Tag Archives: gene vincent

Eleven-Eleven-Eleven

This past week, there was another palindrome granted to us by the calendar gods (Do geese see god?)

Barring the creation of the immortality pill (Will you please get on this, Eli Lilly!), this will likely be the last 11-11-11 we will experience in our lifetimes. (Of course, at the rate I’m going, if I do happen to make it to November 11, 2111, I’ll just about be finished with my degree and the back yard).

This type of timekeeping symmetry is just what I needed to rouse me back to the keyboard to share updates on some of the “DD” posts for the non-palindromic past.

I promise you’ll hear from me again before 12-12-12.

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I’m giving tours at Warner Bros. these days. One of the places I like to point out (especially if I have a graying group along for the ride), is the intersection between the Mill building and Stage 16. This was the place where Pink Floyd’s iconic 1975 Wish You Were Here album cover was taken over 35 years ago.

As part of a new Why Pink Floyd? marketing campaign, last week EMI re-released WYWH as both a 5-disc “Immersion” edition and in a 2-disc “Experience” format.

Speaking of Pink Floyd, 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon passed a major cultural milestone this past June when it charted on Billboard for the 1000th week!

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Speaking of milestones, Deadwrite’s Dailies will pass 75,000 views for the year sometime in the next day or so. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by for a peek.

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It’s a bit after the fact, but October 12 was the 40th anniversary of the passing of rockabilly legend Gene Vincent, who is buried in Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery. My family and I pass by this cemetery a couple of times a day driving on the Antelope Freeway and often call out a “personal Hi Gene” to the late legend.

I learned an interesting fact around the time of the anniversary. I had always thought that Gene had died at the Henry Mayo Hospital in Newhall back in 1971. It turns out, that hospital hadn’t been built yet, and thanks to some great investigative work from my friends Chris Bouyer and Tony Newhall, the real location was found to be what was then the Inter-Valley Community Hospital at 21704 Golden Triangle Road in Saugus. The place is known today at the Hillside Professional Center (and it looks kinda creepy).

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I don’t know if you caught this or not, but President Obama recently authorized the deployment of a small contingent of troops to Uganda to help fight a brutal guerrilla force known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, has been carrying out a campaign or murder, dismemberment, and kidnapping in central Africa for decades.

This was welcome news to African activists all over the world, including our friend The West Wing actress Melissa Fitzgerald, who has been campaigning for the citizens of Uganda for years. Well done.

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BTW – Congrats to the late, great cowboy hero Roy Rogers, who would have turned 100 on November 5.

Twenty years ago on November 7, Magic Johnson made the stunning announcement that he had the HIV virus. Magic, glad you’re still with us and going strong!

So long to the Western Black Rhino, which was due to poaching, was declared extinct last week. (When are we actually going to learn to live on this planet?)

On a personal note, my second book will hit the shelves tomorrow. It’s called Griffith Park and was co-authored with Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. The book covers the story of L.A.’s “Central Park,” with tons of photos of some of the hundreds of films that have been shot there. Keep watch for details of upcoming lectures and book signings.

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"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 2

Rock and roll pioneer and “permanent” Newhall resident Gene Vincent was instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together.

As the story goes, in July 1957, 15-year-old McCartney was talked into visiting a church festival to audition for the band The Quarrymen, which was led by 16-year-old John Lennon. McCartney reportedly played a 10-minute medley of songs by Gene, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard. Lennon was so impressed with the younger McCartney that he asked him to join the band. Later, just before “Beatlemania” was to wash over the world, the Beatles met and befriended their idol in Hamburg where Gene helped them craft their sound.

Gene still had lots of fans stateside as well, including Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of the Doors.

Gene was on tour in England in April 1960 when a taxi he was riding in hit a cement post. The crash seriously injured Gene and killed his cab-mate Eddie Cochran, who had made a name for himself with Summertime Blues.

Gene spent most of the next decade flitting between London and Hollywood, while recording and touring sporadically. Years of heavy drinking, bad relationships, and poor management compromised his finances and wrecked his health. He was with his parents in Saugus in 1971 when he was rushed to what was later called the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where a bleeding ulcer took him away from a world that had largely forgotten him.

But Gene could never be completely forgotten. Be-Bop-A-Lula, which was released 55 years ago this week, still garners airplay – either in its original version, or as covered by such performers as Gary Glitter, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Stray Cats, Queen, and not surprisingly, both Lennon and McCartney.

