October 9th is the day to pay tribute to a dearly departed musician. It’s John Lennon’s birthday but he gets plenty of press. Today’s the day to talk about a Rock-and-Roll legend that for some reason decided to chuck it all after an incendiary year of genius guitar playing to become a maintenance man back in Virginia. That is Gene Vincent’s secret weapon Cliff Gallup, who died 19 years ago today.
How good was Cliff Gallup? Ask Jeff Beck. In an exhibition of hero worship only matched by Gus Van Sant’s shot by shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Beck released Crazy Legs in 1993, a tribute to Gallup. The British virtuoso recreated the rockabilly master’s handiwork down to the very last note.
Eddie Cochran, James Burton, and Scotty Moore all have their slavish acolytes, but Gallup’s demented lightning speed licks make all three of them sound like amateurs. While it’s true that the true birth of Rockabilly came out of Sam Phillip’s Sun Records, it was Gallup that spurred the genre to the height of its potential with his Gretsch Duo-Jet, a Fender amplifier and echo effects the man created himself with parts from old tape recorders. Think the Reverend Horton Heat sounds audacious? He’s just playing like Cliff Gallup.
Gallup recorded 35 sides with Gene Vincent over about a year in the mid-'50s and then decided that he missed his wife and gave it all up hanging up his guitar for a steady job and an occasional weekend gig with a local band.
Guitarist Deke Dickerson claims that no less than, “Brian Setzer actually went to his house, knocked on his door, and pleaded with Cliff to talk with him.
"‘Cliff grabbed his rifle and said, 'Git offa muh property!’”
Gallup was so unimpressed with his own accomplishments that he refused to give out autographs and requested that his obituary not mention anything about his tenure as lead guitarist with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. Don’t try to figure it out; it’s a mystery. You'd probably have a better chance of explaining a Jackson Pollack painting to your grandmother than unraveling this.