Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Tribute To Gene Vincent ... And The Blue Caps

What a perfect day to run this piece ... something we've had "in the vault" for several months now.

In honor of Gene Vincent's birthday ... and the recent announcement that The Blue Caps, Gene's back-up band, will be receiving a long-overdue, belated induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, here's a piece submitted by one of our FH readers, Boobie Vanhouten!


posted by Ron Smith of
Bill Mack who played bass in Gene Vincent's Blue Caps in 1957, died Wednesday (October 5) at the age of 78. Just last month, another Blue Cap bassist, Jack Neal, passed away as well.
I was stunned to read this!
Bill Mack ( born William Eugene McCreight ) was a treasure to have among us here in eastern North Carolina. He never told anyone that he was musical royalty but everybody knew.
He was a humble God fearing man that was always smiling and somewhere in my treasure boxes I have his autograph.
His daughter Kathy is a very talented pianist and is an inspiration and 
great friend also.
That's Gerry McGee (left) of The Ventures fame with Bill Mack.
They were bandmates later in Buddy White & the Knights. 
Buddy (They all called him "Butch") was a former "Blue Cap" also.
Bill Mack is the one squatting on the bottom right.
Here is a long ago deleted story from Bill Mack. He removed it from his web page but it is raw and all his.  Bill told me that because of amphetamines and booze most of the stuff you don't read here is because it is not remembered.

The Tunetoppers, 1960, at the Palomino Club: Don Dudley (a/k/a Floyd Edge), Clyde Pennington, Bill Mack, Johnny Meeks and Art Pepper.   

Hi, my name is William E. McCreight, born in Greenville, South Carolina, March 19, 1933. My professional name is Bill Mack. I changed my name in San Francisco, California in 1958, after an autographing session. I was playing bass guitar at the time for Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps. My name was for some people hard to pronounce correctly. 
My mother's name is Marie Nora McCreight, currently living in Taylors, South Carolina. She was born in 1911 and is 89 years old. My dad, Paul Levi McCreight died at the age of 52 on my birthday March 19th. In 1962 in Greenville, S.C. I had three sisters and four brothers, one adopted brother, Danny Joel McCreight. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and is a professor of Textiles and Science there. Danny plays trumpet. Paul Levi McCreight Jr. who was a minister and a very good musician. he could play just about any instrument that he wanted to. He died at the age of 56, Donnie Ray McCreight still lives at home with my mother and sister, Doris Janet. My sister, Mary Delores was a Minister of Music. She died at the age of 57. She played piano, accordion and organ before her death. My sister, Marion Frances lives in Greenville, S.C. and she plays piano and organ. My sister Doris and my mom still play the piano.

I have three children by Jeanette Gainey McCreight of Wilmington, North Carolina. Paul Levi, who plays bass and is an excellent player, Kathy Rene who plays piano, and Kimberly Dianna McCreight Cutshaw, who is married to a marine and currently lives in Beaufort, SC. I have one 10 year old daughter by Katherine Edith Henegar-McCreight. We are divorced, but we have joint custody of our little girl, Angel Dianna McCreight. She loves music and likes to sing and play the drums. I am currently married to Thelma C. McCreight, who is from Ahoskie, NC. She has a son, Michael Barry Hurst, who resides at Rocky Point, NC, and a daughter, Robin Cheryl, a son, Michael Barry Hurst, who resides at Rocky Point, NC, and a daughter, Robin Cheryl Hurst Bowen, who now lives in Crystal City, Virginia. Thelma is an accountant in Burgaw, NC.

Paul Peek and I went to elementary school together. We became friends and eventually started hanging out together. Most all of my family were all musicians. My grandfather on my mother's side taught the old pump organ. My dad taught ukelele, and he was called Ukelele Ike. He also played the upright bass. My dad was also a minister and could sing very well. We traveled as the McCreight Evangelistical Group. My brother, Paul loved the bass, and was always making bass sounds with his voice, so my Dad bought him his first upright Kay Bass. When my dad brought the bass home to my brother Paul, it was about supper time. He played around with it a while and left for supper. The record that was on the record player was "Eight More Miles to Louisville," by Grandpa Jones, so I picked up the bass and it being in an open key, I thought that it was easy to play. I was 14 years old at this time. When I got the hang of the bass, I started playing with groups all over Greenville, South Carolina, and into other counties around Greenville. After I learned to play it very good, I played for Bill Carlisle and the Carlisle's of the Grand Old Opry. This was in 1953. Preston Temple a friend of mine, and Bill Carlisle's booking agent gave me my first professional music job. He later ran a music magazine company in Nashville. I've seen Bill at the Opry several times since then. In 1954 I worked for Charlie Moore and The Dixie Partners from Pelzer, South Carolina. Charlie was a DJ at a local radio station in Pelzer, SC. He also recorded for the Starday Label. He was well known for his gospel, bluegrass and country picking and singing. When I joined him, we traveled five days a week to do an early morning show at WSPA, TV in Spartanburg, SC. I had to play an upright bass on the show, and I wore a ten-gallon hat.

