Some people, even some self-respecting music fans, have never heard of him. Even those who are well aware of the great rock ‘n’ roller Gene Vincent may not know this guy by name. But to devotees, especially his peers within the business, he was a pioneering guitar great. We’re talking about Cliff Gallup, who was born this day, June 17, in 1930.
The man who would pioneer the sound of the rock ‘n’ roll guitar as a member of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps started out in a band called the Virginians, named after his home state. He and his fellow group members were introduced to a 21-year-old Vincent in 1956 by songwriter and promoter “Sheriff” Tex Davis. Soon, they were recording in Nashville with producer Ken Nelson, who recognised Gallup’s prowess immediately.
Gallup’s time in rock ‘n’ roll was short-lived: after playing on some 35 tracks with Vincent, including the all-time 1956 classic ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ (co-written by Vincent and Davis), he was gone from the group by the end of the year, 26 years old, married and reluctant to tour. Cliff would return only to play some sessions on Vincent’s second album, and then to record a 1960 album credited to the Four Cs featuring Gallopin’ Cliff Gallup.’ He got a “proper” job in the Virginia school system and worked in that sector for the rest of his life. He died in 1988.
But just ask Hank Marvin, Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck who they grew up listening to, imitating and idolising, and the name of Cliff Gallup will be on all their lips. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his nimble Gretsch playing earned him a No. 79 ranking in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
In that feature, Rolling Stone writer David Fricke evocatively described how Gallup “introduced the stylistic swagger that every rock guitarist now takes for granted. His slashing, razor-blade-in-the-ducktail assaults pushed the instrument one big step away from country picking and down the mean streets that rock & roll guitar has traversed ever since. “
Listen to some of his greatest performances with uDiscover’s Gene Vincent playlist, from the fleeting but glorious period that made gallopin’ Cliff a true guitar hero.