The only thing that ensured Gene Vincent’s career as an early rock star was his passion for the music, because he made poor decisions about nearly every other thing in his short life (he died in 1971 at the age of 36), and suffered dearly for those choices. But the music he produced stands as his testament, and it has stood well against the test of time, as this fine 30-track sampler from Bear Family Records clearly shows. Vincent also had a passion for motorcycles, and an accident in 1955 resulted in a seriously mangled left leg. Doctors recommended amputation, but Vincent stubbornly refused to take that step, and doomed himself to cycles of severe pain because of it, with frequent trips back to the doctor’s to get the leg reset and functioning enough for him to tour -- his on-stage antics while he was swept up in the music didn’t help things at all. Between 1956 and 1961, he recorded an exciting batch of work, helped immensely in the early days by the amazing guitar playing of Cliff Gallup, and in the later days by the guitar playing of John Meeks. Vincent’s sides were full of passion, and tracks here like “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” “Gonna Back Up Baby,” the eerie “Cat Man,” “I Got a Baby,” and the Buddy Holly-like “Lotta Lovin’” are rock & roll gold standards by anyone’s measure. Vincent’s health got progressively worse in the final decade of his life, and while he recorded regularly during that period, the fire just wasn’t the same after 1961. These tracks are the best he did, and they stand as a counterweight to the pain he suffered in order to produce and perform them.
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