Paul Peek and I started playing music together around 1955. We played some gigs with Esquerita, real name Eskew Reeder who was also from Greenville, S.C., and after we got hooked up with Gene Vincent, we introduced Esquerita to Lawrence Thacker, and Thacker introduced him to Ken Nelson, A&R man for Capitol Records. I heard that Esquerita later became a big star in Europe. His first record was, "The Flu" on Instant Records. Paul knew a musician from Greenville, S.C. by the name of Red Redding, who had moved to the Washington, D.C. area. Red lived in Tacoma Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Red called Paul and he asked Paul if he would come to Washington, D.C. and play his steel guitar for him in his band, The Tunetoppers. Paul asked him if I could come and play bass in the band also. Red Redding said yes, bring him on. Red Redding was goona play his upright bass in the band, but when I got there, Red switched from the upright bass to rhythm guitar, and I got to play my electric bass in The Tunetoppers band. I had just changed over to the Fender electric bass. He also hired another musician from Greenville, S.C. to play lead guitar. His name was Frank Coster. So Paul and I left separately from Frank and drove to Washington, D.C. We drove my 42 Buick Club Coupe to Washington. Paul had no wheels at that time. We joined up with Red Redding and his wife who also sang in the band.

We booked a club called the Metropole, about one half block from where we met Gene Vincent. We started playing there six nights a week. At the club we were working we played mostly country music. Paul asked me if I had heard Elvis's new song Be-Bop-A-Lula, and I told him that I had heard it, but what Paul didn't realized, was that he wasn't Elvis. there's a story about that. His mother got mad at Elvis for not telling her that he had recorded Be-Bop-A-Lula. On one of our breaks, Paul and I took a walk down the street and just by chance, Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps wee playing at The Casino royal. We were thrilled that they were in town. So the next day we went into town, and again by chance, they were rehearsing at the club. The club was on the second floor of the building. So we went up and we walked in, and we introduced ourselves as musicians, and that we were playing at The Metropole in the next block. Gene said to us that he needed a rhythm guitarist. He said that Wee Willie was quitting. Paul told Gene that he could play rhythm. So Gene said come on over and let's see what you can do. Cliff Gallup helped Paul with the chords, and Gene thought that Paul could do the job. so Gene hired Paul right then. They left D.C. a couple days later and they went to California to appear in the movie, The Girl Can't Help It. Before they left D.C., I had told Paul if Jack Neal ever quit The Blue Caps, to remind Gene that I was available, and that I would like to have the job playing bass. I did tell Gene when we were conversing, that I played electric bass with Paul at the Metropole. Jack was playing upright bass at the time. Three months later Paul called me and told me that they were going to regroup, and that he had asked Gene to give me a tryout on bass. Paul had told Gene that I had told him if Jack neal ever quit, I wanted the job.

They drove down to Greenville, S.C. and Gene hired me, and he told me that he also needed a lead guitarist. He told me that Cliff Gallup has also quit. We hung around Greenville a few days, and we found out where Johnny Meeks was playing. I told Gene I thought he was very good. We went to where Country Earl was playing. They were playing at a little theater in Marietta, S.C., right outside of Travelers Rest, S.C. We stood at the back of the theater while they were playing. When they got through playing, they walked to where we were standing. They stopped to speak to us. Paul and I introduced Gene to them. They were elated that Gene was there listening to them. Gene told Johnny that he needed a lead guitarist in his group, and he asked Johnny if he would like to have the job. Johnny was overwhelmed and said, "Hell, yes, I'll take it." Everybody was jubilant that Johnny was gonna be a Blue Cap. Earl Baughman known as Country Earl on radio was to lose Bobby Jones on bass, Clifton Simmons on piano, and Clyde Pennington on drums, who were all at the time playing in Earl Baughman's band. Floyd Edge radio personality, radio name Don Dudley was a D.J. at W.E.S.C. radio in Greenville, S.C. Floyd Edge wrote "Dance To The Bop," and Gene later recorded it. Earl Baughman was a D.J. at W.E.S.C. radio also.

After leaving Greenville, S.C. we went to Portsmouth, VA. We stayed at Gene's house eating sandwiches quite a lot while rehearsing The NEW BLUE CAPS. I read in a book about Gene once that said The new Blue Caps was the group that Bobby, Cliff Johnny, Tommy, Dickie and Paul had worked in. The New Blue Caps were the ones that formed after Cliff Gallup, Jack Neal and Wee Willie Williams had left. Dickie Harrell was the only original blue Cap left in the group. The new group was, Paul Peek, Bill Mack, Johnny Meeks and Tommy Facenda. After things sort of got organized, Gene decided that voices in the group might make the whole group sound better. So Gene knew a friend of his and Dickies that they wanted to try out, Tommy Facenda, Bubba as we called him. Bubba and Paul got on with the program. The Clappers were born. After rehearsing a few days we decided to take a break. Gene, myself and a couple more of the Blue Caps went down to the sound to go boating. We had a few drinks. Gene had a friend who owned a boat at the sound. Gene asked his friend if he and some of his band could use his boat and take it out for a while. We got it started and off we went. We went up the water way for a while and we gave out of gas. There were about four of us in the boat. We took the oars and we started rowing back. One of the oars got hung in the marsh and it broke. So we took the other oar and kept on paddling for a while then we lost it too. We had to get out of the boat and pull the boat behind us. we were lucky that we had gotten back into waist high water. I was told that there were alligators and snakes in the water and I was really scared. I don't know whether there were or not. I was just worried about getting back to shore. We finally made it back, plenty wet and nasty.