Gene has won some posthumous acclaim as well. Rolling Stone magazine once called Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps “the first rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” and Be-Bop-A-Lula was listed as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where Gene was inducted in 1998. More recently, Guitar Edge magazine voted Gene onto its list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time,” (although, in all fairness it should have been Cliff Gallup being honored, as he was the true master guitarist of the Blue Caps).

Gene was laid to rest at Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery. French-born fan and Newhall resident Chris Bouyer hopes to see the city where Gene is buried to pay tribute to their permanent resident with an annual music festival.

“I would love to see the city of Newhall host a yearly rockabilly festival in February around Gene’s birthday,” says Bouyer. “There is a huge rockabilly underground, and I know that a festival like that could draw thousands of fans from all around the world. I imagine the festival as something that would start small and then grow big,” says Bouyer. “All it will take will be work, dedication, and passion. But that’s the story of everything worthwhile. That’s the story of rock and roll. And that’s the story of Gene.”

“Be-Bop-a-Lula … She-e-e’s my baby doll, my baby doll, my baby doll.”

 


"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 1

(Since today is the 55th anniversary of the release of the epic rock and roll classic Be-Bop-a-Lula by local legend Gene Vincent, I’ve decided to reprint a two-parter on this underappreciated rockabilly pioneer.)

If you’re a fan of 1950s rock and roll, or if you just happen to be over 40, try taking this test.

Sing the following opening lyric without singing any of the rest of the song. Ready? Here goes.

“Be-Bop-a-Lula…”

Be honest. You couldn’t stop yourself, could you? Try as you might, some dormant synapse in your brain fired off the second line “… She’s My Baby …” straight to your vocal chords.

Don’t feel bad. Since June 16, 1956 – 55-years ago this week – when Be-Bop-A-Lula first hit the airwaves, so many millions of people have sung along to the tune that it has entered the world’s musical collective unconscious.

While the song may be familiar to most, the story of rock and roll legend and permanent Santa Clarita Valley resident Gene Vincent, the tune’s singer and co-author, who would have turned 76 in February, has largely been forgotten.

If asked to select likenesses for a Mount Rushmore of 1950s rock and roll legends, most Americans would showcase the images of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. But another face would likely be added by Europeans where Gene Vincent’s popularity was on par with Presley’s near-godlike following.

Gene Vincent, whose real name was Vincent Eugene Craddock, was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1935 and began playing guitar at the age of 12. He left school early to join the Navy where he was stationed in Korea. On returning to Norfolk in 1955 he was involved in a very serious motorcycle accident that shattered his left leg, leaving him with a permanent limp and chronic pain for the rest of his life. Legend has it that he wrote Be-Bop-A-Lula in the hospital while recovering from the injury.

During the frantic months after the songs’ release, Gene and his band the Blue Caps – which featured legendary guitarist Cliff Gallup – recorded an album, played numerous concerts, and appeared in the first rock and roll feature film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. The pace quickly took its toll on Gene and the band and before long several members of the Blue Caps exited for good.

Gene had a few follow-up hits in America after that, but nothing to approach Be-Bop-A-Lula in popularity. With his career stalling in the States, he toured Japan and Australia with Eddie Cochran and Little Richard. Afterwards he went to Europe where he was greeted as a hero by his legions of fans.

Among those fans were some lads from Liverpool.

Paul McCartney wrote in “The Beatles Anthology” that Be-Bop-A-Lula was the first record he ever bought, and in fact, the song was reportedly instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together in the first place.

(More on this tomorrow.)


Eternal Sounds

It’s one thing to achieve success in music, but quite another to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of a genre (at least it was until they put Madonna in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s another story).

Today we’ll pay a visit to the three Hall of Fame musicians who are housed at Eternal Valley Cemetery in Newhall.

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After entering the gates, we climb the hill, passing by the final resting place of giant Tor Johnson from Plan Nine From Outer Space along the way.

Near the top, at the upper end of the Garden of Prayer rests musical legend Cliffie Stone. Stone, born Clifford Snyder, was a country singer, musician, disk jockey, record producer, author, and music publisher.

As the host of the Hometown Jamboree radio program from 1946-1960, he helped launch the careers of dozens of country musicians. The multi-tasking Stone was signed by Capitol Records in Hollywood as both an artist and as head of their Country & Western division. At the end of his life, he kept busy directing Gene Autry’s vast publishing empire.

Stone was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the corner of Sunset and Vine, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989.

On the far south side of the cemetery in the Garden of Meditation rests singer Roy Brown.

Roy James Brown was born in New Orleans in 1925 and began his career as a gospel singer. He later switched to the blues, and is now considered to be a pioneer voice in rock and roll history.

