This Day in Music History – ChaCha on Gene Vincent

It was on this day in 1971 that Rockabilly legend Gene Vincent passed away.  Here’s our own ChaCha to give you the scoop on the man and his legacy.

Gene Vincent first came into the spotlight with his major hit Be-Bop-A-Lula, which was co-written by Tex Davis, the man that discovered him. Tex was a DJ at WCMH in Norfolk, Virginia who coincidentally, was also a promotion man for Monument Records. Capitol Records had been looking for a young man to rival Elvis, and Gene ended up recording the song at Owen Bradley’s studio in Nashville, TN in May of 1956.

By 1957, Capitol Records announced that the record had sold 2 million copies. It peaked at number 7 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, just like much of music history from this time, there are many alternative versions of how this song came to be. Regardless of the truth, I don’t think many will argue that it’s a spot on representation of rock and roll, blues and rockabilly and really, that time in general in music. Rolling Stone placed it in the #102 spot in the “500 Greatest Rock and Roll Songs of All Time” list.

Sadly, Gene has a prolific catalog of bad ass tracks, but just like so many others his one big hit was always the focus. After some scuffles with the IRS, he moved to Europe. It was there that he was involved in a nasty car wreck that killed his good friend and rock and roll pioneer, Eddie Cochran. Gene had silently struggled with pain most of his life. He had shattered his left leg in a motorcycle accident in 1955. Although he survived the car accident while Eddie did not, he further damaged his leg and broke his collar bone and ribs.

Gene attempted a comeback with the help of Rolling Rock Records the year he passed away. He performed a few shows in Liverpool, but returned to California after his health began rapidly deteriorating. Gene had apparently suffered from chronic bleeding ulcers his whole life and upon this return to the West Coast, suffered a horrific and untimely death at the age of 36 when (according to his sister) he tripped, fell and burst the ulcers. There are also claims that among his last words were “If I get through this, I’m going to be a better man.” Word has it that Gene died with “the sweetest smile” on his face. I can’t think of a better way to go after a life like his and hope with all my heart that Gene found some peace in his passing.

This is a recording of Gene’s last known interview in 1971, the year he passed away

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