickie Harrell, because the band was attracting customers away from the tables.

It had all been too much for rhythm guitarist Willie Williams (replaced by Paul Peek), and the great lead guitarist Cliff Gallup, who both returned to the sanity of regular employment at the WCMS radio station in Norfolk VA (where the story had begun with the help of DJ “Sheriff” Tex Davis). Upright bass player Jack Neal quit the music business entirely! Gene was also in legal dispute with L & B Management over his business relationship with Davis, with whom he had by now also parted company. Although his first album Bluejean Bop (also released on 3 EPs) sold well, two further strong single releases (Race With The Devil/Gonna Back Up Baby and Bluejean Bop /Who Slapped John) failed to become major hits in the States (although Bluejean Bop reached #12 in UK charts).

Eager as always to get back on the road, Gene started putting together a new Blue Caps line-up. Recalling drummer Dickie “Be Bop” Harrell and Paul Peek (who he switched from rhythm guitar to backing vocals), Gene added teenager Tommy “Bubba” Facenda as second backing vocalist (these two would be later dubbed by Gene as his “Clapper Boys”), and at Paul’s suggestion auditioned the guitarist from his old group Country Earl and the Circle E Ranch Boys, a band that would serve as training school for no less than five Blue Caps. Thus, Johnny Meeks was duly ushered into future legendary guitarist status. Bill Mack was drafted in on electric bass, and the band embarked on a 10 day “Rockabilly Spectacular” tour of Ohio, with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Sanford Clark. Falling out with Bill Mack, Gene replaced him with another of Country Earl’s players, Bobby Lee Jones, and they played up a storm at a 30,000 seater Howard Miller Show in Chicago at the end of April.

Being manager-less, Capitol in-house producer Ken Nelson (who had overseen the 35 tracks Gene had recorded in the previous year) put Gene in touch with Ed McLemore in Dallas TX, who already managed Capitol artist Sonny James. McLemore also ran the Big “D” Jamboree, a mostly C & W show similar to the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride, which was broadcast every Saturday night from the Sportatorium on radio station KRLD. By the mid ’50s, the Big “D” had begun to experiment by featuring nascent rock ‘n’ roll acts such as Sid King and the 5-Strings, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, a controversial move calculated to attract the lucrative youth audience who increasingly thought country music “square”. McLemore set Gene up with an experienced road manager named Larry Thacker (a man not popular with musicians, Ronnie Dawson describes him as “a vulture…the ultimate…you know, typical old sleazy guy…he was always selling something”(I)), transport for the band, and new stage uniforms for the Blue Caps. He was also provided with a ranch-style house in what was then far north Dallas at 6551 Dyke’s Way, into which he moved his parents and two younger sisters. The Dallas days had begun. Two further single issues, featuring the original Blue Caps line-up, Crazy Legs/Important Words and B-I-Bickey-Bi Bo Bo Go/Five Days, Five Days again failed to make any significant national impact. Although there is a long-standing hypothesis that Capitol’s refusal to engage in Payola was the basis of this post Be-Bop-A-Lula hiatus, Gene’s discomfort as interviewee, leading to his reluctance to take on promotional activities with radio DJs, may also have been a contributory factor in inhibiting airplay, essential to the success of new releases.

Earlier, local oilman-turned-music entrepreneur Tom Fleeger, who had been very impressed by Be-Bop-A-Lula, had come across a song by Dallas songwriter Bernice Bedwell that he was sure would be perfect material for Gene. According to Tom, he tracked down Gene at home in Portsmouth VA, and played him a demo over the telephone of Lotta Lovin’ cut at the Sellers Studios in Dallas by Norton Johnson (included on this CD), with Gene responding “Man, that’s a smash hit!”(I). Gene told Tom that he and The Blue Caps were due in Dallas two weeks later to play the Sportatorium, and assured him that they would get together with him. When they arrived, Fleeger carted them across town for a makeshift demo session of home recordings, made at Fleeger’s mother Jan’s apartment at 5921 Sherry Lane, the results of which are included here in their entirety. Two songs written by Bedwell, Lotta Lovin’ and In My Dreams, as well as Mary Tarver’s Nervous (later to be a regional hit for Gene Summers), were amongst those Fleeger had Gene rehearse and record on his newly purchased home reel-to-reel recorder. Gene’s instinctive ear calls a halt to the second attempt at Lotta Lovin’ (”Somebody’s off there, man”), and his authority over proceedings is subtly obvious throughout. Seemingly happy with the Bedwell compositions (Jan Fleeger can be heard exclaiming “That’s good!” in the background), Gene is uncomfortable with Nervous, and, after a couple of attempts to get a feel for the lyrics, abandons it. Coincidentally, Gene also failed to successfully record another Gene Summers record School Of Rock and Roll at another home recording session in Ronny Weiser’s LA apartment in 1971. Also included here is a recording of Gene whistling a tune listed on the tape box as On My Mind, a song that has not appeared on any other Gene Vincent release. Fleeger recalls “I think we had a break and so Gene…just thought he wanted to show everybody he could whistle”(I). This historic tape was to turn up decades later at a garage sale held by Tom Fleeger’s ex-wife, when it was bought in a box of JAN singles and a number of other reel-to-reel tapes.

