Gene Vincent died aged thirty-six on 12th October 1971, from a ruptured stomach ulcer, while visiting his father in California. He is interred in Eternal Valley Memorial Park, in Newhall, California, U.S.A.
Gene Vincent was the first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame upon its formation in 1997. The following year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gene Vincent has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1749 North Vine Street, Hollywood, California.
Gene Vincent was born on 11th February 1935, in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.A. to Mary Louise and Ezekiah Jackson Craddock. His musical influences included country, rhythm and blues and gospel music. His favourite composition was Beethoven's Egmont overture. He showed his first real interest in music while his family lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where they ran a country store. He received his first guitar at the age of twelve as a gift from a friend.
Gene Vincent's father volunteered to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and patrolled American coastal waters to protect Allied shipping against German U-boats during World War II. Gene Vincent's mother maintained the general store in Munden Point. His parents moved the family to Norfolk, the home of a large naval base, and opened a general store and sailors' tailoring shop.
Gene Vincent dropped out of school in 1952, at the age of seventeen, and enlisted in the United States Navy. As he was under the age of enlistment, his parents signed the forms allowing him to enter the Navy. He completed boot camp and joined the fleet as a crewman aboard the fleet oiler USS Chukawan, with a two-week training period in the repair ship USS Amphion, before returning to the Chukawan. He never saw combat but completed a Korean War deployment. He sailed home from Korean waters aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin but was not part of the ship's company.
Gene Vincent planned a career in the Navy and, in 1955, used his re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorcycle. In July 1955, while he was in Norfolk, Virginia, his left leg was shattered in a motorcycle crash. He refused to allow the leg to be amputated, and the leg was saved, but the injury left him with a limp and pain. He wore a steel sheath around the leg for the rest of his life. Years later in some of his music biographies, there is no mention of an accident, but it was claimed that his injury was due to a wound incurred in combat in Korea. He spent time in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was medically discharged from the Navy shortly thereafter.
Gene Vincent became involved in the local music scene in Norfolk. He changed his real name to Gene Vincent and formed a rockabilly band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. He also collaborated with another rising musician, Jay Chevalier of Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Vincent and His Blue Caps soon gained a reputation playing in various country bars in Norfolk. There they won a talent contest organized by a local radio DJ, "Sheriff Tex" Davis, who became Gene Vincent's manager.
In 1956 Gene wrote "Be-Bop-A-Lula", which drew comparisons to Elvis Presley and which Rolling Stone magazine later listed as number 103 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Local radio DJ "Sheriff Tex" Davis arranged for a demo of the song to be made, and this secured Gene Vincent a contract with Capitol Records. He signed a publishing contract with Bill Lowery of the Lowery Group of music publishers in Atlanta, Georgia. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was not on Gene Vincent's first album and was picked by Capitol producer Ken Nelson as the B-side of his first single, Woman Love. Prior to the release of the single, Lowery pressed promotional copies of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and sent them to radio stations throughout the country. By the time Capitol released the single, "Be-Bop-A-Lula" had already gained attention from the public and radio DJs. The song was picked up and played by other U.S. radio stations, ignoring the original A-side song, and became a hit, peaking at number five and spending 20 weeks on the Billboard pop chart and reaching number five and spending 17 weeks on the Cashbox chart, and launching Gene Vincent's career as a rock-and-roll star.
After "Be-Bop-A-Lula" became a hit, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps were unable to follow it up with the same level of commercial success, although they released critically acclaimed songs like "Race with the Devil" and "Bluejean Bop" . The group had another hit in 1957 with "Lotta Lovin'". Gene Vincent was awarded gold records for two million sales of "Be-Bop-A-Lula", and 1.5 million sales of "Lotta Lovin'". The same year he toured the east coast of Australia with Little Richard and Eddie Cochran, drawing audiences totaling 72,000 to their Sydney Stadium concerts. Gene Vincent also made an appearance in the film The Girl Can't Help It, with Jayne Mansfield, performing "Be-Bop-A-Lula" with the Blue Caps in a rehearsal room. "Dance to the Bop" was released by Capitol Records in October 1957. On November 17, 1957, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps performed the song on the nationally broadcast television program The Ed Sullivan Show. The song spent nine weeks on the Billboard chart and peaked at number 23 in January, 1958 and reached number 36 and spent eight weeks on the Cashbox chart. It was Gene Vincent's last American hit single. The song was used in the movie Hot Rod Gang for a dance rehearsal scene featuring dancers doing the West Coast Swing.
