Gene Vincent Biography
Last updated: 01/28/2014 06:19:46 PM
NATURAL BORN BLUESMAN,ARTIFICIALLY BORN COMMERCIAL ROCK 'N' ROLLER:
Nowadays,many people will think of Gene Vincent and remember him as the 'rock 'n' roll artist who had a hit in 1956 with "Be bop a Lula" '.Few will care to realize that Gene's style was always far deeper than commercial rock 'n' roll (which is basically a novelty music).Sure,you will hear some commercial rock 'n' roll tracks throughout Gene's career (he had to pay the bills) but you will also hear blues,R&B,real country,oldtime pop,touches of Western swing and country boogie by turn as well - the styles that emphasized the . This is what made Gene a very different artist to his lighthearted friend,Eddie Cochran - a man who defined commercial rock 'n' roll better than most.
Gene was born Eugene Vincent (or was it Vincent Eugene! - This actually is his proper name,although many CDs confuse his name.Don't blame me!!) Craddock on the North Carolina/Virginia border in 1935. His musical influences included Bill Monroe, Moon Mullican, The Delmore Brothers, Hank Williams and many local black Piedmont bluesmen.Later,the R&B and Jump blues styles would have been a big influence.
In the early 1950s,Vincent injured his leg in a motorbike accident.He also served in Korea in the navy (he would often say that he got his leg injury while on active duty in Korea - but Gene never was on active duty in Korea).After his service in the army,he set up a country/Western swing band but on the arrival of Elvis Presley,he began to add more of an R&B flavour to his work as well (R&B and Western swing of course were allied for a long time and of course Moon Mullican was the pioneering white R&B recording artist).
Nobody is sure where Gene got the song,"Be bop a Lula".He is meant to have bought it off a black army man who Gene was in hospital with when his leg was giving him severe trouble in the mid 1950s.Gene bought the song and in the meantime Gene was discovered by Ken Nelson of Capitol records and was given a recording contract there in 1956.
Gene proved he was a master of many styles during his earliest sessions.He was far from being a commercial rock 'n' roller.While such records as "I flipped","Bop street" or "Blue jean bop" can be written off and regarded as pretty disposable poppy rock 'n' roll,Gene's true masterpieces are timeless.His version of The Delmore Brothers' "Blues stay away from me" revealed his affinity with country blues while "Five days Five days" revealed his deep black blues influence.His "Be bop a Lula" was a major hit for him and has become a standard - while its lyrics suited the rock 'n' roll of its times,it was in melody a blues.Like Elvis Presley's "Blue suede shoes" and unlike most of what Chuck Berry did,Gene's hit has worn well - but it is far from being Gene's best record.
1958 was a year that a lot of the true Gene came out on record.Sick and tired of doing too much commercial,teen orientated stuff that didn't allow him to be the bluesman he was deep down,Gene let loose on more blues in 1958 than Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly put together would record in their lifetime."Gone gone gone" was a pure slice of West Coast blues and would be worthy of "Reconsider baby"-era Lowell Fulson.In fact,the driving saxophone on this set the style for Elvis' excursions into this type of material in 1960 (which included Fulson's "Reconsider baby")."Vincent's blues" was a combination of trad. blues lines into a personal statement about his own feelings."Darlene blues" was an angry attack on one of his wives who had left him down and one of his toughest blues ever."Rocky road blues", complete with Moon Mullican/Merrill Moore type piano,was a great Bill Monroe blues done in a Moon Mullican style and far better than anything most of his contemporaries had on offer at the time."My baby don't allow n
o cheating" was a great version of a traditional blues,which was an R&B hit for Little Walter Jacobs a few years earlier. "Baby blue" was another gutbucket performance that proved Gene was not just a mass produced commercial rock 'n' roller like many of his era were.
For every "Walking home from school" or "There I go again" in Gene's career,there was a tough blues like "Should I ever love again".Gene could 'pay the bills' by recording the commercial rock 'n' roll rubbish (which he never truly liked) but his taste was much deeper than that as his other performances proved.
Gene also was a great country singer and his versions of The Delmore Brothers' "Beautiful brown eyes" was very akin to Moon Mullican in style.He did many Hank Williams songs and as well as many more obscure songs in the country field of music.Who nows what he might have been capable of if he had been around 10 years earlier.
The fact about Gene is - he could be anything he wanted to be.One minute,he could be doing teen rock 'n' roll as convincingly as Eddie Cochran or Buddy Holly (not even hinting at the blues style) and next minute,he's doing the blues as convincinly as anybody.Deep down,Gene was - like Elvis - basically a blues singer.When he sang the blues,he did them as they should be done.
This is what made Gene truly great and different in an era where blues was often stifled out of all existence.Buying the Capitol years box set (1956 - 1964) reveals all this.Sure,you will hear a lot of terribly dated commercial rock 'n' roll that can never be called great music - even by the most generous critic - but you will also hear as much blues and once you hear these, you can forgive Gene's teen rock 'n' roll attempts.Gene had to record a lot of material he didn't like for his producers but when it came to material he chose himself,it was the blues more often than not.
Gene was an articial commercial rock 'n' roller but a natural born bluesman.The industry tried to cut away the rough edges of Vincent's talent - but despite all their efforts,they never truly succeeded.Like Elvis,Gene did record a lot of below par material but also like Elvis,he recorded a lot of standout blues songs.The original meaning of rock 'n' roll was a rebellious,wild blues based music and Gene summed this up better than most.
Unfortunately,like most oldtime orientated artists,Gene developed a severe dependance on alcohol (in his case,to ease his leg pain - something that plagued him all his life).In many ways,this echoed his idol,Hank Williams',dependance on alcohol to ease his back pain.His recording sessions were fewer,his health began to deteriorate and his private life was a mess.
Gene's 1960s and early 1970s recordings sessions contained virtually no teen rock 'n' roll - emphasizing that teen rock 'n' roll was such a facade for Gene - a way to success.In Gene's 1960s and 1970s material you will hear a lot of countrypolitan (the style of the times) just like you will in Charlie Rich's career - but you will also hear a lot of blues material like "The woman in black","Tush hog","You can make it if you try" or some pretty gutbucket revisits to his bluesy Capitol material. The best way to sum up Gene's career is that he gave whatever pop trends were in at the time his best efforts but it was not really his personal tastes - the blues always found a lot of room in Gene's sessions and that is what made him a very different artist to the conventional pop-slanted rock 'n' roller.
Gene died in October 1971,just 36 years of age.early deaths like this are widespread in oldtime music and also included Moon Mullican,Hank Williams,Jimmie Rodgers,Elvis Presley,The Delmore Brothers and Jim Reeves.Some of these were accidents,others were natural but most were deliberate and caused by a semi-suicidal mentality the artist himself possessed.Gene was one of the latter types.A listen to his blues songs and his directness in many (most notably "Darlene") show his self-destructive nature.Like most,his tragic life and style made him what he was.And Gene himself would probably do it all the same if he had it all to do over.