The man that owned the boat thought that it was funny, but I didn't think it was a damn bit funny. The group that did the Rockabilly Spectacular, the Ohio shows and the Philadelphia shows were done with The New Blue Caps.

Before leaving Portsmouth, VA, Paul, Johnny Meeks and myself played in clubs in Norfolk at night. We took pictures of the new group inside the house and outside as well. Evelyn, Gene's sister took the pictures. While at Gene's house, Gene got a call from The Kraft Theater. They asked Gene if he would do a TV show for them. Gene declined, so they asked Elvis. Elvis declined. Then they asked Tommy Sands to do it. Tommy took it. The TV Pilot was called The Teenage idol. On the Rockabilly Spectacular, on one of the shows which read, Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps Rock and Roll Show. I asked Allen what rock and roll was, and he said, "we're gonna call it rock and roll from now on, cause that's all ya'll have been doing. I guess Allen must have penned the saying Rock And Roll. To my knowledge I was the only one out there with an electric bass, especially on the shows that I played. Marshall Grant asked me if the electric bass was hard to play. I told him that I thought that it was easy. Later when we played a show with Johnny Cash, Marshall Grant was playing an electric bass. When we got paid Dickie would send his money home, and he would borrow from us all week. Dickie was smart. Paul always was late getting back to the car when we stopped for drinks and gas, so once I went looking for hm. He was in the restroom spraying his hair down, and often he tried to get it to stay in one place. He would bring it from the back of his head to the front of his head, and he hoped it would stay there. Paul was going bald. We went to a luncheonette in Philadelphia right before we were to play at Carnegie Music Hall. Thacker was about looped, so we played one of our practical jokes. We put hot sauce in Thacker's malt. He was so wasted that he never knew the difference.

After the shows in Philadelphia we went to Washington, D.C. where we did two live shows, one for Buddy Deane and the Milt Grant Show. On these shows we had Little Anthony and The Imperials, and Fats Domino. After the shows in D.C. we went to Portsmouth, Virginia. Then we went to my hometown of Greenville, S.C. That's when I left the group. I kinda hated the way it turned out, but that's the way it went. At the time, I was just hurt, and I just didn't question it. I hung around my home town and played gigs and kept in touch with my buddy, Paul Peek. he kept me informed about Gene and the tours. Clifton Simmons, who played piano for Country Earl, joined The Blue Caps, and they went to California and they did the movie "Hot Rod Gang". After about ten months of playing gigs around my hometown, Gene gave me a call and he asked me if I would consider playing bass for him again. I told him that I would. Gene told me that they were going to Canada for about 40 days, and I asked him how was I supposed to get to where they were? He said Ed Watt would send me the money for a plane ticket. Ed got in touch with me and sent me the money. I caught a Delta Air Flight to Canada. When I got to Winnipeg, Canada I was held by security for about two hours. They asked me what I was doing in Canada with just a suitcase. I told them that I was on my way to a little town called Regina, Canada. D.J. Fontana, drummer joined them in Moorehead, Minn. D.J. had just left Elvis because Elvis had just been drafted into the Army. Lawrence Thacker was the one who hired. D.J. Fontana. When I got to Regina, Canada I got there early, so I went in and crawled up on a table and went to sleep. Finally the group came in and woke me up. The group had changed. Paul Peek and Tommy Facenda had left for solo careers. In the group that did the Canadian tour was, D.J. Fontana, Max Lipscombe, Grady Owen, Clifton Simmons, Johnny Meeks and myself. Grady and Max took over as Clapper Boys. I had no union card at the time, so I used Grady Owen's card till we got back to Dallas, Texas, then I joined local 142 in Dallas. Darlene traveled with us for part of the tour, then she went back to Dallas, Texas to Gene's house. Lawrence Thacker was on the trip in Canada with us. In Calgary, Canada, we checked into a hotel. I saw what I thought was, Thacker putting the road money in the hotel vault. I made him a bet. I bet him $20.00 that I had more money than he did. He took the bet. We were in the hotel room at the time. Thacker picked up his over coat, and took about two thousand dollars out of it. I lost the bet. He was a shrewd old man.

