Originally he was Eugene Vincent Craddock, a native of Norfolk, Virginia who didn't seem to like much beyond motorbikes and girls, and whose life was entirely unremarkable until the summer of 1955 when two events changed it forever. In July he was involved in a bike crash, one so bad that his left leg was almost severed below the knee. Then in September, with his whole leg in plaster, Gene went to see Elvis Presley play in Norfolk and had his mind blown. Elvis literally had his clothes torn off by rabid fans that night. Gene went home, picked up his guitar, and wrote Be Bop A Lula which he debuted at local radio station WCMS's talent show in January '56. By July it was a US Top Ten hit and Vincent was in demand, criss-crossing the States with his band the Blue Caps. His short life was suddenly mapped out for him.
Jack Good, the TV impresario who gave us Oh Boy! and basically invented Pop TV as we know it, was Gene's saviour. At a time when most had dismissed him as a one hit wonder, Good understood that he was a true great and brought him to Britain in '59. He loved the singer's outsider image and convinced him to lose his natty threads, decking him out in black leather. But when Gene appeared on ITV's Boy Meets Girls he hid his leg injury well, much to Good's chagrin - from the wings he was heard to shout "Limp, you bugger, limp!"
On a British tour with Eddie Cochran in 1960, Vincent played the hapless older brother to Cochran's cocksure pin-up. After one show they dived into a car as fans tore at them - it was only after they'd been travelling a while that Gene, hunched in the back seat, whispered "Eddie... Eddie... they got my pants."
Touring income aside, Jack Good provided a new string of Abbey Road-produced UK hits - Pistol Packin' Mama, I'm Goin' Home To See My Baby, She She Little Sheila; with Joe Moretti on guitar (Shakin' All Over, Brand New Cadillac) and Georgie Fame on piano, they were punchy, fizzy, and outshone pretty much all the early sixties UK competition. By the time he recorded Ivor Raymonde's dire Humpity Dumpity in '63, though, the spark was gone from Vincent's UK career too. Always one to make his life as complex as possible, he had fallen into Don Arden's management clutches, and an ill thought out quickie divorce added to his trouble. With all this, no hits on the horizon and an unpaid tax bill looming, he bailed out of Britain in 1965.
Another obscurity worth digging out, as you fight your way past Be Bop A Lula '62 and Be Bop A Lula '69, is Our Souls (try saying it fast) from his final album, apparently written by his father-in-law. Always the lonesome fugitive, it was Vincent's kiss-off to a world that he must felt had it in for him.
In 1961 he had fallen down thirty concrete steps at a theatre in Newcastle and knocked himself unconscious; in '66 doctors in New Mexico decided to amputate his bad leg, but he fled the hospital in his pyjamas; in '69 he was mugged in his Paris hotel room.
He was broke again: at one point in the film Gene has to explain to a hotel receptionist that he is sharing a room with his roadie. On the backstage stairs of a venue in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, he stands exhausted, barely able to catch his breath after one last encore. He comes across as noble, sweet, but entirely defeated. Ravaged by booze, pills and his run of near-fatal accidents, he finally died of a perforated ulcer eighteen months later.