What's a Muleskinner, anyway?

My name is Deke Dickerson. I'm a full-time musician, with lots of interests. One of those interests is writing. I write for guitar magazines such as Guitar Player, Fretboard Journal, and Vintage Guitar. I also write music articles, liner notes, and books that accompany box sets.

Once, a long time ago, I thought it was weird to have your own web site. Then, I thought that myspace and Facebook were immature (turns out I was right about that one, but I'm on them anyway). When I heard the word "blog," I decried I would never have one. And yet, here I am. Enjoy...

Monday, April 22, 2013

More than you ever wanted to know about the Gene Vincent song "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Go"

When I was in tenth grade, I was really feeling my oats about who I was and what my place was in this world.  Mostly, that entailed being a jerk to any authority figures in my life, including my parents, teachers, school authorities, etc.  This is natural behavior for the male species in that awkward time of their life when they have tons of testosterone flowing through their bodies, but no money, no car, and no girl.  Such was the predicament I was in back in 1984, when I was a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Missouri.  I had squat, except for a lot of testosterone and a love of 1950s American Rock and Roll music.

How I perceived myself:

How I actually was:


My English teacher at the time was a very nice guy, but a real square cat.  He seemed ancient to me but in retrospect he was probably thirty or thirty-five at the most.  Balding, button-down shirt, sans-a-belt slacks, comfortable shoes--he represented everything in life that I despised.  I lived in a world where turned up collars, sharkskin jackets, gabardine slacks, two-tone shoes, and bright colors designed to offend the sensibilities were the ideal.  I always was a weird kid.  I just thought that 1956 looked a lot cooler, and I guess I still do.


One day the aforementioned English teacher asked us all to write a paper about a song that meant something to us.  He said it could be any song, as long as it meant something.  In my rebellious world, I thought that the rock music that had been popular since the late 1960s hippie movement was the worst thing that had ever happened in the history of the world.  In my mind, before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, everything had been cool, fun, unpretentious, and exciting.  After the Beatles, the Doors, Bob Dylan, and all the Fleetwood Mac-era pretenders followed suit, all I could see was a bunch of pretentious, self-important rock star "artistes" who were really serious about their "lyrics," and who were always talking about peace and love and a bunch of other subjects that had nothing to do with me getting laid.  I had no use for this so-called "important" rock music.

In a grand act of rebellion, I wrote my English paper about a Gene Vincent song, cut in 1956 and released in April, 1957, entitled "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Go."  It was a nonsense song.  The lyrics meant nothing.  My English paper reflected the fact that I thought it was important to have some music that was about fun and nothing else.  I pleaded that not all music had to be "important" and needed dissection of the lyrics like some mopey art school student.  I wish I had kept the paper, because as I remember, it was quite well-written.  I made my case as well as a 15-year old free thinker iconoclast could.

Below: my original 45rpm copy of "B-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go."  I found it at a radio station in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Hear the song: "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Go" by Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps.  This song rocks!


The teacher took my finished paper and gave it a quick read.  He could have given me an F, but to his credit, he just rolled his eyes back in his head and said, "I'm sorry, this assignment has to be about a song that MEANS SOMETHING!"  He handed the paper back and gave me instructions to start over.

I went home and wound up writing my paper about the Blasters song "Border Radio," written by Dave Alvin.  I guess that song had enough meaningful lyrical content in it to barely squeak by, and I remember getting a B+.  As fate would have it, eventually I wound up knowing and becoming friends with Dave and Phil Alvin, and the rest of the Blasters.

Years went by, and music became my career.  Although my music tastes expanded and I learned to love many different and varied types of music, rockabilly music and 1950s rock and roll stayed close to my heart.  I've been lucky enough to meet and play music with most of my musical heroes.  The legacy of Gene Vincent's music remained important to me.  Although Gene Vincent died in 1971, I have been able to play with Dickie Harrell, Johnny Meeks and Russell Willaford of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps band, and I have spent time with other Blue Caps, including Tommy "Bubba" Facenda, Paul Peek, Jerry Merritt, and Bobby Jones.

Below: Gene Vincent (laying on the stage), Paul Peek on guitar, Dickie Harrell on drums, 1956.