We toured four provinces in Canada. While on that tour, we had a lot of trouble with under aged girls. They would write all over the car I love you Gene, with lipstick and it was hard to get off. A couple of us carried girls with us, to our next gig, but I carried the girl that I brought with me back to where we had just played. When I got back to the motel and settled down, the door came flying open and a Mountie came running in. the first thing that the Mountie does is pop Clifton in the mouth, knocking his glasses off and his pipe out of his mouth. The Mountie said to Clifton, you look like the instigator of all this. Clifton didn't even have a girl. The Mountie told us that they would be following us to make sure that we left the young girls alone, and they did just that. There was also one of the young girls mothers with the Mountie. D.J. was having a little toddy when the door flew open, and he was so surprised that his drink went all over him. On the shows we did in Canada, the line up was Bill Justice, of Raunchy, The Champs of Tequila, The Hollywood Flames, Margie Rayburn and The Cufflinks and Eddie Cochran. Eddie cochran and I went out that evening before the show to get us a bite to eat. I asked the waitress to bring me a Halibut Steak. When she brought it out to me, she brought me a fish with its head still on it. I wasn't familiar with Halibut Steaks, so I had to eat it anyhow. I was thinking that a steak was a steak. Eddie introduced me to bennies, pep pills as they were called in those days, and they sure did pep me up. I told him that I didn't feel good. He said take this. This will make you feel good. We went almost into the Yukon to play an Air force base. The name of the town was Dawson Creek, Canada. We had to travel up very rocky roads, the Alcan Highway, and the Hart Highway, both highways were rocky at the time. We were in a two-car caravan. The dust and rocks kept flying back on us putting cracks in the windshield. After leaving the Air Force base we had to go back the same way we came in. We had to come out of Canada, and back into the United States to get to our next date, which was back in Canada, because it was closer by coming out. After we finished the tour in Canada, and we got on the American side, we gave the Mounties the bird and kissed the ground.

I did do some demos in Virginia and also some demos in California. I also remember rehearsing "Dance To The Bop" to be recorded. We did a few dates with D.J. Fontana in the Midwest, before he went back to Louisiana. We worked our way down to Dallas, Texas. Max Lipscombe left us. I got to know Johnny Carroll from Dallas really good. I heard that Johnny Carroll went to Europe and sang some of Gene's songs as a tribute to him. He really did like Gene a lot. While in Dallas we did shows at the Big-D with Sonny James and The Southern Gentlemen. Dude Kahn from the Sonny James group helped us on drums a few times. Juvey Gomez played drums with The Blue Caps at one time when I was in Dallas. The Blue Caps at that time were: Clifton Simmons, Bill Mack, Juvey Gomez and Howard Reed. I understand that he played with the other Blue Caps as well. We played several places in Dallas. A couple of the places that we played were the Yellow Belly Dragstrip and The Big D. We lived in Gene's house in Dallas, and also at The Alamo Plaza Motel. At night while staying at the motel, we would crawl on top of the motel and jump into the swimming pool. We were a bunch of undisciplined yokels.

We had just gotten back to Dallas from Tulsa, Oklahoma where we had just done a show at the Cimmaron Ballroom. We got to talking about cars. Johnny Meeks had a Cadillac, so I mentioned that a Cadillac was better than a Lincoln, and it ticked Gene off. Gene and I had been drinking a few drinks, so he got his gun, and he put it to my head and ordered me out of his house. I had to walk three miles to the Alamo Plaza motel where I spent the night. The next day everything was cool. Gene asked Grady Owen and me to go to Portsmouth, VA to take his Chrysler convertible and bring back his black Cadillac, some coincidence, huh. So we drove from Dallas to Greenville, S.C. and stayed a couple of days showing off the beaufiful Chrysler. It was white and had two little stop lights on the back of the fenders. We had a good time parading it around town. Then off to Portsmouth, Virginia. We finally got there. We picked up the Cadillac and headed back to Dallas. On the way back I had a collision with another car about 100 miles from Portsmouth, Virginia. I was talking for a few minutes with the woman who had hit me. She came out of a parking lot and ran into me. I had lost my drivers' license September 21, 1956 in an auto accident when I was in Washington, D.C., right after Paul Peek had left, so I panicked. I had to think quickly. I told the lady that my name was Gene Vincent, and she could get in touch with me at Artist Service Bureau in Dallas, Texas. The lady got in touch with Gene, and Gene straightened everything out. He wasn't too happy about it though, and I got bawled out about it when I got back to Dallas. Gene knew that I didn't have a drivers' license before Grady and I went to Portsmouth. I did later get a new drivers' license in D.C. was because I didn't have any liability insurance. Insurance wasn't mandatory then. They made me junk my car and there was nothing wrong with it. Just a scratched up fender. That's when I rode the the train from D.C. back to Greenville, S.C., my home town. Finally after driving on my California license for about three years, I paid for the damages that I was charged for hitting the car in D.C. Then I got my S.C. driver's license back. Anyhow, Grady and I went on down to my home town of Greenville, S.C. and I picked up my girlfriend, Carolyn, then we headed back to Dallas. We finally got back to Texas. Carolyn and I stayed at Johnny Carroll's apartment at one time. Johnny Carroll and I picked our guitars together sometimes. We hung around Dallas for a while playing and rehearsing possible songs for recording. Carolyn stayed with me for a while, and then went back to Greenville, S.C.