 

Brown recorded his most famous song, Good Rocking Tonight, in 1947. The song was later covered by Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and a host of other performers. A dazzling showman, Brown helped pave the way for later performers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

His fortunes declined during the 1960s to the point that he was forced to sell encyclopedias to make ends meet. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, which was the same year that he died.

Down the hill in plot 91 of the Garden of Repose rests rocker Gene Vincent, Eternal Valley’s most famous resident.

Eugene Vincent Craddock was born in Virginia in 1935. He got his first guitar at the age of 12 and dropped out of school to join the navy a few years later.

While in the navy, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident and while recuperating, wrote the classic rock and roll song Be-Bop-A-Lula.

This song, which was later covered by everyone from Queen to John Lennon, quickly went gold and led to Vincent and his band, The Blue Caps, earning a spot in the landmark rock and roll film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield.

Vincent continued to perform until his death, but never equaled the success of Be-Bop. He died from the effects of alcoholism in 1971, and was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Along a line of shrubs in the Zane Grey Gardens is the grave of Tex Williams. While not a Hall of Famer (yet), Williams had a long and successful career as a country singer/songwriter. During the 1940s and ’50s he also starred in a series of low-budget western musicals for Universal, known as “oaters.”

Williams first struck musical gold in 1945 as the lead singer of the Spade Cooley Orchestra when their single Shame On You became a smash hit and stayed on the country charts for 31 weeks. Eternal Valley neighbor Cliffie Stone later offered Williams his own recording contract and Tex left Cooley to form “Tex Williams and His Western Caravan.”

In 1947, their single Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) topped both the country and the pop charts, becoming Capitol Records’ first million-selling record.

Not surprisingly, the singer died of lung cancer in his Newhall home in 1985.

 


Del and Gene

Me and Del were singin’ Little Runaway, I was flyin’  – Tom Petty, Running Down a Dream

Del Shannon, whose bio was remarkably similar to ...

Last week, I wrote about rock and roll pioneer Gene Vincent, who after changing his name, became world-famous on the strength of his first single, Be-Bop-A-Lula. He later saw his career flourish in England while it stagnated stateside, befriended and influenced the Beatles among others, and died prematurely in Santa Clarita.

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the passage of another local rock and roll legend. This singer also changed his name shortly before scoring a worldwide number one hit. He was later largely forgotten in America, but had legions of fans in England, and at the time of his death he was rumored to have been planning on joining former Beatle George Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys. He also died prematurely in Santa Clarita.

This legend’s name was Del Shannon, who was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the early 60s, Charles was busy selling carpets after a stint in the army when he decided to change his name (getting his new moniker from the names of a friend and a Cadillac) and write a song called Runaway. The song, with Shannon’s signature falsetto backed by organist Max Crook’s Musitron, was released 40 years ago this month on February 14, 1961.  It reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic a few months later.

Shannon, like Vincent, had a few follow-up hits after his smash debut, but nothing to approach Runaway in popularity, and his career in America soon stalled. He still maintained a sizable following in England where Del became the first American to record a cover of a Beatles song, charting From Me To You months before the Beatles released their own version of the single.

... Gene Vincent.

At the end of his life, Shannon was working with Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne, who were all members of the group The Traveling Wilburys. He was rumored to be replacement in the band for Roy Orbison, who had recently passed away.

But it was not to be. Shannon, who suffered from depression and alcoholism, killed himself with a .22 caliber rifle at his home just off of Sand Canyon on February 8, 1990. His wife later unsuccessfully sued Eli Lilly & Company after his suicide, blaming Prozac for his death.

The four remaining members of the Traveling Wilburys recorded their own version of Runaway as a tribute after Shannon’s death.

Del Shannon and Gene Vincent have one additional thing in common – they were both posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


What’s Outside of Awesometown?

Outside of Valencia, California, which is known to city promoters as “Awesometown,” there is a big world filled with people, cars, countries, and reality shows. Outside of Pleasantville, a fictional town from a comedy that was partially filmed in Valencia, you won’t find much past Elm Street.

1998’s Pleasantville is a story about a 1950s sitcom which is centered around a utopian American town populated by a God-fearing, allegiance-pledging citizenry. The town is thought to live only in reruns, but in reality, it still exists in a televised time-bubble. The townsfolk, like characters in a Jasper Fforde novel, conduct their lives only in the one-dimensional way they were written, doomed to forever repeat the actions their writers gave them.

