Gene Vincent

Gene Vincent (If You Could Only See Me Today)

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In 1969, the New York-based label Buddah/Kama Sutra Records began tapping into the burgeoning rock & roll revival, which was initially a kind of counter-musical reaction to the counter-culture and the psychedelic boom of the previous two years. The company signed up revival band Sha Na Na, and took on Bill Haley around this time, and in early 1970, Kama Sutra also got Gene Vincent onto its roster. Haley's resulting work was very much of a piece with his classic '50s output, but Vincent, working under the auspices of his new manager and producer Tom Ayres -- an alumnus of Johnny Burnette's Rock & Roll Trio -- delivered something very different the first time out. Recorded March 5-8, 1970 in Hollywood, the album was unlike any body of music ever associated with Vincent, before or after. With a core band that included Augie Meyers, Harvey Kagan, and Johnny Perez of the Sir Douglas Quintet -- which Ayres was also managing at the time -- the songs and the sessions saw Vincent aiming for a modern country sound with some progressive elements. "Slow Times Comin'" clocked in at nine minutes, including a four-minute instrumental break that offered lots of room for guitar and organ excursions -- other songs, such as "Geese," display a modern, poetic sensibility; and Vincent made a fine cover of Bobby Bare's "500 Miles Away from Home" (a country adaptation of Hedy West's "500 Miles"). The album is a lot more than 500 miles away from "Be Bop-A-Lula" or "Woman Love," and when it was released in 1970 it was mostly ignored by both Vincent's dedicated fans and country audiences alike. But as it turns out, it's a very good record, if not a record that one would expect from Gene Vincent -- he's not quite good enough a singer to pull off some of what he tries to do here, on numbers such as "If Only You Could See Me Today," but what he lacks in range he makes up for with sheer expressiveness, there and on "A Million Shades of Blue" -- and the latter shows off how good his voice could be on a country song, working with a relatively restrained female accompaniment. Most Gene Vincent fans never heard this album, and those who did probably mostly didn't like it -- but it has aged incredibly well, and 40 years later it comes off as a record that Vincent and all concerned could easily have been proud of. Vincent fans should think of this record in context with Elvis Presley's efforts at updating his sound at Chips Moman's American Studios in Memphis, around the same time -- perhaps a little too ambitious, and not 100-percent successful, but definitely worth hearing. And better material -- the last of Vincent's career -- would soon follow.