Below: The author shows his respect to Gene Vincent's legendary drummer Dickie Harrell:


After moving to Los Angeles in 1991, I wound up meeting many of the key players in the Gene Vincent legacy.  I interviewed 96-year old Ken Nelson, the A&R man who signed Gene Vincent to Capitol Records in 1956.  I bought records from Cliffie Stone, another important man in the history of Capitol Records, who also published a great number of songs through his Central Songs Publishing Company (which, as it turns out, was secretly owned by Capitol Records' Ken Nelson).  I knew Ronny Weiser of Rollin' Rock Records, who had recorded Gene Vincent singing acapella right before he died.  I worked with Billy Zoom of the punk band X, who had backed up Gene Vincent at several gigs in his final, declining years.  Gene Vincent was also buried just outside of Los Angeles, at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall, and visiting Gene's grave was a necessary stop of any visiting Rock and Roll fan.

Below: The author and Capitol A&R man/producer Ken Nelson.

Below: The author and Capitol A&R man/Central Songs publisher (not to mention a great entertainer and bass player in his own right) Cliffie Stone:

Below: Gene Vincent's grave, Eternal Valley Memorial Park, Newhall, CA

Among all the music people that I met after moving to Los Angeles, one of the fringe guys on the Hollywood music scene was a jazz drummer named Roy Harte, who owned a drum store on Santa Monica Boulevard called Roy Harte's Drum City.

Below: Roy Harte's Drum City, in the 1990s.  This is how I always remember it looking.


Roy Harte's Drum City was on a seedy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard populated by transvestite gay hustlers, who walked the Boulevard night and day in a zombie-like trance, waiting for their next fifty dollar trick.  Drum City was a store that had obviously seen better days.  It had a large gravel parking lot (see photo above), and the whole place had the general odor of decay.  Roy Harte held court inside his store, where he had watched Hollywood go from glamorous heyday to a dirty, dangerous place where only homeless runaways and German tourists dared to walk the streets.

I loved Roy Harte.  He was a genuine jazz drumming legend, and I liked him because he had played on several Tennessee Ernie Ford and Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant sessions (his quote stuck with me: "Those hillbilly cats could play ANYTHING, man!")  I went into Roy Harte's Drum City half a dozen times, always in search of some rare vintage drum part that I couldn't find any place else.  Somewhere, Roy always had what I needed, in a bucket or a coffee can or a tray full of miscellaneous junk.  When I tried to pay him, Roy always said "DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT!  BRING ME A BEER NEXT TIME!"  I brought him a few Bud 'Tall Boys,' but wondered how the hell he paid the rent all those years if all he took in were cans of beer.

Below: Roy Harte, in his prime.


Roy Harte played a tiny, tiny part in Gene Vincent history.  When Capitol Records held a contest to find a new drumming sensation to record a drum-themed album, Dickie Harrell of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps won the contest, and the recording contract along with it (despite the fact that he had already been a Capitol Recording Artist with Vincent).  Roy Harte played alongside Harrell on the album, and the album's colorful cover was taken inside Roy Harte's Drum City.


Below: Photo from the back of the "Drums and More Drums" album.  The author may have the only copy autographed by both Dickie Harrell and Roy Harte.  Note Roy's awesome signature: "WE BOTH KNOW THAT WHEN IT TRIES TO SWING, WE LET IT! --ROY HARTE"


The last time I went to Roy Harte's Drum City, I was once again in search of an impossibly rare part for one of my vintage drum kits.  When I got out of my car in the gravel parking lot, my eyes focused on what was beneath my feet.  At first, I didn't know what it was I was seeing, I just knew it was different than the gravel I was used to.  Then it dawned on me what I was seeing, and it gave me a sickening sensation in the pit of my stomach.  On top of the gravel throughout the entire parking lot were broken bits of 78rpm phonograph records.  Thousands, no--make that tens of thousands--of records had been smashed up and used to create a new layer of asphalt.

I rushed inside and asked Roy what the deal was with all the records smashed up in the parking lot.  His reply was to tell me that he was going to be leaving the building and going out of business, and he had a room upstairs filled to the brim with "worthless" (his words) 78's.  I asked if they were for sale, and he replied they were--25 cents a pop.  I walked upstairs to a room that smelled of mold.  It was dark, dingy and in complete chaos.  There were records on shelves on the wall, in piles on the floor, and everywhere else you looked.  I settled down and got to work.

