First published in International Times, March 1971
Check out also:
The Gene Vincent Biography page at Rockabilly Hall
Some 13 years ago, Gene Vincent (nť Vincent Gene Craddock) had the nationís number-one song in a rockiní ditty called "Be Bop-A-Lula" (it sold three million copies). It, along with Elvisís "Hound Dog", Carl Perkinsí "Blue Suede Shoes" and Bill Haleyís "See You Later, Alligator" more-or-less spearheaded the 1956 American "rock revolution".
Presley, Perkins and Haley have all been heard from recently; not so with Vincent. At least, not in America. Since the success of "Be Bop-A-Lula", Vincent has spent the majority of his time in England, doing gigs and continually cutting records (which, somehow, have never made it over here).
"Carl Perkins was the first rock and roll singer. Even Elvis, you ask
him, will admit it. If you ask Bill Haley heíll admit it as well.
there was this boy
called Elvis Presley and thereís one called Gene
Vincent. But I was in the hospital at that time and Presley did it. On the Ed Sullivan Show.
I GUESS YOU MUST HAVE THOUGH ABOUT WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HAD DONE THE SULLIVAN SHOW INSTEAD OF PRESLEY.
No, not really. Iím a singer. Listen, I never meant to make money. I never wanted it. Iím a singer, man. When I put out a record called "Be Bop-A-Lula", my only thought was to just make a living singing. But all of a sudden, I was getting $1500 a night. And you take a 19-year old boy and put him in those circumstances Ö I had a Cadillac and all. It was a bad scene. It shouldnít have happened on that first record.
AFTER "BE BOP-A-LULA" DID THE COMPANY PUT PRESSURE ON YOU TO COME UP WITH ANOTHER QUICK HIT? TO MAKE THEM MORE MONEY?
Hey, everybody was making money Ďcept me. When I was 28, I got a letter from the Government saying I was a millionaire. I wish to hell they would have told somebody else about it Ö like me. I never knew about it. I never had that money. In fact, Iíve still got about 10 checks that were signed by my manager overseas Ö $10,000 or so. But I donít care. I just donít care. I know it sounds silly. But Ö look, let them take what they want. All I want to do is be myself and make a decent living. Not a lot of money, mind you. I already own a lot of property, I own a 42-foot yacht in bloody Hermosa Beach and all that jazz. But I just want to be me!
"BE BOP-A-LULA" MADE IT IN 1956. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU AFTER THAT? DID YOU STILL TOUR?
Oh, yeah Ö sure. Before I went to England in 1960, I played in Europe. I went to Hamburg and met a group there. I was very impressed with them. We met and talked a lot Ö that was at the Star Club Ö They were really good. Now theyíre called John Lennon and The Beatles. They didnít have a record out or nothing. God, I could have picked them up so cheaply Ö which was so foolish of me. But, like I said, Iím a singer, not a bloody business man.
WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE THE US TO SETTLE IN ENGLAND?
The same thing thatís making me leave now.
YOU MEAN ALL THE OTHER FRUSTRATIONS THAT GO ALONG WITH SINGING?
No Ö you want to know the truth? Well, my brother-in-law is Mickey Most. Iím married to his wifeís sister Ö which is a shame. I brought my wife over here Ö my ex-wife, shall we say, and she brought her parents from South Africa, her sister, her bloody sister from Oregon and about 15 million other people Ė I canít keep up with them all. And Mickey Most laughs. I know why he laughs now. That bloody bastard.
WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT TO? IS IT BECAUSE THEY HAVENíT PROGRESSED TO THE PSYCHEDELIC STAGE?
Oh, what a charge you are. What is all this "progressed past" jazz? Listen, you play me one record Ö right there, thereís a whole bunch of them Ö you play me one record that isnít rock and roll. Now they might play in minor chords, but itís all rock. Pure and simple rock and roll. And youíre not going to lose it.
People tell me Iím making a comeback. A comeback to what? What do you want me to comeback to? Working 350 days out of 365. No thank you. Iím too old for that now Ö Iím 33 already.
BUT YOU ARE MAKING A COMEBACK TO RECORDING Ö WITH AN AMERICAN PRODUCT.
Right, but Iíve been recording steady for the past 16 years.
THEN YOU JUST WANT TO DO GIGS, PERIOD.
Right. Iíd sing for you, right now. But as far as all these managers and everything Ö Listen, let me tell you something. When I entered music, music was a fantastic thing. It was a competition; we all competed with each other. But since then, music has become a business Ö itís more of a competition among businessmen. You stuff things down peopleís throats, which they donít like, and then you say: "Why is rock and roll coming back?" Well, rock and roll is coming back because people want the original Ö and, theyíre going to have it. The people want it! Theyíre not businessmen or anywhing Ö theyíre just people who enjoy the music. Here, Iím going to tell you something which you probably donít know about. Youíve heard about this payola stuff that happened back in í58? Well, they do the same thing now. All they do is give you a Swiss number, a Swiss bank account number. You play the record and you pick up $300 in Swiss money.
YOUíRE TALKING ABOUT ENGLAND?
Iím talking about here. The USA.
WHEN "BE BOP-A-LULA" CAME OUT AND EVERYBODY STARTED COMPARING IT Ė AND YOU Ė TO PRESLEY, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION?
