Russell Wilaford

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Russell Wilaford just missed being a major part of rock & roll history, yet his image, if not his guitar, still managed to be a part of it. His moment came in August of 1956, as Gene Vincent and his band,…
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Russell Wilaford just missed being a major part of rock & roll history, yet his image, if not his guitar, still managed to be a part of it. His moment came in August of 1956, as Gene Vincent and his band, the Blue Caps, were cutting a swathe across the airwaves and the face of rock & roll. Everything was going well when lead guitarist Cliff Gallup, whose instrument was an essential part of Vincent's sound, decided he'd had enough of working on the road and left the band in order to spend more time with his family. A replacement was recruited from the ranks of hot young guitar players, producing Russell Wilaford, a session guitarist who'd played some country and rockabilly. Wilaford became the Blue Caps' lead guitarist in August and lasted with the group for about two months, August and September of 1956. He was presumed to be a permanent member, if the evidence of the number of publicity stills taken of the band with him in it is any indication. Wiliford also secured a permanent corner of rock & roll history thanks to the band's appearance in the movie The Girl Can't Help It; he was in the band for its single afternoon of work in the movie, miming to the existing recording (featuring Gallup) of "Be Bop A Lula" in the most prominent feature film showcase that '50s rock & roll ever had in its own time. (The converse irony is that Cliff Gallup, who had a gig back east that paid more than the movie appearance would have, couldn't do the film appearance and never got to be seen in the movie presentation that visually recreated one of the most famous performances of his career).

Wilaford looked like he belonged with the band. Vincent's manager, Sheriff Tex Davis, described him as "a pretty good guitar player." But he never got to record with Vincent. During his six or weeks or so with the Blue Caps, the band was busy touring, trying to capitalize on a pair of hits and on the reputation that Vincent and the Blue Caps had for turning in a phenomenally exciting show. They had to go back into the studio in October of 1956, however, and Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson wanted to leave nothing to chance; he'd been more than happy with the original line-up, especially with Cliff Gallup's work on the Blue Caps' earlier sessions, which had made the presence of veteran session guitarists Grady Martin and Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland irrelevant. Nelson persuaded Gallup to return to the band for their next session in October of 1956, as well as some more live work with the band. Wilaford's momentary chance at stardom ended as abruptly as it had begun, though his The Girl Can't Help It appearance remained an indelible credit.

Russell Wilaford (whose name has also been spelled Williford and Willaford in some sources) next surfaced in 1958 and 1959 as a member of the Go Boys, an east coast band that played rock & roll and rockabilly music. They cut recordings (sometimes in association with Dudley Callicutt) for Ivin Ballen's Gotham Records label, later issued on the Collectables label CD Be Bop Boogie, as well as playing lots of shows in the District of Columbia-Maryland area. Though he hasn't been heard from much since, his six-week tenure with Vincent assures that his name will continue cropping up in rock & roll histories.