We did shows in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Arizona and New Mexico. In Farmington, New Mexico Gene and I went into town to get some strings for our guitars. Gene didn't want to go around the block to get back to the street that took us back to the motel where we were staying, so he backed into a one-way street. A young girl jumped out of her car and she came running to our car and started cussing at us. She said, "are ya'll crazy, this is a one-way street." Gene said "get the hell out of here or else." She kept on running her mouth and Gene said waste her Bill. I got the gun out of the compartment and I pointed it at her. She ran to her car and she sped off. In Phoenix, Arizona we did a show with Sanford Clark at an armory. One show that we were booked to do in Mississippi, the building had burned down before we got there. We even took a little trip into Tijuana, Old Mexico. Howard Reed took over on guitar when Johnny Meeks left the group. Howard played shows for Gene around Texas, and he joined us after the show in Lake Ponchatrain. Howard played a few shows with us in the west. He played out to California and up to Oregon, then he left and went back to Dallas Texas. Johnny did do the show at Lake Ponchatrain. The line-up at Lake Ponchatrain was Art and Dottie Todd, Don Gibson, Tony and Joe, D.J. Fontana, Scottie Moore, Bill Black, The Big Bopper, Dale Hawkins, Barbara Allen, Johnny Gardner, Jerry Byrne, and Sanford Clark. The motel we stayed in was, The Deville Motel in New Orleans. I was told that we played to about one hundred thousand people on the beach. After the show on the beach, we played all night for Candy Barr, a stripper at a local club on Bourbon Street. Tony and Joe spent the night there with us, and a few of the boys that were on the Lake Ponchatrain show also were there too.

Johnny Meeks rejoined us in Seattle, Washington. Johnny had left Gene in May of 1958, and he rejoined us approximately two and a half months later. He got in touch with Gene and he told Gene that he wanted to come back. Johnny flew out to Seattle, Washington and we picked him up. While we were in Washington State, we got to meet Darlene's mother. Darlene was Gene's girlfriend at the time. Ricky Nelson was to perform in Seattle, Washington, so we went to see him. Ricky was a very nice guy. He was a real friendly person. James Burton who later played for Elvis was playing lead guitar for Ricky and James Kirkland was playing bass on this particular show. Porter Wagoner was also there. Thacker and Porter while in the dressing room were talking, laughing and just having a good time. John Ashley who starred in the movie, "The Hot Rod Gang," also recorded for the Dot label. While in Hollywood I personally got to meet John Ashley. John and I went to see Tempest Storm do her strip show. John didn't like the ridiculous prices that we were paying for whiskey. So John said "Bill, lets go next door and get us a pint of liquor." We went next door to the liquor store and we bought a pint of bourbon. We took it back to the club, and we went to the restroom. John drank half of it and I drank the rest. John was an actor and a singer. He traveled with Gene to promote the movie "Hot Rod Gang," and a song that he had out at the time. John Ashley and I got to be good friends. We also got to meet John Ashley's parents. John later became a director and producer of some fine movies. John was from Oklahoma. While in California, I also got to meet Mr. Arkoff, the producer of "The Hot Rod Gang." Mr. Arkoff, Gene, myself and The Blue Caps, Bill, Cliff, Howard and Buddy got to review the movie before it was edited. While in California, we stayed at the Knickerbocker Hotel. We went to the Capital Records Tower and met Ken Nelson, A&R man for Capital Records. Gene was to set up a date to record, but unfortunately we didn't get around to doing it. While we were in California, we went to Fullerton, California to talk to Leo Fender. He gave us amps and guitars to play. He even gave us strings for our guitars. He wanted us to advertise his equipment while we were on the road. Gene took us to the New Disneyland. We got to see Futureland, Jungleland, and Adventureland. We really had a blast at Disneyland. We did a show with Ed Townsend in Santa Maria, California. His big hit song was, "For Your Love."

We played shows on up the coast to Oregon and into Washington State. When we played in Spokane, Washington we went into Couer-Delene, Idaho a couple of nights to party. We left Spokane and we went to Seattle and then down to San Francisco, to do a show with Nappy Brown, and Little Eva. We went through Sacramento, and into Nevada. I was driving and I got on the wrong highway, and I drove about 75 miles out of the way. I finally got us straightened out. Then we headed for The Bonneville Flats. We had a flat while going across The Flats, and we were pulling a u-hall trailer at about 85 miles an hour. I thought at one time that were not going to make it, but thank God we did. After we got to Dallas, Texas Darlene and her daughter went to Gene's house. Darlene and her daughter had traveled with us from her home in Washington. Then Gene and The Blue Caps went on to the Midwest. We played Billings, Butte, and Helena, Montana. I remember at Billings, Montana we played a woman's college, then we went to Manhattan, Hutchinson, Topeka, Kansas and then to Saint Louis, MO. We played The New Lindy Ballroom in St Louis, Missouri. While we were on our way to Topeka and ran into a twister. We went there to play a concert, but we had to spend the night there in the building that we were to perform in. The building served as an air raid shelter for the community and a concert hall also. We had a good time just spending time with the girls and talking to them, and to the people that had spent the night there in the auditorium with us.

