One interesting thing about '50s Rock n' Roll is that with the exception of Chuck Berry, who came from St. Louis, many of Rock's greatest performers were from small towns (yeah, Elvis was from Memphis but he was born in Tupelo). Gene Vincent came from Munden Point, VA. A friend gave his sister's guitar to Gene - maybe to get the thing out of the house. Like so many Rockers Vincent started playing a variety of styles including Blues, Gospel and Country. In '52, during the Korean War, Vincent dropped out of high school and joined the Navy but saw no action. He didn't need to. Things were dangerous enough on land.
In '55, a car ran a red light and smashed Vincent's motorcycle. That sent Vincent to the hospital for an extended period. Seven or eight months later Vincent was healthy enough to catch one of those touring Country shows. This one featured a young singer the same age as Vincent - Elvis Presley. That show inspired him. Soon Vincent was appearing on a Norfolk radio station singing "Be-Bop-A-Lula." Local DJ Sheriff Tex Davis figured Vincent and his song could make some money. He also knew that Capitol Records was looking for their own Elvis Presley. On June 2nd, '56 "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was released and became an instant hit selling 200,000 copies. The guitar in that song is one of those slashing attacks produced by Cliff Gallup, a member of Vincent's backing group, the Blue Caps. Vincent never had a hit as "Be-Bop-A-Lula" but he had several classic songs like the follow up "Bluejean Bop" and "Race With The Devil."
Seriously injured in a car wreck that killed Eddie Cochran during their U.K. tour in the early '60s, Vincent's various wounds (the accidents and alcohol) claimed his life in 1971.
Gene Vincent is often given credit for being the first Elvis impersonator. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" does have a vocal style similar to Presley's. But Vincent was more an originator than imitator. While "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was his only U.S. Top Ten hit he is one performer who rewards the listener for digging deeper into his catalog. "Race With The Devil" is an extraordinary story song and Vincent's swaggering, bare-bones performance is priceless. The "Capitol Collector Series" is a great way to get introduced to Vincent's Rock-A-Billy sound. "The Screaming End: The Best of Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps" is another excellent collection.
Surprisingly, for the times, Vincent's individual albums released between '57-59 are hot Rockers ("Bluejean Bop," "Gene Vincent Rocks and the Blue Caps Roll" and "Sounds Like Gene Vincent/Crazy Times").