The earliest Gretsch 6120 Nashville guitar
Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps
Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps, 1957
Even though “Cat Man” arrived close to 60 years ago, decades upon decades of music had already been recorded at that point. I haven’t heard everything ever committed to tape, of course, but the general idea I get from everything I have heard in the pre-rock’n’roll era is that artists were very conscious of the fact there was a mic present and that producers wanted to maintain a gentle atmosphere at all times. Even the field recordings of folk and blues songs from people like Alan Lomax and Moses Asch, as “live and raw” as they were, still compose themselves in a mannered way.
So while I’m not foolish enough to say that modern music began in 1957 when Gene Vincent recorded “Cat Man,” it is the earliest example I’ve discovered of a performer really letting it all go in the studio. This vocal wasn’t sanitized or tamed for anyone’s comfort. This was absolutely sizzling emotion, unharnessed and running wild.
Today, such moments are less rare than they were at the dawn of recorded rock’n’roll, but today is also the age of music being SO produced and SO doctored that any real emotion is caught and discarded in the process long before it gets to your ears. To be clear, I’m not ANTI super-produced recordings in most cases—Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of my favorite albums by anyone, after all—but I’m just as thrilled when I hear something absolutely primal like Vincent’s vocal here.
Elvis Presley is cool and all, but those singles are some shit your grandma loves. Gene Vincent’s records are still wrecking it harder than most anyone in 2014, and will probably do so as long as history remembers to look for them.
Daddy-O! performing live on radio station WATD with Ed & Bill last night. The entire program with live performances from Daddy-O! as well as songs from our latest CD can be heard online at http://www.realoldies.com/