Gene Vincent's Music Reborn

By | September 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Forty-six years after Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps helped define the rockabilly sound with their signature hit “Be Bop a Lula,” Vincent’s first two records, 1956’s Bluejean Bop! and 1957’s Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, will be re-released with bonus tracks on September 17th. Vincent himself died in 1971 at the age of thirty-six from a ruptured stomach ulcer, but bassist Jack Neal – one of two surviving members of the group, along with drummer Dickie Harrell – still remembers the early recording sessions vividly.

“It was great to go ahead and cut a record where all the country-western stars had been,” Neal says. “Be Bop a Lula,” began as a B-side to the single “Woman Love,” but soon became the more popular side. “I had the feeling that ‘Be Bop a Lula’ would [take off], but I had no idea the other ones would skyrocket the way they did,” Neal continues. “But just as soon as ‘Be Bop a Lula’ hit everyone went wild over it.”

Neal was playing in country-western acts and in the house band at Virginia radio station WCMS in the mid-Fifties when a young Gene Vincent walked in to audition. Soon after, Vincent, Neal, Harrell and guitarist Cliff Gallup became known as Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and made the rounds at TV shows like The Perry Como Show and American Bandstand. “He was a fine man, and he was easy to get along with,” says Neal of Vincent. “He had more talent in his little finger than most singers have got in their whole body.”

Hampered by a leg injury, the result of a motorcycle accident, most of his adult life, Vincent and the Blue Caps nonetheless became known for a frenzied live show. “[The leg injury] didn’t bother him from getting around on stage,” says Neal. “He could move, I’ll tell you that.” And so could Neal. His tendency to spin his stand-up bass in circles earned him the nickname “Jumpin’ Jack.” Typical of the Caps’ best efforts was a show they played early in their career at the Casino Royale in Washington, D.C. “We done a real good show there,” says Neal. “I took my bass and walked across the tables and Dickie was right behind me with his snare drum, and before the night was over he split his pants.”

Despite the fact that Vincent and the Blue Caps called it quits more than thirty years ago, Neal says he still receives fan mail and Christmas cards from “Japan, Russia, Italy, Germany, Canada, you name it.” Revered by the likes of John Lennon in his lifetime, Neal noted that – when he makes the occasional trip to England to play Gene Vincent songs with a group of younger musicians – English fans are much more aware of his music.

“When I went over there, they got records that went way back from when we first started recording,” Neal says. “How in the world they ever got a hold of them, I don’t know. They just worship the shoes he walks in. It’s just amazing.”

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