Itís quite a funny story. I was in the Naval Hospital, actually I was crippled up; I just had a hit [wound] in Korea. My mother said to me: "Son, why donít you enter this contest?" I said, what bloody contest, what are you talking about? She said, why donít you record something. So I recorded a thing that I wrote. I come in dead drunk and stumbled over the bed. And me and Don Graves were looking at this bloody book; it was called "Little Lulu". And I said, "Hell, man, itís bebopalulu." And he said, "Yeah, man, swinging." And we wrote this song. And some man came to hear it Ö named Sheriff Tex Davis, and he bought the song from Donald Graves for $25, $25 dollars! So I recorded the song and told all my friends that I was going to get a Cadillac; cause all rock and roll singers had Cadillacs.
So "Be Bop-A-Lula" came out and for three weeks nothing happened. Then some man in Baltimore started playing it and that bloody thing hit. It went to number 1 in every bloody place you went. But I didnít know how to handle a hit. I was only a child Ö a boy.
I went to Nashville. I walked in the door of the Prince Albert Hotel and had on a pink suit with a wine-coloured shirt. See, they hated me right from the start, cause I had the number one record in town. But I didnít know that at the time. So I went to this big disk-jockeysí convention in town and a person was playing there by the name of Bill Monroe. He had a bluegrass band. And everybody was sitting there. Then Faron Young got up and said: "Thereís this fella in town; one of these rock and roll people whoís only going to last a year, if he lasts that long. But by the way he sings, he wonít." And then he said: "And there sits the boy. He might sing in a minute. His name is Gene Vincent." And man, I snuck out that door Ö crawled out of there. He brought me down so bad! So I went back to the hotel and there was this fella sitting there in the lobby who came up to me and said, "Excuse me, can I get your autograph?" And I said, "Havenít I seen you someplace before?" And he said, "Yeah, my nameís Buddy Holly." He had out a record then called "Blue Days, Black Nights". It was a fabulous record.
Itís like I say. We used to all sit around Ö me and Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins and weíd talk about things. If one of us had a hit, weíd say: "Thatís fabulous. Itís a damn good song." But now, the people that I meet are so damn big headed Ö itís not music any more, itís business. But now Ö Iíve met Jim Morrison of the Doors Ö a fantastic person. Really a nice guy, and he takes me back to the people I knew in the old days. Listen, a star is not a star. We never considered ourselves that. Iím always pushing, man, to get something better. And thatís the same with Jim and fellas like John Sebastian.
HOW ABOUT THE EDDIE COCHRAN ACCIDENT? YOU WERE IN THE CAR WITH HIM?
Yeah, I picked him up and carried him 40 feet.
HOWíD THE ACCIDENT HAPPEN?
Well, people arenít going to like this either, but Ö He had a girlfriend called Sharon Sheeley. She said she was engaged to him, which was the biggest goddamned lie Iíd ever heard in my whole life. I never heard such a bunch of shit in my life. Anyway, we were in England on our way to London that night and Eddie said to me: "Gene, instead of getting on the train and fightiní the whole way back, going with Sharon, why donít we just drive?" So we hired a car. Usually I got in first, then it was Eddie and her. But this one night, I donít know what happened, but she got in first, then Eddie and me. Eddie was killed cause he was in the middle. Now thereís only one way he could have been killed. That was throwing himself across her body. Itís the only way! Weíve tried to figure it out. Nobodyís really told the truth! If sheíd tell the truth for a change. That man was a good cat, man, and heís dead.
I have a picture here, let me show you. This was made from a small picture Iíve got. I wonít give it to nobody because itís mine. I treasure it as a treasured possession. Now see the crosses there? [Showed me a photo of Cochran with several white cross-designs scattered above Cochranís head and in his hair.] This was taken a day before he died. See, one of those crosses is right in his half Ö taken a day before he died. God Ö explain that! Can you explain the picture? Whereíd the crosses come from? As far as I knew, they werenít there before. Itís incredible Ö
DID YOU HIT ANOTHER CAR?
No Ö it was a chauffeur-driven car and he hit a lamppost going about 80. Eddie went out the door Ö skidded 250 yards on the back of his head. I was thrown on the grass and had my whole left side broken up. I picked Eddie up and carried him. When we got to the hospital I told the doc: "Iíll give you a million dollars if you can save his life." He said he was dying. I said "He canít die." He said, "Well, he is." I said "Heís not." I guess I tried to help him too much. I had a doctor flown in by helicopter Ö a brain surgeon. He operated Ö then Eddie died. 272 concussions across the back of his head.
You know, his mother and father never even called me. Never even talked to me. But that man was like my brother. I knew him like nobody else did. They have never even called! Eddie told me things, whispering before he died, that he wanted to tell them. Have they called and asked me? No Ö Iíd gladly tell them. Itís been almost eight years. Why donít they ask me?
Iíll tell you why they donít. We had a man Ö we were working almost eight months on the road. We had a man called Norm Riley. Now we had picked up almost ľ of a million dollars on our tours Ö me and Eddie Ö and we were leaving for Bristol that night. And Riley he Ö now, now do you go about stealing ľ of a million dollars? Can I tell you how? He booked himself into a mental hospital, got out and collected the money and booked himself back in. Now you canít touch him. Who are you going to get? The police?
HOW MUCH MONEY HAVE YOU GONE THROUGH SINCE "BE
BOP- A- LULA"?
Oh, at least 3 million dollars. Now what have I got? Itís amazing.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT GOING INTO ANOTHER BUSINESS?
Into what? No, man Ö Iím a singer. A bloody singer! Itís my living Ö my life.