Wednesday, 8 July 2009

“The Road Is Rocky – The Complete Studio Masters 1956-1971” by GENE VINCENT. A Review of the 2005 BEAR FAMILY 8CD BOX SET.

“Be-Bop-A-Lula…Let’s Rock Again!”
Fans of “The Screaming End” have waited all their lives for a tribute to their hero like this and the much-anticipated BCD 16257 HL doesn’t disappoint.

"The Road Is Rocky - The Complete Studio Masters 1956-1971” is typical of Bear Family's legendary excellence - released March 2005, 8 CDs are housed in label-themed 2CD jewel cases inside a 12"x12" Box Set offering up a huge 223 tracks. There's a beautifully illustrated album-sized 134-Page Hardback Book (yes hardback) and resplendent in its full-colour cover, the whole package has an air of real class about it. Genuinely - just holding it - is a thrill…

The set was compiled and produced by DEREK HENDERSON and the stunning essay on Vincent’s tortuous life is by noted expert IAN WALLIS (it’s both ruthlessly honest yet quietly affectionate). Label boss RICHARD WEIZE and TONY BARRETT (of Rockstar Records in the UK) handled the tape research with the remastering carried out by JAY RANELLUCCI, BOB IRWIN and KIP SMITH. And being Bear Family, the sound quality is GORGEOUS - first generation tapes used, meticulous transfers - a typically superlative job done.

Disc 1: label is Capitol USA 7” of “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, 27 Tracks, 64:44 minutes
Disc 2: label is Capitol USA 7” of “Lotta Lovin’”, 29 Tracks, 68:51 minutes
Disc 3: label is Capitol USA 7” Promo Sleeve of “Git It”, 28 Tracks, 61:20 minutes
Disc 4: label is Capitol USA 7” Promo of “Be Bop Boogie Boy”, 34 Tracks, 79:53 minutes
Disc 5: label is Capitol USA 7” Promo of “Wild Cat”, 28 Tracks, 63:59 minutes
Disc 6: label is Columbia UK 7” of “Private Detective”, 26 Tracks, 62:15 minutes
Disc 7: label is Challenge USA 7” Promo of “Bird-Doggin’”, 28 Tracks, 76:31 minutes
Disc 8: label is Kama Sutra USA 7” of “How I Love Them Old Songs”, 23 Tracks, 73:32 minutes

The discography by Richard Weize, RUSSELL WAPENSKY and Derek Henderson contains 210 entries from his first recordings in May 1956 in Nashville to his last two in January 1971 in London. All 7 of his Capitol albums are here - “Bluejean Bop!” from 1956 through to “The Crazy Beat Of…” from 1963 - “Shakin’ Up A Storm” from 1964 on Columbia, “Gene Vincent” on London from 1967 (Challenge in the USA) and his 3 Dandelion and Kama Sutra albums of the early Seventies. You can also sequence in both A&B of all 40 of his 7” singles (a large number of them were non-album tracks). The bluesy “Baby Blue” (his 10th UK single from 1958) is fantastic…

The book is wonderful, black and white stage shots, an adoring John Lennon looking over his shoulder, backing group the BLUE CAPS posing in the studio, the one with Eddie Cochran, Joe Brown and Billy Fury all looking so young and full of promise. I particularly dig the snap of Gene and Jet Harris with a winking Little Richard and a smiling Sam Cooke – now’s there’s a conversation you wanna hear!

Musical rarities include “Beautiful Brown Eyes” which was only available on an ultra rare French single from 1959, both the Playground and Forever US-only 7” singles from 1968 and 1969 of “Story Of The Rockers” and “Pickin’ Poppies” because all 4 sides have different mixes and finally the two exclusive tracks Vincent cut for the B&C Records compilation “Battle Of The Bands” in 1971 – his last proper studio recordings. There’s also several previously unreleased STEREO tracks.

If I was to point out a downside, it would be that he did a further 5-track live session for The Johnny Walker Show at Radio 1 in London on the 1st of October 1971 – just 11 days before he died in the USA – but it’s not included on here. It was released as “The Last Session” in 1987 by John Peel on one of his Strange Fruit/Nighttracks 12” singles – and you can’t help but feel that it should have been included.

Vincent Eugene Craddock died from liver failure on 12 October 1971 in the Emergency Room of a California hospital, aged only 36 - years of chronic alcoholism having finally done for him. It was a sad and painful finish.

But for fans the world over, he will always be the real deal – silver microphone in hand, leg thrust forward, the thrill of rock ’n’ roll literally shaking his limbs and quivering his voice. And this beautiful and loving box set only brings that home in spades.

Bear Family’s “Rocky…” is a very real reason as to why this reissue label is held in such awe. It costs for sure – but quality always does. A real winner – and well done boys - you keepers of the flame.

For fans, I’ve posted full LP and 7” UK discographies in two separate comments attached to this review – each references where the tracks can be found on this box set (info the book doesn’t provide you with in one place)

I’d also recommend as essential “The Outtakes”, a 2007 follow-up set by Bear Family which contains a staggering 226 tracks from 1956 to 1968 – it’s a mini 6CD box with a beautifully detailed 76-page booklet - with the vast majority of these priceless ‘in session’ gems having never been released before anywhere

And last - with regard to price, some online retailers are trying to get over £300 for this box set – don’t! It is available shrink-wrapped and as new for £129 + P&P from their distributors in the UK, Rollercoaster Records of Chalford Gloucestershire ( or for 174 Euros + P&P from Bear Family direct at in Germany

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