A good record hound knows that chances are, if there are a thousand records in a pile, there has to be one good one in there.  I started looking through the rubble, hoping for that one prized needle-in-a-haystack disc.  Most of it was not stuff I was interested in--78's of classical music, and lots of copies of jazz releases on Nocturne Records, a label that Roy Harte had co-founded in the 1950s.  I kept digging.

After about three hours of digging, eventually I found a small stack of acetates--one of a kind records cut directly on a lathe, usually for demo purposes.  Acetates are fun finds for a record collector, because when you find an acetate it's usually the only copy of whatever it is in existence.

One of the acetates was on a Central Songs demonstration label.  Central Songs was Cliffie Stone's publishing company, secretly owned by Capitol Records' Ken Nelson, who published a lot of the songs recorded by Capitol artists.  The label only said "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo" in crude cursive handwritten letters.  I thought to myself, that's weird, because the Gene Vincent song of a similar title ended wth "Go," not "Boo."  I bought the acetate for 25 cents and took it home, not knowing what it was I'd found.

Playing the acetate at home, I was pleased to find that it was indeed a crude original demo for the Gene Vincent song.  Instead of a wild and frantic rockabilly number, the original version was more of a hillbilly song, performed by one guy with a guitar.  The title was indeed "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo," which seemed just plain strange after hearing Gene Vincent sing it differently for so many years.

I contacted some of my record collecting friends and asked them what they thought of this acetate.  Eventually I was put in touch with David Dennard, who was compiling rare Gene Vincent material for a disc of unreleased live and studio performances, "The Lost Dallas Sessions," for his Dragon Street label.  David had unearthed some mindblowing stuff and was doing a lot of research on the years that Gene Vincent had based himself in Dallas, 1957-1958.

David was also putting together a compilation of original versions and demos of Gene Vincent songs, and he lost his mind when I told him the story of finding the "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo" acetate at Roy Harte's Drum City.

I had heard of songwriter Jack Rhodes before, but until David told me the story, I was unaware that quite a few of Gene Vincent's songs (and a bunch of other great rockabilly songs) had originated in Texas under what can only be described as bizarre, primitive circumstances.

Jack Rhodes lived in the small East Texas town of Mineola, about 90 miles east of Dallas.  There was nothing particularly interesting about the town except for Jack Rhodes himself and his hillbilly musician buddies.  As with so many entrepreneurs in those days, Jack Rhodes decided to get into the music business utilizing not much more than mere bluster and brash self-confidence.

Below: a vintage postcard for Jack Rhodes' Trail 80 Motel.

Rhodes managed the "Trail 80 Motor Courts," a small motel, restaurant, and gas station complex just off the highway in Mineola.  From the manager's office, Rhodes set up a primitive recording studio with one microphone and a Magnecord tape recorder.  Although it seems unlikely in today's world, in the wild and wooly era of post-war country music, a guy like Jack Rhodes had as much chance as anybody else, as long as he shook hands and hustled songs and wrote letters and greased palms.  It was a different era, to be sure.


Good songs began to flow out of Jack Rhodes little motel studio.  After scoring minor hits with Jim Reeves and a monster smash with "A Satisfied Mind" for Porter Wagoner (also recorded by Jean Sheperd for Capitol), a flock of amateur songwriters and performers began making their way to Mineola to become a part of Rhodes' hillbilly empire.  Dick Reynolds, Don Carter, Jimmy Johnson, Derrell Felts, Johnny Dollar and more hopefuls all became part of Rhodes' operation.

Jack Rhodes became involved with Ken Nelson at Capitol Records and Cliffie Stone at Central Songs publishing, and for a time in the mid-to-late 1950s, Central Songs had the first right of refusal on any songs that Jack Rhodes came up with.  Although Jack Rhodes and his buddies were country-western fans to their core, when Elvis Presley started selling millions of records with his wild Southern blend of rockabilly music, Jack Rhodes and his songwriting stable took a stab at the new music.

