May 4, 1956: Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps record “Be-Bop-A-Lula”
When you think of Rock ‘n Roll artists in the 1950s, you usually think of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, and others. But you might be forgetting one of the greatest Rock ‘n Roll artists of all time: Gene Vincent. On May 4, 1956, Vincent and his Blue Caps recorded his most famous song, Be-Bop-A-Lula. But what’s the story behind this iconic song?
But first, who’s Gene Vincent?
Gene Vincent isn’t the most memorable rock musician, but he established himself as a pioneer of rockabilly (combining rock and country music) music. Born on February 11, 1935, as Vincent Gene Craddock, the musician loved country music from an early age, in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. He learned how to play the guitar as a teenager and would frequently play until he was enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. In July 1955, Vincent injured his left leg in a motorcycle crash in Norfolk. While at Portsmouth, Virginia’s Veteran’s Hospital, he met Donald Graves, who would become his good friend.
It’s not easy to be a hospital patient for more than a year, so Vincent and Graves had to find a way to entertain themselves. Fellow patients remember watching the friends run around the facility, writing a song that would soon become a classic. The song, “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” reached Capital Records in the spring of 1956, but Graves was reportedly bought out of his share by Vincent’s business manager, Bill “Sheriff Tex” Davis, for just $25. Graves lost his writing credit and Vincent would advance to become a music legend.
Recording an iconic song
Once Capital Records heard the demo, they were convinced Vincent was going to be a music legend. There was an uncanny resemblance between Vincent’s voice and the iconic Elvis Presley’s. The recording studio snapped Vincent up and asked him to record the song with his back-up instrumentalists, The Blue Caps. On May 4, 1956, Vincent and his Blue Caps recorded “Be-Bop-A-Lula” in Nashville, Tennessee. The song was a “B” side to a largely forgotten tune, “Woman’s Love.” But “Be-Bop-A-Lula” would become the favorite tune with music fans, rising to number seven on the pop charts and selling more than two million copies in its first year. Now the single is one of the most iconic songs from the 1950s, and perhaps of all time.