A new edition of Race with the Devil, the first American biography of American rock 'n' roll pioneer Gene Vincent, commemorates the 60th anniversary of Vincent's influential hit song,"Be-Bop-A-Lula." Updated and revised with new information, interviews, and photographs, the 2016 ebook edition of the 2000 original is the most comprehensive survey ever written of Vincent's groundbreaking career and turbulent personal life.
On May 4, 1956, at producer Owen Bradley's Quonset Hut in Nashville, a greasy-haired kid with a leg mangled from a motorcycle accident belted out the song that would make him an idol of generations of rockers after him, from Lennon, McCartney, and Dylan to Bowie, Morrison, and the Ramones. The tune was "Be-Bop-A-Lula"; the artist, Gene Vincent.
Backed by his band the Blue Caps, Vincent's panting, echo-soaked delivery of the slinky song is punctuated by drummer Dickie Harrell's climactic scream halfway through. That spontaneous moment perfectly captures Vincent's trailblazing take on the emerging genre of rock 'n' roll: raw, rebellious, even dangerous. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was a crossover smash when Capitol Records released it in June 1956, climbing to #7 on Billboard's pop chart, #8 on the R&B chart, and #5 on the country chart. Rolling Stone ranked "Be-Bop-A-Lula" #103 of its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
When inducting Gene Vincent into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, John Fogerty said of the song,"I do believe that this record is probably one of the greatest records ever made. That voice, man, Gene Vincent. The sound of Cliff Gallup's guitar, the drummer screaming in the background it's what we call attitude. And I sure learned that from 'Be-Bop-A-Lula'....Gene's image was loud, self-assured, and greasy. And what better way to talk about rock 'n' roll."
Race with the Devil reads like a novel while examining Vincent's breakneck life of heady extremes. Signed by Capitol as the next Elvis, the poor boy from Norfolk, Virginia, enjoyed meteoric success with "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and popular follow-up sides. Proto-punk Vincent's earthy, delinquent-rocker posture ultimately proved unpalatable to a middle-class America singing along with the sanitized offerings of Fabian and Ricky Nelson, so in 1959 Vincent moved to England, finding his most enthusiastic audiences across Europe. His leather-clad, street-tough persona and raucous rockabilly stylings met with instant acclaim; Vincent became a revered hero of teenaged England and the idol of aspiring musicians like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, and many others.
Race with the Devil (racewiththedevil.net) digs deep into the devastating personal struggles that darkened Vincent's life at nearly every turn. From the motorcycle accident at age twenty that left the singer with a permanent, painful leg injury (remedied with a metal brace he would wear the rest of his life), to his lifelong struggle with alcoholism which took its toll in erratic and frequently violent behavior Gene Vincent's life is startlingly revealed. From the 1960 car crash that killed his dearest friend, fellow rocker Eddie Cochran, and from which he never psychologically recovered, to the constant infighting with friends, family, and band members, to his death by internal hemorrhaging at age 36, Race with the Devil is a riveting look at a remarkable life of rock 'n' roll triumph, torment, and tragedy.
Susan VanHecke is an award-winning author whose books include Three Steps to Heaven: The Eddie Cochran Story, cowritten with Bobby Cochran; Roadwork: Rock & Roll Turned Inside Out, cowritten with Tom Wright, foreword by Pete Townshend; Rock 'n' Roll Soldier, cowritten with Vietnam veteran Dean Ellis Kohler, foreword by Graham Nash; Raggin' Jazzin' Rockin': A History of American Musical Instrument Makers; and the forthcoming children's biography of musician and stereo sound pioneer Juan Garcia Esquivel, Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist.
Race with the Devil is available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, and Smashwords.
• "...a moving account... [A] damned good read." Now Dig This, UK
• "I loved it! I couldn't put it down!" Brian Setzer, Grammy-winning guitarist
• "The best thing I've ever read on Gene Vincent." Ronny Weiser, Rollin' Rock magazine and Rollin' Rock Records