Within a day or so, Fleeger made arrangements for a proper recording session at Sellers Studios and Gene went in with the full band and cut the demo of In My Dreams featured in this compilation, the first studio recording by the new Blue Caps. Another recording of Lotta Lovin’ included here is claimed by Fleeger to be a studio demo, but it sounds remarkably like an excerpt from the home tape with added echo. On 11th May, the band played the Big “D” Jamboree (tickets 30 cents and 60 cents) and shortly afterwards, Tom Fleeger, Bernice Bedwell and Gene met Ed McLemore and played him Gene’s demo of Lotta Lovin’. Ed was suitably impressed and demanded that Fleeger relinquish his entire share of the publishing to his Big “D” Music publishing company. Fleeger and Bedwell refused and left. Undeterred, Tom waited for Gene to emerge from the meeting and persuaded him to play the song to Ken Nelson at his forthcoming Capitol sessions. In June, the band drove to Hollywood to cut their first recordings at the famous Capitol Tower studios, with Buck Owens sitting in on acoustic rhythm guitar. On the 19th, at the 9th take, they recorded the master of Lotta Lovin’ that was to secure Gene’s second major hit record, peaking a month later at #13 in the Billboard charts. Fleeger claims that McLemore was so incensed at the success of this song, published by Fleeger’s Song Productions Inc, that he attempted to blackball Fleeger’s independent record company JAN by turning his distributors against him, which lead to the relative failure of Gene Summers’ Nervous and eventually to the demise of the JAN label itself.

The success of Lotta Lovin’ was just the career boost needed, and Gene and The Blue Caps were once more embroiled in big rock ‘n’ roll package tours. In September, they made their only excursion abroad, joining a hugely successful tour of Hawaii, Fiji and Australia in the company of Little Richard and Eddie Cochran (who Gene had met on the set of The Girl Can’t Help It and would become very close to). On their return to the States in late October, the band was as hot as ever and caused tremendous scenes wherever they performed. In one incident at a 32,000 seater in Chicago (where Ken Nelson was to present them with a gold record for Be-Bop-A-Lula), a riot ensued where reportedly even Nelson had his clothes torn off by over-enthusiastic fans. During a tour of the west coast, Gene met a young divorcee Darlene Hicks, was quickly smitten, and they became “an item”. Capitol rush-released Dance To The Bop in November, Gene performed the song live on the Ed Sullivan TV show (now with Max Lipscomb on rhythm guitar)(Fleeger claims that “Ed McLemore was so mad about Lotta Lovin’…being played on every radio station…told Gene…he’d have to sing Dance To The Bop”(I)), and the single duly peaked at #23 in the Billboard charts. For further recordings at the Capitol Tower, Gene decided to re-equip the group, and Leo Fender provided the band with three new Fender Stratocasters, a bass guitar and the latest Fender 50 watt speaker/amp combo. The sessions produced the classic rocker Baby Blue. Gene returned to Dallas for a Christmas respite, taking Darlene and her small daughter Debbie with him.

