Cliff Gallup, The Guitarist’s Guitarist

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Gene Vincent - Photo: Capitol Archives
Photo: Capitol Archives

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.

Format: Union Jack flagUK English


  1. James King

    June 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    That’s a photo of Paul Peek, not Cliff Gallup.

    • uDiscover

      June 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      James, thanks for correcting us.

  2. John Braley

    July 9, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    This pic of Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps was taken at a recording session at Capitol Tower 20th June 1957. Cliff Gallup had left the group by then, replaced by the legendary Johnny Meeks, he’s the guy on the far right. Another brilliant lead guitarist.
    Also in the photo left to right….Bobby Jones (bass gtr), Dickie Harrell (drums), Tommy Facenda (clapper boy), Gene Vincent, Paul Peek (clapper boy).

  3. Uncle gilly

    March 30, 2016 at 3:52 am

    thanks for the article, you really should have JEFF BECKS name in red, he was the die hard Gallup fanatic even recording an album in his style on the same type of guitar.

  4. Alan Hope

    May 21, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    In the very early 60s, I was called ‘Kerry Rapid’ a big Gene Vincent fan. Met ‘Jeff Mason’ then, from Wallington, who turned out to be Jeff Beck. Of course a Cliff Gallup fanatic. I knew most Vincent songs, not just Be Bop a Lula. Jeff loved to be able to play Gallup style on things he would not have been able to, through lack of someone not knowing the words ! ! !

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