One of the original bad boys of rock 'n' roll, the self-destructive Vincent was involved in a motorcycle crash in July 1955 and his left leg was permanently damaged. Discharged from the US Navy, he began appearing on country music radio and came under the wing of disc jockey 'Sheriff' Tex Davis, who supervised his recording of a demo of 'Be-Bop A-Lula'. In May 1956, the track was re-recorded at Capitol Records' Nashville studio, with backing by the Blue Caps. The original line-up comprised Cliff Gallup (lead guitar), Jack Neal (upright bass), Willie Williams (acoustic guitar) and Dickie Harrell (drums). Weeks later, 'Be-Bop-A-Lula' stormed the charts, temporarily providing Capitol with their own version of Elvis Presley. The strength of the single lay in Vincent's engaging vocal and the loping guitar runs of the influential Gallup.
Vincent's image was brooding, inarticulate and menacing and with such rock 'n' roll authenticity he was not easily marketable in the USA. His second single, 'Race With The Devil', failed to chart in his homeland, but proved successful in the UK, where he attracted a devoted following. Dogged by bad advice and often unsuitable material, Vincent rapidly lost the impetus that had thrust him to the centre stage as a rock 'n' roll icon. Even an appearance in the movie The Girl Can't Help It failed to arrest his commercial decline. A respite was offered by the million-selling 'Lotta Love', but line-up changes in the Blue Caps and a multitude of personal problems were conspiring against him. His damaged leg perpetually threatened to end his singing career and renewed injuries resulted in the limb being supported by a metal brace. Vincent's alcoholism and buccaneering road life made him a liability to promoters and by the late 50s, his career seemed in ruins.
In the late 50s Vincent relocated to England, where producer Jack Good exacerbated his rebel image by dressing him in black leather and encouraging the star to accentuate his limp. Although he failed to retrieve past glories on record, he toured frequently and survived the 1960 car crash that killed his friend Eddie Cochran. Thereafter, he appeared regularly in the UK and France, having come under the wing of the notoriously proprietorial manager Don Arden. Increasingly redundant during the beat group era, his lifestyle grew more erratic and alcoholism made him a bloated and pathetic figure. 1970's comeback album of sorts, I'm Back And I'm Proud, lacked sufficient punch to revitalize his career and he continued playing with pick-up groups, churning out his old repertoire. He often railed against old friends and grew increasingly disillusioned about the state of his career. Still regarded as a legend of rock 'n' roll and a true original, he seemed frustratingly stuck in a time warp and lacked any sense of a career pattern. The often intolerable pain he suffered owing to his festering leg merely exacerbated his alcoholism, which in turn devastated his health. On 12 October 1971, his abused body finally succumbed to a bleeding ulcer and rock 'n' roll lost one of its genuinely great rebellious spirits.
Copyright © 2016 Omnibus Press