From Topeka we went to Grantsburg, Wisconsin. We played there in an open field. From there we went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Milwaukee we played The Million Dollar Club. On that show Sonny James was with us. We also did a few shows with Johnny Burnette, one in particular at Duluth, Minnesota. After the show we rented the Penthouse at a hotel in Duluth, with a professional baseball team that had played there also in Duluth. We were all drinking and we got into a free-for-all with the baseball team. Nobody was seriously hurt. We did shows with Kitty Wells, Johnny and Jack, Sonny James, Jimmy C. Newman, and Benny Martin. Even Kitty Wells' daughter Ruby Wells was on the show. Since I've thought about it in detail while "Gene was drug off the stage," and most of his clothes were torn off. Sonny James was a very religious person and he didn't know what to expect next. Sonny wouldn't even play where alcoholic beverages were sold. Then we played Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When we were in Two Rivers, to do a show, we were in an electrical storm. We had no electricity, so we had to make different arrangements. There just happened to be an Epiphone upright bass at the back of the stage. I played it, and Johnny played Gene's rhythm guitar, and Clifton had to play his piano without an amplifier. We parked our car at the front door of the front entrance of the building, and another car was parked at the door on the side of the building. We turned the headlights on and we struggled through it. The kids had a ball. I met a girl at the show and during the storm we kissed and hugged a bit, and when the lights did come back on, I had lipstick all over me. She wanted to go with me to my room. So when we got through with the show I took her with me. Later on after we got back to Dallas, she got in touch with me and she told me that she was pregnant. I had sent her a ring and I told her that we would get married. She had the ring appraised and she wrote me a letter and told me that the ring was not worth anything and called me a cheapskate. The wedding was off and I never heard from her again.

Next we went to a little town called Ishpeming, Michigan. On that show with us with us was Johnny Burnette. I enjoyed working with Johnny and he was a lot of fun. Then we went to Rockford, Illinois and we did another show. From there we went to Okaboji, Iowa, Arnolds Park where we played another show. We did a show at The Melody Mill at Debuque, Iowa. Then we went to Rochester, Minnesota where we did another show. After the show, Johnny took the Lincoln to a convenience store to get a pack of cigarettes. He hung around the store a few minutes, and there was no one in the store to wait on him, so he left the store and came back to the motel. The next day we went into Minneapolis to get another car because the car we were driving had just about quit on us. Gene and Thacker had left us behind while they went to get another car. We were asleep in the car and all of a sudden the car doors flew open. There were police all around the car with riot pistols. They dragged all of us out of the car, and threw us against the walls and said, "put your hands up." I asked them what was the problem? He said, "shut up and raise your hands." One of the policemen went to our U-haul trailer and took out my electric bass that was in a satchel, and he said, "We got 'em now, they got a machine gun." The policeman was embarrassed when he opened my satchel. They piled us all up in police cars and took us to the police station. After we were in the process of being interrogated, they told us that a person in rochester, Minnesota was seen with a Green lincoln, with our license plate number at a convenience store. They told us that the store had been robbed. After a while they were finally convinced that we had nothing to do with it. They finally turned us loose. Gene and Thacker found out where we were and they came and got us. Then we hit the road again. We found out later that a colored man in a black Cadillac had killed the clerk and put him in the storage room.

We traveled up to Mitchell, S.D. where we played The Corn Place. After that show, we had one night and about 800 miles to make it to Ypsilanti, Michigan. We got to Madison, Wisconsin and the fan went through the radiator. Cliff and I stayed behind to fix the car. Gene, Johnny and Butch chartered a plane to Ypsilanti, Michigan. Cliff and I finally got the car fixed. Cliff had a full-course meal and we got really bad stomach problems after eating it. We had to stop a lot, but we finally got there. The man that booked Gene had told Gene that he was booking him for $1,000 a night, and it all fell through. The towns that we played were Ypsilanti, Monroe, Jackson, Ann Arbor and Sault Ste. Marie. We stayed at the Hotel Ojibway in Ypsilanta, Michigan. I don't think Gene got his money ever for those shows. Then we worked our way back to Minneapolis, where we played The Prom with Dale Hawkins and Connie Francis. Buddy White left us, and Clyde Pennington flew in from Laurens, S.C. to Minneapolis, where we picked him up at the airport. Clyde played drums for us a little while at some of the same places that we had already played. We were almost on a circle circuit. Johnny Meeks finally decided to leave Gene as his guitarist. He came back to his hometown and he called me. He told me that he had quit Gene. He told me that when he was in California he had talked with Billy and Tommy Thomas who owned The Palomino in North Hollywood. He told me that they offered him a job at the club. Anyhow, whether they asked him if he could put the Blue Caps together or not, I really don't know. Johnny asked me if I would consider playing bass for him at The Palomino. I told him yeah I'll go. Johnny also hired Clyde Pennington on drums who played for Gene on one of the midwest tours. Johnny asked Cliff Simmons if he would go with us, but he declined, so Floyd Edge went with us as our pianist. Floyd Edge was the writer of Dance To The Bop. We packed up and we drove Johnny Meeks Cadillac to North Hollywood, California. Johnny asked us what would be a good name for the band. I told him that I thought that the Tunetoppers name would be a catchy name. I told him that when I was in D.C. that was the name of our band that Paul Peek and I had played in. So we agreed that was the name that we would use.

