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The Blue Caps Biography

 

Tommy Facenda (vocals; born November 10, 1939), Cliff Gallup (lead guitar; born June 17, 1930, died October 9, 1988), Dickie Harrell (drums; born August 27, 1940), Bobby Jones (bass; born January 4, 1934), Johnny Meeks (lead guitar; born March 24, 1937), Jack Neal (bass; born November 7, 1930, died September 22, 2011), Paul Peek (vocals, rhythm; born June 23, 1937, died April 3, 2001), Willie Williams (rhythm guitar; born December 18, 1935, died August 28, 1999)

With the Blue Caps, rockabilly singer Gene Vincent had one of the hottest bands of the era – and some would say they were the hottest. Vincent’s succession of lead guitarists – Cliff Gallup, Johnny Meeks and Jerry Merritt – were especially revered. Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps were bona fide stars in the late Fifties. This was especially true in Britain, where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and many others looked up to them as heroes.

Vincent was one of the first rock and rollers to form a stable backing band with its own name. The original Blue Caps – lead guitarist Cliff Gallup, rhythm guitarist Willie Williams, bassist Jack Neal and drummer Dickie Harrell – were on Vincent’s first Capitol Records recording session in May 1956, where the classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula” was cut. This would be their biggest hit, reaching Number Seven.

Vincent and His Blue Caps had several more hits – “Race With the Devil,” “Lotta Lovin’” and “Dance to the Bop” – and cut three albums before parting ways in late 1958. Those albums – Bluejean Bop!, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, and Gene Vincent Rocks! And the Blue Caps Roll – are among the most highly prized collectables of the Fifties. The Blue Caps appeared alongside Vincent in The Girl Can't Help It (1956). Among the earliest rock and roll films, it was termed by one writer “a virtual master class on how to rock and roll.”

The lineup changed frequently along the way. By 1957, Gallup, Neal and Williams were replaced by lead guitarist Johnny Meeks, bassist Bobby Jones, and backup vocalists Paul Peek (who also played rhythm guitar) and Tommy Facenda. Drummer Harrell was the last of the original members to leave. By the end of 1958, the Blue Caps were no more.

Guitarist Jeff Beck held the Blue Caps, and especially Cliff Gallup, in the highest esteem, recording the tribute album Crazy Legs in 1958. Its 18 tracks were remakes of songs by Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. 

'When I was learning guitar, Cliff Gallup was the biggest influence on my playing,” Beck told interviewer Douglas Noble in The Guitar Player. “It was just so radical...If you were back in June '56 and turned the record right up...boy! The term ‘rock 'n' roll’ had hardly been bandied about and all the other 'rock' records of the time were very polished and audibly nice and round. Then you put on Gene Vincent and had this guy screaming and these raucous guitar solos. It was unheard of and no one has done anything like it since.”