In 1952, Gene left school and joined the Navy. In 1955 he was stationed in Korea. In July 1955, while in Norfolk, he was involved in a severe motorcycle accident that shattered his left leg. He refused to have it amputated, the leg was saved, but left him with a permanent limp and considerable chronic pain for the rest of his life.
Having spent his youth in the Norfolk, Virginia area, Vincent Eugene Craddock decided to pursue the freewheeling life of a sailor. He dropped out of school at age seventeen and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1952. Craddock's parents signed the required forms allowing him to join the navy. He completed basic training and joined the fleet as a destroyerman. He proved to be a good sailor while deployed at sea, but gained a reputation as a trouble-maker while on liberty ashore. Craddock never saw combat, but completed a Korean War deployment. He sailed home from Korean waters aboard battleship USS WISCONSIN (BB-64), though was not part of the ship's company.
Craddock planned a long career in the U.S. Navy and, in 1955, used his $612 dollar reenlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorbike. On the way back for duty on NOB Norfolk, Cradduck was struck by a car and nearly lost his leg. He was treated at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, but was medically discharged from the navy shortly thereafter.
Craddock was a Norfolk native and became involved in the local music scene. He changed his name to “Gene Vincent” and formed a rockabilly band called the “Bluecaps” (a term used in reference to enlisted sailors in the U.S. Navy). The band included Willie Williams on rhythm guitar, Jack Neal on upright bass, Dickie Harrell on drums, Paul Peek singer/guitar and the innovative and influential lead guitarist, Cliff Gallup.
Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps soon gained a reputation playing in various country bands in his native Norfolk, Virginia. There, they won a talent contest organised by local radio DJ "Sheriff Tex" Davis, who became his manager.
In 1956 he wrote "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and signed a publishing contract with Bill Lowery of The Lowery Group of music publishers in Atlanta, Georgia. Lowery recorded Gene singing "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and secured him a recording contract with Capitol Records. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was not on Vincent's first album and was not picked by Capitol as the first single to be released. Lowery, however, got Capitol to agree that "Be-Bop-A-Lula" would be the "B-side" of the first single ("Woman Love"). Prior to the release of the single record, Lowery pressed promotional copies of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and sent them to radio stations throughout the country. By the time Capitol released the single, "Be-Bop-A-Lula" had already gained attention from the public and radio DJs. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was picked up and played by other U.S. radio stations (obscuring the original "A-side" song), became a hit and launched Gene Vincent as a pop star.
After "Be-Bop-A-Lula" became a huge hit (peaking at #7 and spending 20 weeks in the Billboard Pop Chart), Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps were unable to follow it up with the same level of commercial success, but released critically acclaimed songs like "Race With The Devil" (#96 in Billboard) and "Bluejean Bop" (#49). That year, Vincent was reportedly convicted of public obscenity and fined $10,000 by the state of Virginia for his live performance of the erotic song, "Woman Love", although this is now believed to have been a rumour, possibly started by his manager.
The group had another hit with 1957's "Lotta Lovin'" (highest position #13 and spending 19 weeks in the charts). Gene Vincent was awarded Gold Records for 2 million sales of Be-Bop-A-Lula and 1.5 million sales of Lotta Lovin'. The same year he toured the east coast of Australia with Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. Vincent also became one of the first rock stars to star in a film, The Girl Can't Help It together with Jayne Mansfield.
"Dance to the Bop" was released by Capitol records on October 28, 1957. On November 17, 1957 Vincent and His Blue Caps performed the song on the nationally broadcast Ed Sullivan Show. The song spent 9 weeks on the charts and peaked at #23 on January 23, 1958, would be Vincent's last USA hit single. The song was used in the movie "Hot Rod Gang" for a dance rehearsal scene featuring dancers doing West Coast Swing.
Gene and His Bluecaps also appeared several times on The "Town Hall Party" show, California's largest country music barndance held at the Town Hall which was at 400 Long Beach Boulevard in Compton, California. The Town Hall Party drew in excess of 2,800 paid admissions each Friday and Saturday with room for 1,200 dancers. The show was also on from 8:30pm to 9:30pm over the NBC network. In addition, it was shown over KTTV, channel 11 from 10:00pm to 1:00am on Saturday nights. Appearances were on October 25, 1958, as well as July 25th and November 7th, 1959. Songs performed were: Be-Bop-A-Lula, "High Blood Pressure," Rip It Up, "Dance To The Bop," "You Win Again," "For Your Precious Love," "Rocky Road Blues," "Pretty Pearly", "High School Confidential," Over The Rainbow, Roll Over Beethoven and "She She Little Sheila".
Departing from traditional naming conventions, he and his band are named "Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps", not "...the Blue Caps" as often stated. A dispute with the US Tax Authorities and The American Musicians' Union over payments to his band and his having sold the band's equipment to pay a tax bill led him to leave the USA and try his hand in Europe.
Following a visit to Europe in 1959, Vincent managed to attract a new huge and discerning audience there, especially in the United Kingdom and France. By that time his career had mostly ended in the US. In 1960, while on tour in the UK, Vincent and songwriter Sharon Sheeley were seriously injured in a high-speed traffic accident in a private hire taxi travelling through Chippenham, Wiltshire on the A4 on the journey to London Airport where they were set to return to the US that night. The car, a Ford Consul, suffered a blowout causing it to swerve and crash into a lamp post on Rowden Hill. Vincent broke his ribs, collarbone, and further damaged his weakened leg, and Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis. Both Vincent and Sheeley survived, but the accident killed Vincent's tourmate and Sheeley's fiancé, Eddie Cochran.
Vincent subsequently moved to England in 1963. His stage shows became "must see" events that greatly influenced some of the most respected players in the world today. It was during his early tours of Britain that he adopted the trademark leather outfit, at the suggestion of British rock 'n' roll impressario, Jack Good. British fans held in high regard the band that supported him, Sounds Incorporated - a six-piece outfit which included three saxophones, guitar, bass and drums. They later went on to play with The Beatles at their famed Shea Stadium concert.
In 1966, back in the States, he recorded Am I That Easy to Forget for Challenge Records. On this, he was backed by ex-members of The Champs and Glen Campbell. Although critically well received, it did not sell very well either in the USA or Britain where it was released on the London label.
In 1969, he recorded the album "I'm Back and I'm Proud" for long-time fan John Peel's Dandelion label, which included backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt. He later recorded a further two albums for the Kama Sutra label.The two Kama Sutra albums were reissued on one CD by Rev-Ola in March 2008.
On his final tour of the UK, he was backed by The Wild Angels, a British band who had previously worked at the Royal Albert Hall with Bill Haley & His Comets and Duane Eddy. Because of pressure from his ex-wife, the Inland Revenue and promoter Don Arden, Gene had to return rather swiftly to the USA.
His final US recordings were four tracks for Rockin' Ronny Weiser's Rolling Rock label, a few weeks before his death. These tracks were later released on a compilation album of tribute songs, including a version of "Say Mama" by his daughter Melody Jean Vincent (accompanied by Johnny Meeks on guitar). He later recorded five tracks (released years later as "The Final Sessions") in Britain in October 1971.
Gene Vincent got a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 1749 N. Vine St.) in the Category Music.