A Rarity From Gene Vincent's
by Tony Maygarden
Rockabilly legend Gene Vincent's original band, The Blue Caps featured the phenomenal lead guitar of "Gallopin'" Cliff Gallup. His fluid and exciting playing style was a big part of what made Vincent's early singles such as "Be Bop a Lula" and "Race With the Devil" Rockabilly classics. For more information on Gene Vincent and Gallup's time with the Blue Caps, I suggest you go to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame web site. They have tons of stuff on Gene Vincent and a page for Cliff Gallup. Also recommended is Race With the Devil, a recently released and well researched biography of Gene Vincent by Susan VanHecke (see amazon.com link below).
In this article I want to look at a little known (and rarely documented) album by Cliff Gallup and his group The Four C's entitled Straight Down the Middle. There's no date on the album, but I would guess it's from the early to mid-'60s. It was produced by Charlie Wiggs (vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the Four C's, and later a well known DJ on country radio station WCMS) and Wayne Butler. It was recorded at D'Arcy Sound Studios, Norfolk, Virginia, and was engineered by Warren Miller and Wayne Butler. Liner notes are by Sheriff "Tex" Davis (Gene Vincent's original manager when Gallup was in the Blue Caps) and Chance Concourse. It was released on the Pussy Cat label, #PCLPS 701. The particular copy I have is autographed on the back by "Carolina Charlie."
The Four C's were Gallup, Wiggs, "Fantastic" Felton Clark on bass and Art "RC" Newborn on drums. Straight Down the Middle contains twelve instrumentals, two of them credited to Gallup. Side one starts with (surprise!) "Be Bop a Lula" which is done in a danceable style with a full bass, sounding a little like Booker T. & The MGs. "The Girl From Ipanema" follows, full of dreamy reverb and brilliant use of tremelo by Gallup. Next is "Unchained Melody" with Gallup's lead beautifully playing the melody, then "Chicken Feathers," a rousing uptempo rocker not listed on the jacket (it's listed on the label). Next is a slow "Jealous Heart" which features nice interplay between Gallup's electric and session guitarist Rabbit Neathery's acoustic guitar, and the side ends with a swinging "September in the Rain."
Side two starts with "Downtown," then "Am I That Easy to Forget" which has truly beautiful playing by Gallup. What a touch! Next up is "Mean," a Gallup original with vibrato, then "Jezebelle"(sic) (which Vincent sang on his first LP, Gallup playing guitar), then "I Dreamed of an Old Love Affair." The side ends with "Come On In," another original uptempo number by Gallup.
Producer Wayne Butler recalls the recording sessions: "I engineered and cut the album to an Ampex 351 two track on 1/4" tape. I miked Cliff's amp, a Fender '65 Twin Reverb, with an RCA-77DX. We only spent two days in the studio on the album. Cliff had pretty much ironed out what he wanted to do and they just did it. I was fortunate to cut a lot of sessions with Cliff, both as a musician and as a producer. He was great to work with and willing to try anything."
With Straight Down the Middle's easygoing blend of songs, it's apparent that the Four C's music was intended for the supper club crowd, with just enough uptempo numbers for a little dancing. While not a Rockabilly record per se, it certainly contains plenty of Gallup's amazing guitar playing.
Thanks to Wayne Butler for providing the session details.
If you're looking for an LP copy of Straight Down
the Middle, good luck. It's a tough record to find.