Jimmy Johnson, a country singer who recorded a great slice of hillbilly bop with Jack Rhodes' band in 1952 for Columbia Records ("I've Lived A Lot In My Time"/"Eternity") got the rockabilly bug first, recording a killer two-sided primitive bopper on Starday Records in 1956, "Woman Love"/"All Dressed Up."  The Starday record sold poorly, but "Woman Love" caught the attention of Ken Nelson and Cliffie Stone, who decided it would be a good candidate for a Capitol Rock and Roll release. (Author's note: the forgotten flip side "All Dressed Up" has become a rockabilly standard in recent times, and it has become a staple of this author's live performances)

Gene Vincent (real name: Vincent Eugene Craddock) won a singing contest in his hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia, and subsequently demoed a song he had written called "Be-Bop-A-Lulu" for local country DJ "Sherriff Tex" Davis (real name: Wilfred Douchette).  Davis took an acetate dub of the song and sent it to a better-connected DJ from Atlanta, Georgia named Bill Lowery.  Lowery sent in Vincent's crude dub of "Be-Bop-A-Lulu" to Ken Nelson at Capitol Records.  Nelson thought the song was okay, but heard Elvis Presley-type potential in Vincent's voice.  Nelson thought Jack Rhodes' "Woman Love" was the song with potential, and he wanted Vincent to record it.  Arrangements were made to meet in Nashville at Owen Bradley's studio two weeks later.

Despite the fact that Vincent was an amateur singer with only a few local appearances to his name, "Sheriff Tex" Davis promoted Vincent as the next big thing over the phone to Ken Nelson.  It was a prudent move, as Capitol Records was desperately seeking a Rock and Roll singer to sign to their label.  Elvis Presley was breaking all sales records in the industry, and Capitol Records was a label whose roster was filled with hillbilly and pop artists.  Being in the right place at the right time put small time players such as Jack Rhodes, Bill Lowery and "Sheriff Tex" Davis into a feeding frenzy, throwing stuff at the wall, hoping it would stick.

Gene Vincent and "Be-Bop-A-Lula," as it was subsequently retitled, would stick.  The song went to the top five on the national charts and became a well-known rock and roll standard still remembered today.  It was such a huge hit for Capitol Records that the label kept releasing singles and albums on Vincent until 1963, even though his sales declined sharply after his very first release until his last.  Gene Vincent was a rock and roll legend, and even had his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (paid for by Capitol Records), but he would forever chase the high tide of "Be-Bop-A-Lula."

Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps, "Be Bop A Lula" (from the movie "The Girl Can't Help It," 1956:

Jack Rhodes' "Woman Love" rode the coattails of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" as the B-side of the single.  It attracted little attention from DJ's or the buying public, but did gather significant attention when a rumor began (possibly started by a publicist) that Vincent had sang the line "huggin' and a kissin'" as "fuckin' and a kissin'."  The copious amounts of slapback tape echo on the recording make it hard to hear exactly what he was singing, but it does sound 'dirty' even if that wasn't Vincent's intent.  A story has persisted for years that Vincent was fined $10,000 in absentia for public obscenity in a court case over the song, but there is no record of such a court case ever actually taking place, so the story was probably fabricated.

"Woman Love" by Gene Vincent can be heard here:

Jack Rhodes and his group of East Texas troubadours continued to pitch songs to Capitol Records and Central Songs.  Rhodes' stable of artists also demoed other songs for Gene Vincent--"Five Days, Five Days" was demoed by Jimmy Johnson, "Red Blue Jeans And A Ponytail" was demoed by Freddy Franks, "Git It" was written by Bob Kelly and demoed by an unknown R&B vocal group--and Don Carter wrote and demoed a novelty song called "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo."


The acetate I found buried in the stacks at Roy Harte's Drum City turned out to be an original Don Carter acetate of "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo."  I sent the acetate to David Denard and the track wound up being used on his compilation of Vincent original songs and demos.  All of the above-mentioned songs and more can be found on the excellent compilation of Jack Rhodes-recorded Texas rockabilly called "Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs" on ACE Records (also released on vinyl by Norton Records under the title "Shake It Up And Move").  (After the ACE release, I sold the acetate on eBay, which is why I don't have a label scan here.  I hated to sell it but I got over six hundred dollars for my 25-cent investment--such is the obsession of Gene Vincent fans)

Below: Don Carter, author and crooner of "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo."

