This page is available for "SPONSORSHIP"
©1999, Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Interviewers: Rod Pyke and Bob Timmers
It could very well be ...
The True Story on How
"Be Bop A Lula" was Written
As told by "MG"
Photo believed to have been taken at Gene's first gig.
I was there...
Although I have no connections or even interest in Rock 'N Roll, I can shed a
bit of light on the origins of the song "Be Bop A Lula." In 1954, while serving in the US Navy,
I was injured in a motorcycle accident in
Paleremo, Sicily. After treatment in an Army hospital in Germany, I was sent to the
US Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, about February, 1955. While
there, I was in a ward with Don Graves, and we subsequently met Gene. We were all
under the care of Dr. Howard Sather, an orthopedic surgeon, who was
originally from Joliet, IL. Once in braces, casts, etc., the three of us
were basically ambulatory, and free to wander out of the ward. It was
during one of these periods that Gene and Don worked out the song. Don was
responsible for the lyrics, Gene the melody. I don't think either could
actually score music, and at that time, don't believe Gene could play
from sheet music.
The Admiral (whose name I have forgotten) responsible for the post was going
to hold a party, and was looking for (cheap) entertainment. Gene was recommended, and while he
was a hit with the guests, the Admiral was extremely upset, as he had expected an entirely different
kind of music. The effect of the (negative) publicity brought Gene to the attention of
Sheriff Tex, who completely overwhelmed both boys. They had already scored a version of "Race With
the Devil," and it looked like a partnership had been formed. Sheriff Tex, quickly broke this up,
and got both to sign contracts. Don received s few dollars in "royalties" for his work to that date,
but never received any more funds. On the original record release, Sheriff Tex was credited as the
Later that year, Gene was released, and I had gotten married and lived in an
apartment near the hospital. Gene and Don were constant visitors, and when
Gene and Ruth Ann separated, Gene lived with my wife and I occasionally for several months. He was still being
treated on an out-patient basis at the hospital.
Finally, both Don and I were discharged from the Navy, and along with my
wife, went to Indiana. After a few months, Don returned to Mississippi, his
birthplace, and enlisted in the Air Force. I was told by friends that he remained in the Air Force
as a career airman. (ED NOTE: Don Graves is reported to in currently living in the Virginia area,
still writing songs.)
Sometime in the late fifties, I attended one of Gene's concerts at South Bend, IN, and upon meeting
Gene, he said "Don't I know you from somewhere?" Although we both moved to Southern California in
1970, I never looked him up again, and I am sure he never knew I was living within a few miles of
him. Sorry, but I do not recall who of the Blue Caps were on the show.
Why have you come forward now?
I have no interest in publicity about the information regarding the authorship of the song.
As you mentioned before, I am NOT a fan, and it was by pure serendipity that I located Gene's
website, and further, read the posted history. Don Graves was once a good friend, and
I wrote to see if I could get credit where credit was due. Nevertheless, I
will do my best to remember details, but that was a long time ago, and brain
Had you heard the name Gene Craddock before your hospital stay?
I had not met either Don or Gene prior to being transferred to the Norfolk Naval Hospital.
Dr. Sather was an interesting character in his own right. He had been drafted near the end of
W.W.II, and served several years as an enlisted rate. Following his discharge, he
attended college (I don't remember where) under the GI Bill, and while there,
joined ROTC. He graduated right at the start of the Korean "conflict," and
was again drafted into service, this time as an officer. Upon completing his
required service, although still in the Reserves, he acquired his medical
training. The Navy promptly drafted him again from the Reserves due to a
shortage of orthopedic specialists. He used to joke that he was "forty"
and never had a job, although in fact, he was concerned that he would be too
old to practice by the time he was free of all military obligation. I suspect that he was a bit
younger than that, but regardless, he would now be in
mid-eighties. I had tried several times to locate him in the Joliet area
some years after I left the Navy, but never heard from him again.
It appears that you all had something in common.
Gene, Don, and I were all born in 1935, and all of us were in the hospital
for leg injuries. I do not remember the cause of Don's injuries, but Gene
and I were both from motorcycle accidents.
Did Gene and Don ever record any of their sessions?
In those days "tape" was a tool of the studios, not of ordinary folk. If
they would have had anything, it would more likely have been a "wire"
recorder, but I don't think they had that, either. RCA was still cutting
"Direct to Disc Masters."
Where did the song title come from? There are many stories out there.
I certainly cannot comment about what was in Don's mind when he came up with
the title phrase of the song. I have already mentioned Be Bop as an emerging
musical term. This was also a period when every young person was striving
to be "cool," and cool people used hip expressions, many of which only made
sense to the user. If I were betting money on it, I would bet that there was
more "loo loo" in the phrase than reference to a little girl in a comic
It's a good thing they didn't forget what they had created, as musicians sometimes do
when making up songs and not writing them down
Many did not "read" music, so to learn a song, often lyrics were created and
written on scraps of paper to establish the rhythm, and as a way to
"remember" the tune. I am not about to tell you that this is how Dan and
Gene created music, but they certainly saw others do this, and it may have
played a part.
