on 30 April 2011
I have this vision of Gene. Sometime in the very early 60's. In a Woolwich Odeon or a Tooting Granada or some other South London fleapit. Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers or some similar band, standing motionless waiting for the cue. And, Gene, centre stage, in full black leathers and, swinging chain. Left profile, clutching mikestand at an angle, left leg - the one in irons - straight back. Right leg, bent at the knee, with the occasional twitch. Probably in pain. Eyes lifted to the gods with that haunted El Greco look. And he starts, very, very, slowly and deliberately,
We--------------ell, Be Bop a Lula, She's mah baby,
and so, on, with the band thundering in, and Gene, commanding, sometimes throwing his left leg right around, pointing, declaiming, passionate.
Well that's the memory I have of the man, playing to what became his favourite audience, us, the English.
This album does a good job in playing to that memory. It has almost all his best rockers, concentrating heavily on the early phase where his style was "Gene Vincent rockabilly" which was a very distinctive blend of the genre with plenty of shouting, bags of echo, loads of fabulous Cliff Gallup guitar, slap bass of course, and on the top, the man himself, shouting, pleading, panting, growling, in that fabulous voice of his, going from a high falsetto to a caressing murmur to a full Little Richard style scream (and he could do a better Little Richard than Paul McCartney!).
Apart from "Be-bop-a-Lula" which comes as a fitting climax, the order is roughly sequential; the best rockers from his first album, lots from the second, which was a bona-fide r'n'r classic, selected great singles such as "Race with Devil", (John Peel's favourite), on to some of the better rockers from later albums & singles, with backing vocals (from the Clapper Boys), and less of a rockabilly sound plus Johnny Meeks taking over the lead guitar role. Overall the album leans heavily on Gene's early rock material. The only beef I have is that "Rocky Road Blues" is not present. Other than that, the album does what it says on the tin.
In a marketplace saturated with umpteen best-of variants (which aren't always what they claim to be), this album is ideal for the Vincent virgin. It'll give you a pretty good idea of the man for a minimal outlay. Then, if you're converted and that could well happen, you can turn to the original albums, particularly the Capitol ones which will give you a fuller picture of the man's talents across a much wider range of material. All the Capitol albums are worth having but later stuff is more varied in quality. If you are already a Vincent fan you'll have all of these tracks anyway (though it's still nice to have them under the same roof).