When we got to North Hollywood we went to The Palomino, and we had a talk with Tommy Thomas. Merle Moore was playing there along with Speedy West at the time. We got all of the arrangements finalized and we started playing there three nights a week. Art Pepper came by and asked us for a job. He told us he played the saxophone. We told him that we didn't think a saxophone would fit in a country band. He got up on the stage and auditioned for us and he surprised us. I didn't know at that time that country music could be played on a saxophone like he played it. We also hired another sax player by the name of Steve White. Steve had been playing for a stripper named Tempest Storm, on sunset Strip in Hollywood. When Art and Steve got to playing together, it was out of this world. They would get about half high, and Art would play two saxes at one time, alto and bass, and Steve would blow tenor. It made my hair stand straight up. Art pepper had played with every big band that you could think of from Stan Getz to Billy mays. He was rated #5 contemporary saxophonist in the nation. Before President Kennedy died, I was told that he pardoned Art from prison for using heroin, because he thought he was the greatest. I was told that he was a three-time loser.

While we were there in North Hollywood we had offers to do the series Wagon Train, and we were also offered a 6-month job with a 6-month option in Honolulu, Hawaii at a club called The Million Dollar Club, but we turned both offers down. While we were in the valley, we played for Joe Maphis and Rose Lee at their club. Gene came into the Palomino one night and tried to put the Blue Caps back together. He asked us if we wanted to go to Germany with him. He asked me if I would go. I told him no, that I was happy where I was at, and that I was happy at what I was doing. One night after one of our shows at the Palomino, Ferlin Husky and Webb Pierce came into the club and spent the evening there with us. After we got though playing that night at the Palomino, we went to one of the girls apartment, that worked at the Palomino, to have a party. Ferlin Husky had just come off Arthur Godfrey's Talent Show as host. He was sitting on a stool with a fifth of Vodka and he said country music will never die. He got about half through his bottle and he passed out, and fell off his stool to the floor. Al and Sonny Jones who I later played bass for were also at the party. They picked up Ferlin and carried him to his car. One of Ferlin's shoes fell off his foot and I kept it for a long time. The Tunetoppers started doing front shows for Johnny Cash all along the West Coast. Johnny Cash's piano player was my roommate at one time, after i left The Tunetoppers. Johnny Cash came to pick him up a couple times a week at my apartment, at Hinds Avenue in North Hollywood to play some gigs with him up the West Coast. Once I got to go on set at Universal International studios to watch a segment of The River Boat series filmed. I had a friend that was a stunt man who took me on the set. His name was William Brewer. On that particular segment was Burt Reynolds, Jan Sterling, Darren McGavin and Lee Van Cleef. We saw a lot of movie stars that day. Merle Travis came into the Palomino one night after doing some songs in the movie From Here To Eternity. I asked him for his autograph, and he said "give me your autograph." He said "I think you boys are good, so I think that you ought to give me your autograph." Sam Cook was also a frequent visitor. J.P. Morgan cam in the club a lot too. Lash Larue came by one night showing off his new Thunderbird. Red West, cousin of Elvis, and Elvis's bodyguard was a frequent visitor. Red West also was a singer, and he had a song out called "Shot Gun Kelly."

Right before I sold my 50 slant back Oldsmobile to Red West. I also had a Cadillac that I drove back to Greenville, S.C., when I left the West Coast. He paid me with a Twenty Century check he had just gotten for doing a scene in Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Johnny Western who sang the title song Paladin, in the series Have Gun Will Travel, did a few shows with The Tunetoppers. Richard Boone was the star of Have Gun Will Travel. Johnny Western and I got to be good friends and we hung out together sometimes. I played shows with Johnny Western separately from, The Tunetoppers. Lance LeGault came to the club one night with a friend that we knew. His friend asked us if we would let him sing a couple of songs. So we asked him to come up and sing a couple. Lance was very good. Lance met a girl who was an actress there in Hollywood. She took Lance to England with her. She helped Lance get started in the movie business. After a few movies in England, Lance came back to the states and became a very big star. When we were not playing at the Palomino, we played the Sirroco Club, and The Rag Doll and other clubs in North Hollywood. In my spare time, Fred Astaire's son and I would go out on a half day fishing trip to Lake Capistrano. We would go fishing for the big ones. We caught mostly barracuda. He showed me how to cut them into steaks, and how to cook them. Al and Sonny Jones asked me to play for them in their band. They were playing at a club in San Fernando Valley. The club was called The El Rancho Club. It also was a night spot for the stars. I told them to give me a few days to think about it.

Al and Sonny Jones were the brothers of Billie Jean Jones, who at one time was married to Hank Williams Senior, and to Johnny Horton. Billie Jean Jones came out to Canoga Park, California in the valley to see her brothers Al and Sonny where they lived. She told Sonny and Al that Johnny Horton's song, "The Battle Of New Orleans" had made it to number 10. I finally quit The Tune Toppers and went to work for Sonny and Al. I worked for Sonny and Al Jones for a while, then I went back to my hometown, Greenville, S.C. I drove my '50 Fleetwood Cadillac back home. Out in Arizona it quit on me, so I waited around a while and I got it started again. I didn't cut the motor off until I got to Bozier City, Louisiana, where I stopped at Billie Jean Jones' house. She was still married to Johnny Horton at the time. Johnny was out on the road touring. I asked Billie Jean if I could stay at her house a couple of nights to rest before I went on to my home town. She said yes. After a couple of days, I took a chance on going on to my hometown of Greenville, S.C. I made it within twelve miles from my home and the motor cut off again. I called my brother and he came and pulled me on in. I stayed around home for about three weeks, and then I caught the train, The Sunrise Special back to California and stayed about three weeks. The Sunrise Special was a train that went straight through, from Louisiana to California.  