Since we've never heard about Don, only Gene, it appears Don didn't fit into the picture.
I didn't see Sheriff Tex as a guy who was offering "contracts." Don and Gene
were lacking any sophistication in Tex's world, and I am sure that you
have heard the expression, "If you can't dazzle 'em with your brilliance,
baffle 'em with your BS." Don became somewhat bitter about his treatment
later on. I have no idea how things worked out with Tex and Gene.
What music were you guys listening to at the time?
When I went overseas in late 1953, pop music was still being
created by "Big Bands." Remember that "Rock Around the Clock" was released
as a 78 RPM record, and was listed as a "Fox Trot." By mid-1955, Big
Bands were fading, and a lot of "new" kinds of music was becoming popular.
There was a fair amount of Folk, Country and Western was creeping near the Pop
charts, and there were a lot of small groups, trios, quartets, etc., many
of which played jazz tunes, in a style known then by many as "Bop" or "Be
Bop." A lot more "vocal" and less instrumental music was being played on many
radio stations. A few weeks, as I recall, before the Admiral's party, Louis
Armstrong and the Nat King Cole Trio appeared in a joint concert in
I don't know if you have ever heard Nat King Cole sing, but a lot of people
in Norfolk did NOT know he was not white. The reason I point this out, is
I seem to recall hearing that the Admiral liked the music, but .... this was
the South before integration. It would not be surprising for Sheriff Tex
to be aware of the party. Portsmouth and Norfolk were "Navy" towns, and
everybody knew what Admirals said!
Try to imagine this, while you are recovering from injury/illness, etc.,
you are restricted to quarters, except for weekend passes, because the Navy
has deemed you "unfit" to return to duty. A lot of guys played a musical
instrument, and in the barracks (Not in the wards, where patients were
truly ill) many impromptu jam sessions were held, their "color" base upon the
musician. By that, I mean Pop, Country, even Jazz. Bystanders (who
appreciated the music of the moment) might beat out the tempo with any
convenient tool, and may even have played a part in creating "clapper boys."
What kept you three busy in the hospital?
A word about our condition at that time. All of us were in the
process of "reconstructive" surgeries. In the Navy, you are either
totally fit for sea duty, or you are unfit, but unlike civilian hospitals, they
don't send you home. As a result, much of the time, we were just hanging around
(unfit) waiting for the next process, or healing from the last. To keep
from total boredom, we took small jobs around the hospital. For example, I
worked in the library, washed ambulances, and sometimes operated the small boats
that connected the hospital in Portsmouth with the Navy piers across the
river in Norfolk, while I underwent three reconstructive surgeries. It is
impossible to comment on "pronounced limp," as that condition was directly
related to treatments.
I have no idea what, if any, light duty jobs were held by Gene. Don,
however, did sometimes act as a jailer in the hospital brig ward. It was
located in the basement, and sometimes we would go down when Don was on
duty, and play card games in any empty cell. The hospital had its origins as a
fort, and in a sub-basement below the brig ward, were dungeon-like rooms
with manacles on the walls. My marriage in March of 1956 allowed me to "go home" at night, and escape
the barracks, but also establish a place where shipmates could go, other than
the usual hangouts.
Any talk of amputating Gene's leg?
Although I cannot speak with authority, I would guess that Gene, like
myself and Don, had to consider amputation. Dr. Sather would have taken that as
a personal defeat, however, and he worked very hard to "repair" his patients
to the maximum of his ability. Remember that this was some years before
joint replacement became commonplace for similar injuries.
After Don joined the Air Force, we only corresponded a few times. I do
not think that he ever got married. What I do recall is that his grandfather
was quite wealthy, having made his money in auto parts. His father, on the
other hand, was content to drink his inheritance, and never worked. While Don
was with us in Indiana, late in 1956, Don's father sold the title to Don's
1950 Buick Special. The local Sheriff, who was a friend, told us that the new
lien holder had a warrant for the recovery of the car, but allowed Don to
drive the car back to Mississippi to try and resolve the problem. I don't
remember Don talking about any other family members. The last time I
talked to him was in the mid sixties. He was at an air base in New England, and
was about to take delivery of a new Jaguar XKE.
Typical boys, interested in cars. Gene sure loved those T-Birds.
Before the "British Invasion" of small cars in the mid-fifties, most of us
were impressed with "big" Detroit offerings. As for myself, at that time,
drove a DeSoto. While in the hospital, however, I fell in love with a MG (1500TF). (My
initials!) It proved to expensive for military pay, so settled later for a less
costly Triumph TR2. Don also caught the fever, so the Jag was no surprise.
