He was literally instrumental in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and influenced a generation of future guitar figureheads from Hank Marvin to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Cliff Gallup never became a household name himself, but he’s immortalized via his pioneering guitar work as a member of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps. Cliff (pictured above second right in the group) would have been 85 today, born on June 17, 1930.
Gallup started out in a band called the Virginians, named after his home state. He and his fellow group members were introduced to a 21-year-old Vincent in 1956 by songwriter and promoter “Sheriff” Tex Davis. Soon, they were recording in Nashville with producer Ken Nelson, who recognised Gallup’s prowess immediately.
Cliff’s time in rock ‘n’ roll was short-lived: after playing on some 35 tracks with Vincent, including the all-time 1956 classic ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ (co-written by Vincent and Davis). Aged 26, married and reluctant to tour, he was gone from the group by the end of that year.
He would return only to play some sessions on Vincent’s second album, and then to record a 1960 album credited to the Four Cs featuring Gallopin’ Cliff Gallup. He got a “proper” job in the Virginia school system and worked in that sector for the rest of his life. Cliff died in 1988.
Hank, Eric, Jeff and many other guitar greats grew up imitating and idolising Gallup. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his nimble Gretsch playing earned him a No. 79 ranking in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Jeff Beck himself said: “I was most interested in bands that used the guitar to great effect, people like Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup and Gene Vincent — all of them in the States, which is where my musical roots are.”
Rolling Stone’s longtime and esteemed writer David Fricke evocatively described how Gallup “introduced the stylistic swagger that every rock guitarist now takes for granted. His slashing, razor-blade-in-the-ducktail assaults pushed the instrument one big step away from country picking and down the mean streets that rock & roll guitar has traversed ever since.”