Tag Archives: queen

"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.”


Albums and Icons: The Art of Frank Freas

What does Mad Magazine have in common with the rock supergroup Queen?

No, it’s not that Alfred E. Neuman and Freddie Mercury both needed dental work.

The answer I was looking for is illustrator Frank Freas. While Freas is not a household name to most, to fans of science fiction and fantasy art, he is a legend.

Frank Freas, born August 27, 1922.

Frank Freas (pronounced “freeze”) was born in upstate New York 88 years ago today. After attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, he began a career in advertising and illustration. In November 1950 he created his first fantasy cover for Weird Tales magazine. Two years later he created a cover for Astounding Science Fiction magazine which depicted a giant robot with a sad expression holding the body of a man he has innocently killed. It featured a caption that read, “Please … fix it, Daddy?”  

For the next 50 years Freas would illustrate dozens of magazines and books. In 1958 he became the chief artist for Mad Magazine, depicting the “What Me Worry?” icon Alfred E. Neuman on dozens of covers.

In later years he did work for NASA, creating insignias and posters for Skylab 1. Freas published several collections of his works and was awarded ten Hugo Awards for his contributions to science fiction and fantasy art. He passed away in January 2005 at the age of 82 and is interred in Chatsworth’s Memorial Park Cemetery.

And what about Queen’s connection to Freas?

Nearly a quarter-century after his sad robot cover appeared, Queen drummer and science fiction fan Roger Taylor asked Freas to re-create the cover for the group’s News of the World album. Pretty neat, huh?

Queen's "News of the World" album from 1977.

Lost Art: Rock Album Covers

Is this the greatest album cover of all time, or what?

I like the ease and portability of downloaded music, but I still like to browse through swap meets for old rock and roll vinyl LPs. I don’t buy them for the sound quality – I don’t even own a turntable anymore – I get them for the great artwork. In many cases, the 12” LP cardboard sleeves were canvases for some of the most provocative images of the 20th century.

I was reminded of this recently when I was sitting in a restaurant and the title track for Elton John’s 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy came on the sound system. Captain Fantastic was an autobiographical account of the lives of Elton (Captain Fantastic) and his lyricist Bernie Taupin (The Brown Dirty Cowboy). Its ten songs still sound great today, especially the rocker Gotta Get a Meal Ticket, which still kicks ass 35 years after its release. (Has it really been that long?!)

Captain Fantastic may not be my favorite Elton John album – that distinction goes to 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – but it wins my personal award for Best Cover Art of All Time (with Yellow Brick Road following closely behind). Back in ’75, thirteen-year-old me used to stare for hours at artist Alan Aldridge’s Dali-esque images trying to make out what it all meant.

That’s something you just can’t do with a download.

Here are my Top 5 all-time favorite album covers:

  1. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Elton John
  2. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
  3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
  4. (tie) Night at the Opera, Queen & Day at the Races, Queen
  5. (tie) Smell the Glove (The Black Album), Spinal Tap & The Beatles (The White Album), The Beatles

BTW, #5 is a joke. 😉

What are your favorites?