The acetate I found probably wasn't the only copy made, as it undoubtedly was originally recorded on tape and a few acetates cut for reference purposes.  I'm guessing the copy that I found was the file copy sent to Central Songs for publishing purposes.  (Interestingly enough, I researched the publishing information on BMI's website (BMI is one of several songwriter and publisher organization that collects royalty payments) and the song is still registered as "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Boo," despite the fact that Gene Vincent had changed the name of the song when it was cut in 1956)  The copy of the acetate that I found, though, was the one that survived the decades, and the one that was used on the reissue "Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs."

As a music historian, I felt proud of that fact that I had discovered a lost relic of Gene Vincent history.  From a personal standpoint, I had to chuckle that I had done so much research and effort and learned so much about a song that my 10th grade English teacher told me didn't mean enough to write a paper about.  I don't know why I always do things the hard way, but in ornery defiance, I had used a lifetime of experiences, research, and knowledge to prove to that English teacher that he was wrong--the song really did mean something.

After many years, I recently learned something new about the song, myself.  After hearing Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps perform "B-I-Bickey-Bi-Bo-Bo-Go" a thousand times, after discovering Don Carter's original songwriting acetate demo of the song, after thinking I knew everything I could know about this silly novelty rockabilly number, I discovered where it all came from.  It turns out that Don Carter had taken his inspiration from a higher source, the rockabilly trio known as Moe, Larry, and Curly--The Three Stooges.  I guess my English teacher was right after all.

Below: The Three Stooges, "Swingin' The Alphabet"--from the 1938 short film "Violent Is The Word For Curly."

17 comments:

  1. WOW-WEE...There Goes My Evening!!!

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  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqkYFbkzNQQ

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  3. Congratulations for this great article on your passion for music and also for the Eugene connexion. Cheers!

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  4. Wow. I thought I knew a lot about Gene (first or second album I ever bought; later hung out with him during the Kama Sutra Records period). A good 80% of this, maybe more, is new to me. And, of course, nicely put down in pixels.

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  5. Meticulously researched as usual. Reading this I was enlightened and entertained at the same time. I remember seeing that Three Stooges clip at some point years ago, and wondering if Gene Vincent had been a Moe fan. Thanks!

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  6. Always well-written and educational! Write more often, please! I'm glad that you got a B+ on your paper but I always think teachers are doing students a disservice by stifling their creativity. I had a similar experience...except I think I got the "F."

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    1. Thanks! I was lucky in that I had a few counter-culture type teachers at my school that encouraged me to push the envelope. Without them, who knows, I might be an insurance salesman!

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  7. Brilliant, just brilliant!

    You can do one post a year if they're this good!!

    porcupine (another Stooge reference)

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  8. Holy sh*t, that was a good read!

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  9. oh yeah just remembered, Floyd Robinson of "Makin' Love" on RCA fame cut the Stooges tune with a little echo and (likely) Chet Atkins guitar licks (ala "Oh Lonesome Me") and titled it "The Alphabet Song."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbH1VH-yIWM

    porcupine

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  10. Jeez, I just spent $60 on Amazon buying DVDs of Loving You and The Girl Can't Help It.

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  11. Hello Deke !
    Congratulations for your website and work !
    I had the pleasure to publish the bio/disco Esquerita via Blues & Rhtyhm mag(no 270) last year.As you may know it,he was discovered by the late Paul Peek in Greenville,and then,relocated in Dallas where The Blues Caps were working.Gene introduced him to Capitol Records.
    So,would you kindly ask to Dickie what are his memories about him ?
    Jackie peeks,sister of Paul has still fond memories of this glorious years too,but I tried to reach her without succes.Could you help me ?
    Best regards.
    Pierre Monnery

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  12. Great writing, Deke!
    The picture of Gene, Paul and Dickie was taken at The Casino in Toronto on a mini tour following the filming of The Girl Can't Help It (so probably late August/early September) - Russell Williford would have been playing lead. An old friend, John Pashley, took the picture

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  13. Thanks for your blog. I was searching Drum City. I worked there from 1982 - 1986. I started taking lessons upstairs in 1975 and I remember the room of 78s along with all of the other colorful memories you discuss.

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  14. It was such a nice surprise to hear what sweet singing voices the Howard brothers had. So did Oliver Hardy, by the way...

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  15. Super read, Deke I know your on the road a lot and do a ton of other stuff but can you please write more stuff like this? Couldn't have spent a better half an hour and will be spending a lot more time searching for some of the stuff you mentioned here.

    Thanks!

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