Pleasantville’s perfectly sanitized world, where the biggest crisis is a cat stuck in a tree, quickly changes when David and Jennifer, a pair of high school twins from the late 1990s played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, get sucked into the series through their television set. The teleportation comes about thanks to a magical remote given to them by a mysterious TV repairman, played by Don Knotts, who was himself a long-time citizen of another television Eden called Mayberry. After the twins enter the picture, changes quickly occur beginning when Jennifer brings her Pleasantville Geography class to a standstill by asking, “What’s outside of Pleasantville?”

Color plays a central role in Pleasantville where the citizens see the world literally and figuratively in black-and-white. The changes brought about by the twins result in a gradual transformation of the Pleasantville world to color. Depending on one’s point of view, the use of color in the film signifies either an increase in knowledge and sophistication or of corruption.

Pleasantville was one of my favorite films of the 1990s and I was happy to recently learn that some of it was filmed in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Valencia High School, where my stepson is a sophomore, is the school shown at the beginning of the film where David trips all over himself asking a girl out on a date, and where he prepares for a Pleasantville trivia contest. While this takes place, his slutty twin sister Jennifer and her friends look on in disgust at her nerdy brother, and conduct an entire conversation with a group of guys centered around the word “Hey.” Valencia High’s quad, outdoor cafeteria, and the area outside the theater are seen on screen.

Later in the film, a car drives through a street that appears to be in Stevenson Ranch, which borders Valencia. Another SCV connection can be found in the soundtrack when rocker Gene Vincent sings Be-Bop-A-Lula. Vincent is a “permanent resident” of Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery.

The SCV is a frequent filming site for films and television shows, with The Unit, Big Love, Criminal Minds, NCIS, The Mentalist, and Bones currently lensing locally.

If you’d like to learn more about the film and television history of the Santa Clarita Valley, feel free to sign up for the next session of my “Newhallywood on Location” film class in January in Newhall’s Heritage Junction.

I promise that it’ll be swell.


Somethin’ Else

Rock and roll fans are being hit with a host of sad milestones these days. For instance, today marks the 40th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s drug overdose death in a Hollywood motel in 1970, which comes just two weeks after the anniversary of the passing of guitar god Jimi Hendrix that same year. And last week saw the 55th anniversary of the death of actor James Dean, who, though not a musician, greatly influenced the look and spirit of early rock and roll.

I may as well add another grim rock reminder to today’s post since I’ve brought us all down already anyway.

Yesterday would have been Eddie Cochran’s 72nd birthday had his short but influential career not been halted prematurely in a car crash just over 50 years ago. A gifted singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Cochran left us with a host of great songs, like Somethin’ Else, Twenty Flight Rock, and his biggest hit, Summertime Blues.

Cochran was born in Minnesota on October 3, 1938, to Okie parents who had moved north to find work. He was something of a musical prodigy, able to master guitar songs after a single listen. While Eddie was in his teens, his family moved briefly to Oklahoma City where they lived in an apartment building that was later the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that Timothy McVeigh would bomb in 1995. The family then settled near Los Angeles, where Cochran decided to drop out of high school to pursue a career in music, even though he was an honor student.

Success came quickly after Cochran performed Twenty Flight Rock in 1956 in one of the first great rock and roll films, The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. Another rocker who performed in the film was Gene Vincent, who sang his early rockabilly anthem Be-Bop-a-Lula. The two would become fast friends.

Cochran would string together several hits over the next few years, led by Summertime Blues, which peaked at #8 on the charts during the summer of 1958. The song has since been covered by seemingly everyone, including The Who, who performed it at Woodstock.

On April 16, 1960, Eddie was in England on tour with Gene Vincent. The taxi they were riding in skidded into a lamp post around midnight, and Cochran was thrown through the windshield. He died in a hospital in Bath later that night. He was only 21.

(Vincent had a history of bad luck with moving vehicles, beginning as a young man, when he had permanently injured his leg in a motorcycle crash – an injury that led him to a life of strong drink. He never recovered from the death of his friend, and died prematurely only eleven years later.)

Although Cochran’s career was short, his feverish guitar and singing style influenced many later rockers, including a young Paul McCartney, who played Twenty Flight Rock when trying out for a Liverpool group known as the Quarrymen. The group was led by a young man named John Lennon, who provides us with another sad rock milestone next week with what should have been his 70th birthday had he not stopped two bullets from the gun of a psychotic fan in 1980.

In the recent re-release of his Double Fantasy album, Lennon is heard paying tribute to his main American musical influences when he whispers, “This is for Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy” at the beginning of a stripped-down version of (Just Like) Starting Over.

Plaque in England where Eddie Cochran died.