Vincent Eugene Craddock, February 11, 1935, Norfolk, VA; died October 12, 1971 (Newhall, CA).
Ironically, considering the fate of his peers, a traffic accident began Gene’s career. Although the young Eugene had been playing guitar since the age of 12, it was only after a stint in the Navy in 1955, where he was badly injured while riding his Triumph motorcycle, that he decided to pursue music full-time. Released from the service and recuperating, Vincent began hanging out at Norfolk, VA, country station WCMS, eventually getting on air to sing an original song called “Be-Bop-A-Lula.”
That song, allegedly written in the VA hospital along with a fellow patient, caught the attention of DJ Bill “Sheriff Tex” Davis, who began to manage Vincent. Soon Davis got the young singer a contract with Capitol, who wanted to groom him as their answer to Elvis Presley. With a new band, the Blue Caps, assembled from the core of his old country band, the Virginians, Gene and company were on their way. “Lula,” while originally the b-side of
another song, was an instant smash hit.
Vincent managed to hit the Top Forty in ’57 with “Lotta Lovin’,” but he and the Caps simply rocked too hard for radio. It was those legendary ’56 sides, however, that kept Vincent viable as a performing artist, both here and in Europe. By the late Sixties, Gene had fallen victim to changing times, financial mismanagement, and his own worsening addiction to alcohol. In October 1971, a sick Vincent went on a three-day bender that ruptured existing stomach ulcers; he died soon after.
- Gene’s swaggering onstage presence was due to his leg brace
- Recorded some sessions with Eddie Cochran in 1957; was in the car during Eddie’s fatal crash
- The band was arrested in 1958 in connection with a nearby murder, but cleared
- Was close friends with the Doors’ Jim Morrison; the band was slated to back him up at a revival show in ’69 but Alice Cooper’s band filled in instead
- After hearing “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” Elvis’ bassist, Bill Black, accused the King of making the record in secret