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Cliff Gallup - Legendary Guitarist with Gene Vincent
Cliff Gallup influenced some of the most famous guitarists in the world. But I bet few people know who he is. His innovative work with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps left a huge impression on Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Albert Lee, Brian Setzer and many others.
Cliff, born in 1930, started playing guitar when he was 8 years old. He had musicians in his immediate family, who would entertain at events. However, Cliff was mostly self-taught, learning from records and the radio.
He got his first electric guitar when he was 12, and started playing with local bands. After years of playing, he met up with Gene Vincent. Cliff was staff guitarist at WCMS in Norfolk, Virginia, and at 26, was an experienced musician with years of gigging under his belt. A band was needed to backup Vincent, and in May 1956, the band started recording in Nashville. It was readily apparent that Cliff could handle the pressure of recording, playing blistering solos on Race with the Devil and Be-Bop-A-Lula.
Cliff recorded more than 30 songs with Gene Vincent, and quickly got a reputation as a gifted and technically advanced guitarist.However, Cliff was married, and did not want to tour much with Vincent. He left the band in late 1956, but did return for a few recording sessions.
Over the next few decades, Cliff released his solo album, Straight Down the Middle, played in local bands and at his church. His day job was working for the Chesapeake, Virginia school system as a director of maintenance and transportation. I wonder if many people knew that Cliff was a former rock star, who influenced some of the most famous and successful guitarists in the world. Cliff was very humble about his guitar playing skills, and no mention of his time with Gene Vincent was mentioned in his obituary. I would imagine that if the school kids had known, young guitarists would have been trying to get lessons and advice!
Here is a great quote from Jeff Beck, who recorded a tribute to Cliff in 1993 called Crazy Legs:
"When I was learning guitar Cliff Gallup was the biggest influence on my playing - the cut was pretty deep and the scar has never healed! It was just so radical - it probably doesn't sound mentally or threatening now but if you were back in June '56 and turned the record right up... Boy! The term "rock 'n' roll" had hardly been bandied about and all the other "rock" records of the time were very polished and audibly nice and round. Then you put on Gene Vincent and had this guy screaming and these raucous guitar solos - it was unheard of and no one has done anything like it since."
Cliff played his guitar with a flat pick along with finger picks on his middle and ring fingers. He favored Gretsch guitars, a Duo Jet with the Blue Caps, then a Country Gentlemen for the rest of his life. His amp of choice was a Standel, which was a popular amp in recording studios. He made effective use of echo and reverb, often building his echo machines out of old tape recorders.
Cliff died of a heart attack in 1988.
Cliff was ranked 79th inRolling Stone magazine list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.