1958 was to be a year of big changes. In December, Paul Peek and Tommy Facenda had left to pursue solo careers, and Max Lipscomb decided to return to school. Gene, a big Jerry Lee Lewis fan, wanted to add piano to his line-up, so Country Earl promptly lost the services of Clifton Simmons. Ed McLemore’s booking agent Ed Watt (who didn’t get on with Gene but readily admits “he could sing…he was a Showman…he was great…just super great”(I)), contacted Dallas songwriter Grady Owen (whose demo of his I Don’t Feel Like Rockin’ Tonight is included here for flavour, he was later to pen Lovely Loretta for Gene) and offered him the job of Blue Caps’ rhythm guitarist. Within a few weeks of touring, Dickie Harrell, who had become serious about Tommy Facenda’ s sister back in Portsmouth VA, quit the band. This was less than convenient, as McLemore had secured a part for Gene and the band in the forthcoming teen movie Hot Rod Gang, and more Capitol Towers sessions were booked for March. Gene was able to persuade Paul and Tommy to return to fulfil these engagements, but Dickie refused. Whilst playing a gig in Fort Worth, using Dude Kahn (Sonny James’ drummer) as fill-in, Gene caught the opening high-school group’s act and was so impressed by 15 year-old drummer Juvey Gomez that he sent Larry Thacker to ask him to join the Caps. After making arrangements with Juvey’s business-like mother and his teachers that would enable his continuing education, Juvey came on board. The band put up in a Dallas motel and rehearsed for a few days at the house in Dyke’s Way, which Gene’s parents had vacated by now (Darlene and Debbie remaining in residence), and then drove out to Hollywood.

The Capitol Tower sessions of March 1958 are the most legendary of Gene’s recording career. Joined unofficially by an un-credited Eddie Cochran on bass backing vocals, on 25th to 29th March (except the 28th, when he was at Goldstar Studios cutting Summertime Blues) 16 superb masters were produced. Amongst these were great rocking tracks like Dance In The Street and Lovely Loretta (to be featured in the oncoming movie) and the classic Git It (the original, surprisingly well-formed demo of which by writer Bob Kelly is also included in this CD), Gene’s lyrically altered version of Bob’s Somebody Help Me (the original demo by Kelly is also included here for comparison), and the affecting gentle ballad Peace Of Mind . On 30th March, they went into American-International Film Studio to film their performances in the movie, to be released on 2nd July. It double-billed with High School Hellcats. Gene and the band’s (mimed) performances of Dance In The Street and Baby Blue in the film were particularly striking. The movie was not. After the filming, Juvey returned to school to complete his exams whilst the band took a break, and then re-joined them for a riotous West Coast tour (”It was an experiment to see how his music would actually appeal to the black people…so they had to hire a black sax player…Hayworth…a good player”(I)). This proved enough for the young drummer (”I mean, these guys are crazy…they’re acting like a bunch of kids…I didn’t like that part of it”(I)), and he quit to join Buddy Knox and The Rhythm Orchids, a more sedate outfit. Gene returned to Dallas to re-group.

It was possibly during this period that some more of the tracks included here were recorded at the Sellers Studios. The spine-tingling solo rendition of My Love (later re-titled In Love Again) that opens this set probably has Gene accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Surprisingly, although penned by Johnny Meeks, the demo of Hey Mama (later to be re-titled Say Mama and become one of Gene most popular songs), has Texan “Blond Bomber” Ronnie Dawson on guitar (”I was there doing something…Gene just came in and…said ‘You want to play with me…I got this little song I want to demo?’…It was just like it sounded, it was a short-sleeve thing”(I)). It seems that Johnny was simply not around at the time Gene was hot to cut the track. He was back, however, for a further session where two cuts of the beautiful ballad The Night Is So Lonely, the latter with backing vocals by Johnny, Cliff and possibly Grady, were laid down. Two other tracks, the engaging country-styled Lonesome Boy and Johnny Carroll’s Lady Bug may possibly have also been cut at this session. Gene now suffered another blow. With a 40 day tour of Canada lined up, Johnny Meeks and Bobby Jones decided to return to Greenville NC. Auditions were held at Ed Watts’ office, and local player Howard Reed was hired for the lead guitar job. The band now consisted of Reed, Cliff Simmons, Grady Owen (on bass), a restored Max Lipscomb on rhythm guitar, and Dude Kahn back on drums. Kahn only lasted a few dates (”we played one time at a beautiful concert hall…we had this gorgeous full-sized grand piano…and one of the guys went sliding across the piano and his belt buckle tore the finish…I just didn’t like stuff like that”(I)), and ex-Elvis Presley drummer D J Fontana was flown in. During the tour, Gene decided he wanted to re-introduce the Clapper Boys into the act, so Grady and Max moved to this rôle and Bill Mack came back on bass guitar. After the usual riotous on and off stage carryings on, at the end of the tour the group played a few gigs in the USA and then disbanded.