Vincent and His Blue Caps also appeared several times on Town Hall Party, California's largest country music barn dance, held at the Town Hall in Compton, California. Town Hall Party drew in excess of 2,800 paid admissions each Friday and Saturday, with room for 1,200 dancers. The show was also broadcast from on the NBC Radio network and was shown on KTTV, channel 11.
A dispute with the US tax authorities and the American Musicians' Union over payments to his band and his having sold the band's equipment to pay a tax bill led Gene Vincent to leave the United States for Europe.
On 15th December 1959, Gene Vincent appeared on Jack Good's TV show, Boy Meets Girl, his first appearance in England. He wore black leather, gloves, and a medallion, and stood in a hunched posture. Good is credited with the transformation of Vincent's image. After the TV appearance he toured France, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK performing in his new stage clothes.
In 1960, while on tour in the UK, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and the songwriter Sharon Sheeley were involved in a high-speed traffic accident in a private-hire taxi in Chippenham, Wiltshire. Vincent broke his ribs and collarbone and further damaged his weakened leg. Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis. Cochran, who had been thrown from the vehicle, suffered serious brain injuries and died the next day. Gene Vincent returned to the U.S.A. after the accident.
Promoter Don Arden had Gene Vincent return to the UK in 1961 to do an extensive tour in theatres and ballrooms with Chris Wayne and the Echoes. After the overwhelming success of the tour, Gene moved to Britain in 1963. His accompanying band, Sounds Incorporated, a six-piece outfit with three saxophones, guitar, bass and drums, went on to play with the Beatles at their Shea Stadium concert. Gene Vincent toured the UK again in 1963 with the Outlaws, featuring future Deep Purple guitar player Ritchie Blackmore, as a backing band. Gene's alcohol problems marred the tour, resulting in problems both on stage and with the band and management.
Gene Vincent's attempts to re-establish his American career in folk rock and country rock proved unsuccessful. In the early nineteen sixties, he also put out tracks on EMI's Columbia label, including a cover of Arthur Alexander's "Where Have You Been All My Life?" A backing band called the Shouts joined him.
In 1966 and 1967, in the United States, he recorded for Challenge Records, backed by ex-members of the Champs and Glen Campbell. Challenge released three singles in the US, and the UK London label released two singles and collected recordings on to an LP, Gene Vincent, on the UK London label in 1967. In 1968 in a hotel in Germany, Gene Vincent tried to shoot Gary Glitter. He fired several shots but missed and a scared Gary Glitter fled the country the next day.
In 1969, Gene recorded the album 'I'm Back and I'm Proud' for long-time fan John Peel's Dandelion Records, produced by Kim Fowley with arrangements by Skip Battin, and backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt. He recorded two other albums for the Kama Sutra Records which were reissued on a single CD by Rev-Ola in 2008. On his 1969 tour of the UK he was backed by the Wild Angels, a British band that had performed at the Royal Albert Hall with Bill Haley & His Comets and Duane Eddy.
Gene's final US recordings were four tracks for Rockin' Ronny Weiser's Rolling Rock label, a few weeks before his death. These were released on a compilation album of tribute songs, including "Say Mama", by his daughter, Melody Jean Vincent, accompanied by Johnny Meeks on guitar. He later recorded four tracks in Britain in October 1971 as part of his last tour. They recorded five tracks at the BBC studios in Maida Vale, London, for Johnnie Walker's radio show. He managed one show at the Garrick Night Club in Leigh, Lancashire, and two shows at the Wookey Hollow Club in Liverpool. Gene Vincent then returned to the US and died a few days later.
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