I decided to leave California again. I rode a bus back to Greenville and got together with Paul Peek. According records that I kept over the years, I was with Paul Peek in the latter part of 1959 and to the spring of 1960. Paul wanted to go back into the Midwest, so we hired a drummer by the name of Donnie Ingle from Greenville, S.C., and we got it all together. Then we called Joe Billo entertainment Company and we headed back to the Midwest again. We worked for T.B. Skarning Enterprises, and Joe billo Entertainment Co. T.B. Skarning also booked Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps. After touring the Midwest in the winter time with Paul Peek we came back to Greenville, S.C. Paul had heard about Bill Lowery, who at the time was starting a new record label and company. The name of the record company was called National Recording Company of Decatur, Georgia. Later on, Bill Justice of the song "Raunchy" would be recording for the NRC label. Sonny James also recorded for NRC. Paul, Esquerita and two of Esquerita's friends and myself drove down to Georgia to record some songs, Paul and Esquerita had collaborated on. Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed, Joe South and Esquerita and myself played on Paul Peek's song, Sweet Skinny Ginny, and The Rock Around, along with Esqueritas two colored friends. It was Paul Peek's first session for Bill Lowery. It was the first session to be recorded for NRC. After we did the session t NRC, Paul and myself, Esquerita and Esquerita's two friends went back to Greenville, SC. I did have the pleasure of playing a couple of gigs with Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed in Atlanta, Georgia before we left for Greenville, S.C. Right after I left, Paul went back into the Midwest and played for Buddy White. It looks like I spent about six months playing between Paul and Buddy. Paul and I played the same towns that the Blue Caps played. When I worked with Buddy White in the Midwest, we worked the same places that Paul and I did, but, we both played mostly clubs.  

Gene played mostly armories and ballrooms and fairs. since putting roots down here in Wilmington, N.C., I have been playing music all up and down the East Coast, and in Nashville, Tennessee, playing country, bluegrass, rockabilly, rock and roll and gospel music. I am currently playing in a Praise Team at the Brookfield Church of God here in Wilmington, N.C., and I am doing bit parts in movies for Screen Gems Studio's, and Fincannon and Associates Casting Agency. I'm also working for a local bank here in Wilmington, N.C.  
I sincerely hope that a new and accurate book will be written about Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps, and told the way it really happened. Thanks for the opportunity that you have given to me to tell it in my own words, the way that I honestly think it happened. I was really excited when I heard the news about my Induction to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. After talking to you, Mr. Timmers, curator for the web site, I decided to put it all down on paper. I did a lot of research, and worked hard to come up with what I think is pretty accurate information. I hope that I haven't dissolved anybody's ego in any way by telling it the way it really happened, as far as I was concerned. The part that I played with Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps, my life, my part of the story has never been told fully till now. After all, Gene did ask me to play for him three times. I know Gene really did care for me as a person and a gifted musician. We were original. I thought that the part of Gene's life that I played was worth telling. After reading this text, I sincerely hope that whoever does, will come to a better and more informed conclusion about the way it really happened. Long Live The Legend. This text is copyrighted.
Submitted by The Vibramutant

Boobie also told us ...
The piece you're running today was one that Bill Mack erased from the net years ago that I resurrected.
I asked him once what was it like during those tours with Gene when rock was in it's pioneer phase of that "go cat go" realm and he told me due to speed pills and alcohol it was a blur that left no distinct recollections and that it robbed him of most of the memories. 
He regretted his lifestyle of abuse but loved the opportunities to play music. 
Also that piece on Bill Mack has him calling the black race "colored" in it and hope it does not offend anyone. I am one that does not sanitize things or rewrite history but it might be appropriate to change the wording from "colored" to black just to be "politically correct" as it is coined. Bill Mack was no racist.He loved everybody.Bill was just "old school southern" and they talk like that but I'm not making excuses for him either.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: We decided to run the piece exactly as is ... this is the way Bill Mack wrote it ... and reading it this way gives you some feel as to what a conversation with Bill must have been like.  Oldies music fans out there understand that this was "of the time" ... so we're not about to censor or rewrite history either.  kk) 
Bill Mack did say that society at large and the law did not think too highly of them which only made them more popular. 
But to be as fair as possible to Bill,  I never knew him as anything other than a "born again" Christian and a smiling man who always looked sharp and worked hard and loved his wife and family. 
He was a celebrity in eastern NC and did not go around telling who he was. 
His Bluecap fame followed him. 
When I met him it was at work but I told him within the first minute ...
"I know who you are!" 
Thank you KK!  
For another batch of priceless Bill Mack photos, many from his own personal collection, check out this web page ... it's a look back at Bill Mack ... through the years:
Click here: Bassist Bill Mack

And, for a couple of GREAT Gene Vincent tracks, be sure to check out today's SOUND ADVICE Column. You'll find it in the right-hand side bar to this page.  Every day we make airplay suggestions in an effort to make oldies radio a little more interesting ... so check back often for some GREAT Forgotten Hits!  (kk)