Saturday, February 11, 2012

And in more fun news, happy birthday to Gene Vincent!

I fully realize I've already posted all over my Facebook wall about today being the birthday of the one Fifties rock 'n' roll pioneer who was likely the degenerate thug rock's detractors claimed all rock 'n' roll musicians were in the day. (Dammit, I really need to think twice about FB posting material that might be better for a blog.) But Eugene Vincent Craddock deserves celebration. He was primal, lusty, lowdown, and could still sing like an angel when needed. Elvis Presley's drummer, DJ Fontana (who was a Blue Cap for six months when Presley was drafted into the Army), verified that Gene and his Blue Caps were the pre-Keith Moon definition of rock 'n' roll hellraising on the road, to the point where he had to quit the band! And Gene's music? It had more thump, sex, swagger, and menace than anyone this side of Elvis. Case in point? Click below....

"Be Bop A Lula," the record that started it all. It confused Gladys Presley to the point she called her boy Elvis on the road to congratulate him on his new hit, "Be Bop A Lula!" What you just saw is Gene and the Blue Caps' immortal performance of it in the best Fifties rock 'n' roll film bar none, Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It, also featuring Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Jayne Mansfield's million watt sexuality. Does it get any better?

Unlike Elvis and many other contemporaries, Gene suffered a leg injury in the service which prevented him from indulging the hip-thrusting gyrations other early rockers employed. Once he got to England, UK rock impresario Jack Goode draped him in black leather and chains and urged him to limp even more pronouncedly, turning him into some Shakespearean villain of rock. It drove the English and Europeans wild. Dig Gene in Belgium in the early '60s, predicting punk rock with a crazed performance of "Long Tall Sally," complete with a crutch-hurling entrance that's just pure rock 'n' roll attitude!

I only just discovered today, however, that Gene made contemporary, small label records during his '60s commercial twilight that were as vital and rocking as any he cut in the Capitol Records Tower in his heyday. Such as this garage punk (!) screamer, "Bird-Doggin'," featuring Gene backed by The Wrecking Crew getting low-down and dirty. Glen Campbell, of all people, even turns in some crazed, fuzz-drenched lead guitar!

I was even hipped to Gene having done some credible Byrds-influenced folk rock in this period, none of which is embarrassing. Think about that: Under the radar, Gene Vincent was still contemporary and vital. The only other peers of his doing strong, modern work at that time were the Everly Brothers and Dion. Elvis was losing his touch in Hollywood, wondering what the hell had happened. And Gene just rocked on....

Happy birthday, Gene. You really were the Living End....

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