It's a cold wet winter evening and I've tuned in to a small community radio station 3CR for their Saturday night rock and roll show, Shake Rattle and Roll. Tonight they are having a Gene Vincent special and it's been enlightening I knew his early hit records but nothing beyond that. Vincent to me was one of those early rock and roll artists who burst on to the scene and then seemed to vanish just as quickly, what seems to be forgotten is that a lot of these artists continued to record, chasing that elusive hit. Some artists like Conway Twitty and for a time Jerry Lee Lewis turned to country music to find an appreciative audience, there was a period in the early to mid 1960's when a lot of the early rock and roll artists cut some really good records, a striking mix of rhythm and blues, soul and rockabilly that seemed to capture their glory but had a vitality that made those records sound fresh.
Gene Vincent hailed from Norfolk Virginia, he had enlisted in the U.S navy in 1952 and planned a life long career in the navy before a motorcycle accident in 1955 led to a medical discharge. On his return home he put together a band fostered by his love of R&B and country music to play the local circuit. Within a year Gene Vincent and Blue Caps put out one of the great rock and roll records Be Bop A Lulu which was a huge worldwide hit. Like many of his vintage Vincent became more popular in Europe and by early 1958 he was a spent force chart wise in the U.S. He became a huge live attraction in Europe but by the mid 60's he was dogged by health problems relating to his motorcycle accident and his worsening alcoholism. In 1966 Vincent started recording for the Challenge Record label which had originally been started by legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry and was home to acts like The Champs and Jan and Dean. The first single to emerge from these sessions in L.A was Bird Doggin, Vincent is backed my members of The Champs it has a loose garage rock feeling with a fiery burst of harmonica to kick things off. It's definitely a song of the times with a nod to the work coming from groups like The Stones and The Yardbirds with piercing guitar runs and a rough exterior.
The B side Ain't That Too Much is another fast paced rocker, Gene also provides a gritty rock and soul vocal performance which really fits the song. It might have been better had the record label put this as the A side, it sounds a little more polished than Bird Doggin. The solo has an almost fuzz toned sounding harmonica , which seems to be another popular device from the mid 60's.
Unfortunately for Gene it didn't reignite his career, it seems that no matter what direction he took his music radio stations and DJ's just weren't interested, he was then and to them he certainly wasn't now and it's a shame because good even great music is overlooked because of that narrow minded view, it was a stumbling block for a lot of the early rockers who were still recording good music in the 60's but couldn't find a new audience.