Gene’s luck took an upswing in September, however, when Johnny Meeks called and, refreshed by his vacation from the road life, asked to re-join. Country Earl now lost his drummer Clyde Pennington. It seems that Country Earl never resented losing musicians, but was rather proud to be providing them to a “big name”. Grady Owen came back on bass, and after more touring, the band checked into the Capitol Tower for the final time. Supplemented on some tracks by saxophonists Jackie Kelso, Alexander Nelson, Gil Bernal and Herbie Stewart, Gene made his last recordings with The Blue Caps. The first song recorded was Lonesome Boy. The sessions produced a jaunty rendition of Who’s Pushing Your Swing (the original demo by Darrell Glenn is included here), the ballads The Night Is So Lonely and In Love Again, and the classic rocker Say Mama, a number Gene would continue to perform for the rest of his short life. The final recording by the band was the self-penned Vincent’s Blues.

Perhaps the most exciting discoveries to be found on this CD are the live recordings of Gene and The Blue Caps in action on the Big “D” Jamboree, probably recorded immediately after the October sessions. David Dennard had long suspected that there might be such gems amongst the archives of the radio broadcasts held by the US Library of Congress in Washington DC. His patience and diligence eventually paid off in a visit to the Library in September of 1997, where they came to light. These finds more than double the number of issued live recordings by Gene with his famous band, and bring us the first recording by Gene of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, one of his favourite Jerry Lee Lewis records. David describes the discovery of these recordings thus: “I got one of the greatest thrills of my life when, after a long day at the Library of Congress cataloguing discs from the Big “D” Jamboree series, my engineer and I dropped the needle on disc number sixty-eight to hear MC Johnny Harper say ‘…and featuring tonight’s guests, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps!’. At that moment it was all worth it.”

In November, the band played around the LA area for a while, and then suddenly found themselves leader-less and broke with an unpaid hotel bill. Back in Dallas, Gene’s house had been re-possessed for non-payment of taxes. He broke with McLemore, and moved, with Darlene, to Vancouver WA. He continued to work with pick-up bands, whilst Capitol released records that few seemed to want to air or buy. In early 1959, Gene moved to Seaside OR, home to his new manager, local promoter Pat Mason (who had introduced him to Darlene). On a disastrous four date tour of Oklahoma and Missouri, where the promoter had booked a ten piece guitar-less black band to back him, Ronnie Dawson, also on the bill, stepped into the breach and backed Gene on guitar for the dates. The tour ended, after an all-night drive, with the entire troupe being dumped by the bus driver, in freezing conditions, outside the final venue before dawn. Ronnie and his fellow performers the Belew Twins clubbed together to get a hotel room, but “the band, Gene…went in there and started finding them a place to lay on the floor…I remember Gene was laying there…in the foetal position and all these guys were all over…” (I). After cleaning up and resting during the day, Ronnie came back about six o’clock to find Gene “still on the floor…I’ll never forget that…We played a show and actually about a hundred people showed up for that last one…It was pretty good.” (I) None of the musicians were paid for this fiasco, but “Gene had gone to the promoter and just says ‘Hey, give me a ticket to Seaside, Oregon, and I’ll see you, that’s all you owe me’, and that’s what happened…Gene left and that’s the last time I saw him.” (I)

Gene now moved to Anchorage AK. Darlene joined him at his insistence, and on 27th April his first daughter, Melody Jean, was born. In May, they moved back to LA. Gene had been performing during the Spring with guitarist Jerry Merritt. Although rock ‘n’ roll seemed virtually dead in the USA, overseas fans were still clamouring for more, and Pat Mason was able to arrange with Capitol and Japanese counterpart Toshiba for Gene to do a three week tour of Japan. Gene once again tasted adulation as he and Jerry played to sell-out audiences of enthusiastic fans. Unpredictable as ever, Gene got homesick and abandoned the tour before the end, leaving Jerry to impersonate him for the last four dates. In August 1959, Gene returned to the Capitol Tower to make his first stereo recordings, with Jerry and some illustrious session musicians, that would become Crazy Times, his sixth album. Later in the year, he was invited by Producer Jack Good to appear on a series of Boy Meets Girls TV shows in the UK. To tie in, there would to be radio broadcasts and live gigs. His arrival in Europe in December (shortly to be joined by Eddie Cochran) was to prove sensationally successful, and his new all black leather image was perfect for his role (in European eyes) as the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. He was again instantly the big star, and was to prove the biggest live draw in Europe until the arrival of the Beatles. But that’s another story…

Rob Finnis & Bob Dunham - “Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps” mimeographed booklet, 1974
Britt Hagarty - “The Day The World Turned Blue” Blandford Press, 1984
Derek Henderson - “Gene Vincent - A Discography” (Revised 2nd Edition), Spent Brothers Productions, 1998
(I) Interviews with David Dennard, Jan/Feb 1998
© Derek Henderson 1998 & 2007