You mentioned that you and Don remained buddies
Just an observation here. I don't know if any of you have spent time in the
military, but there is a subtle difference in relationships as compared to
civilian. Because your life can depend upon your shipmate, friendships
are quickly and firmly made, however, upon transfer, discharge, etc., these
same friendships are often just as easily forgotten, as you move on to the
"next" friend. Such is the case here, although Don and I had a special
relationship that lasted longer than most.
Can you remember any more about the hospital?
In 1956, the Norfolk Naval Hospital was a large facility that provided
primary care for the Sixth Fleet. As I remember, there we about 3000
staff members, and approximately 5000 patients. Dr. Sather had surgical
patients on Ward 20, post surgical or Ward 22. Ambulatory, and recovering patients
were housed in barrack like outbuildings. People of similar ages and
problems tended to hang together, thus Don, Gene, and I. There were
several others who might have been present at about that time, but I don't know if
they knew Gene.
I recently became curious if the hospital still existed, and started an Internet search of US Navy web
sites. The hospital does still exist, and does have a site, and their history is
posted at: http://www-nmcp.med.navy.mil/NMCPHistory/main.htm -
You may find it of personal interest. The article speaks of
reconstruction in 1955, but I do not think actual ground breaking began until after 1956.
I also was able to refresh my memory on the Admiral's name: RADM Sterling S. Cook.
What was Ruth Ann Hand like?
The closest I ever got to Ruth Ann was to see her in a car. We never met.
My impression at the time, however, is that a whole new world was opening
up for Gene, and it was difficult to make her a part of it.
Gene never talked much about family. He used to
joke about living in Craddock, which was a small community near
Portsmouth, as a sort of birthright.
Ever have your photo taken with Gene?
My wife and I divorced in 1973, and any photos are long since gone. I do
not recall any specific ones of Gene, although he may have been included in a group photo.
How was that Indiana concert were you met Gene again?
I have absolutely no clear memory of the concert at South Bend. I am not
exactly sure where it was held, but I suspect at Notre Dame, as I did go
to various musical concerts held there. I did not forget that Gene failed to
Did you recover from your injuires? Guess you know Gene never did.
Regarding my recovery. The simple answer is not completely,
the end, it had little to do with how I lived my life, and what I was able
to accomplish. I was not a dispatch rider, just an overeager kid inept on the cobblestone
roads in the mountains of Italy when I was injured.
What was it like in Navy in 1955 and what's a "tin can" we often heard mentioned?
The term "Tin Can" is a reference to a class of war ship, a
Destroyer, or DD, which reportedly had a battle life equivalent to a tin
can in World War II. DDR referred to Destroyer/Radar, and in addition to our
escort duties, also became an extension of the DEW line (Distant Early
Warning). If you are 55, your probably remember our paranoia over whether
the Russians had better German Rocket scientists than we.
To give you another perspective, the Navy at that time was an all
volunteer service that accepted seventeen year olds. (One year earlier than any
other branch of the US military) The notation of "born in 1935" was not an idle
one. That generation graduated from high school into the heat of the
Korean conflict. Perhaps we had seen to many John Wayne movies, which were
filled with calls to civic duty, or perhaps we simply wanted to escape a bad
home, or perhaps become a "hero," but for us this was not to be. The entire
group of names that I gave you were people that enlisted right out of school and
into basic training, only to hear that a cease fire had been declared mid
way through the training. Although the treaty was not signed until a year
later, it was obvious that we would have never been drafted, and would not have
had to serve at all. Not that we were any less patriots, mind you, but all we
had in store was four years of boring patrol in the midst of the cold war.
Everyone, therefore, looked outside of the Navy for youthful excitement,
and might explain some of our actions.
Anything else you'd like to say before we close the interview?
As an afterthought, I should have read the material on Gene's site before I contacted the
Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Needless to say, I am absolutely amazed at the material
you have collected, never mind the fame that Gene had acquired. For Bob and Rod's
I salute you both.
I have another thought on the relevance of Rear Admiral Cook's party. The point
was, the poor Admiral's world had been turned upside down. He had attended a
concert of "white" music, to find it sung by a black man, King Cole. A few
days later, the "white" singer (Gene) recommended to him by staff, sung what
was then regarded as "black" music at his party!
I believe that a musician upsetting the status quo was an attraction to
promoters like flowers to a bee. In my recollection, one approached
Gene. The story of Gene as a waif hanging around the studio is a great story,
but I doubt this happened until he had painted a picture of the future that
Gene could not resist. No doubt Gene did hang around later, waiting for this
future to materialize. But that was long ago and very far away, and I have already pleaded
Thank you for sharing this story with us and the many Rockabilly Hall of Fame readers around the
You are welcome. I hope this has been of some interest.
But again, I stress that I am looking for no personal recognition or desire contact by anyone else,
but in reading the ambiguity of the song's origins, felt I could corroborate the correct
Please keep in mind that this was a long time ago, and not something that I have thought about in
years! For your info, I still play my music on a record player, mostly big band and
Rockabilly Hall of Fame®