Thursday, December 8, 2016

Don't Mean Maybe: Gene Vincent and "Be-Bop-a-Lula"

At 60 years old, the song “Be-Bop-a-Lula” still seems improbable. Written by a hospital patient now lost to history, sung by a sailor with a crippled leg, performed by a ragtag group of country radio musicians, the two-minute, 34-second “Lula” has become an acknowledged rock ’n’ roll classic, celebrated the world over (Rolling Stone ranked it #103 on their Greatest Songs list). The story behind the tune, recorded by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, is also a potent piece of Virginia history.

"Don't Mean Maybe," my latest piece for Coastal Virginia Magazine, takes a look at how "Be-Bop-a-Lula" came to be, and why it resonated over the years with so many later-influential performers -- the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, etc.
Vincent’s voice was not only chameleonic in the way that Elvis’s was—it was schizophrenic. Going from a drawling croon to a piercing cry, he was volatile, loving, temperamental, soothing; the ultimate “tough” teenaged child-man. His brooding performance, aided by deep, cavernous slapback echo, perfectly matched up with the tortured teenage fantasia being played out on theater screens at the time, in movies such as The Wild One, Rebel Without a Cause and Blackboard Jungle.
Click here to read "Don't Mean Maybe: The Story of 'Be-Bop-a-Lula'."

If you enjoy this article, you'll also dig "Virginia Rocks," a 2-CD box set and book of liner notes (co-written by yours truly with archivist Brent Hosier). You can get that here. In 2007-08, Brent and I worked with the Blue Ridge Institute to research Virginia's rockabilly and early rock 'n' roll history. For more on that project, click here.  

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