NOTE: According to the Social Security files,
he was born CLIFTON (not Clifford) on 17 June 1930, and died 9 Oct 1988.

"So You Want to Sound Like Cliff Gallup"

Cliff Gallup Tabs, Courtesy: Jim Lewandowski


...and Cliff, he was just fabulous! (At the first Capitol recording session) Ken Nelson was unsure of Gene's band, so he brought along some of Nashville's best session musicians (possibly Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Buddy Harmon and Bob Moore(?) ). But Cliff was one of the finest rock guitarist of the fifties, and the first song they recorded, "Race with the Devil," started with a succession of fast runs (actually double-picking one continous first position run from E on the D string to open E on the bass string) on Gallup's pancake-model Gretsch. According to Davis, the session musicians were astonished and knew right away they wouldn't be needed.

(After an album and months on the road) Cliff gave notice - he'd stay for the next gig, then leave. He didn't like road work and missed his wife: "I enjoyed playing the music, but I didn't like being away from home. I was sick of traveling. We stayed on the road all the time. Their next gig was at a swank supper club in Washington, DC, the Casino Royale. (Cliff recalls:) "If you've ever seen Dickie Harrell play drums, then you've really seen something. People were sitting at long tables and clapping their hands. Then Dickie held his snare drum in his hand, beat on it, then jumped up and walked along the table, still playing! People were grabbing their plates out of the way and Dickie never missed a beat! Dickie was a show all by himself! A real clown!" (This was Cliff's last live performance as the band went on to hire Russell Wilaford as a replacement. They then traveled to Los Angeles to film "The Girl Can't Help It." Cliff did later return to the studio to play lead on Gene's second LP.)

"I got along fine with Gene. He was a good singer, and, just like all the rest of us, he was always beating on a guitar. Gene was a typical rock singer; he moved around a lot. He had a little problem with his leg, but I doubt people could notice it. He was a little stiff-legged, but he had a cast and a black sock, then he got that special shoe made for it. We'd sit around the dressing room and sing and play; jam sessions, sometimes with Carl Perkins when we were part of the troupe together.

We played a lot of fairs and the kids were always screaming. But Dickie was so damn loud! Rock drummers are always loud. Jack was a good bass man. Bill Davis was a jolly guy, a lot of fun. He had a good sense of humor. I just looked at him as one of the gang. Ken Nelson was a mighty fine person. He probably impressed me more than anybody I met. No question about it, Ken Nelson helped. He told me how I ought to set my guitar. And I was satisified with the sound. We cut some good stuff and I always looked forward to going into the studio. After I quit Gene, Nelson offered me a mighty fine contract, but I turned it down."

Cliff Gallup died of a heart attack in October of 1988. He was the Director of Maintenance and Transportation in his local area school system and played guitar on weekends during his last years. Although he was an extremely talented innovative guitarist, he never really cared much for the limelite.

ED. NOTE: Dickie Harrell talks about Cliff. "He really didn't care for the road, being 26 years old and having a family. While Gene, Jack and I were boppin' around the stage, Cliff just stayed put tryin' to understand what we were doin'. You know that famous run in the beginning of 'Race with the Devil?' - well Cliff didn't really like the song so he threw that intro lick in just to 'make the song like something.' And when I screamed in "Be Bop A Lula' he had a fit, saying that was terrible and just didn't fit." Dickie continues: "Cliff Gallup and Johnny Meeks never meet each other. When Johnny came along, with Tommy and Paul, we were just one crazy family that Gene felt comfortable with. Cliff never followed the rock music scene later on. When asked how he felt about the newer guitarists admiring his style, he often wouldn't even recognize names like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck. He kinda stayed in his own little world of music, playing Les Paul and Chet Aktins' style. He could have been a big, big star. When he died, he had played a local gig earlier that evening, had chest pains and insisted he was okay to finish out the night."


Virginia newspaper article published February 13, 1989, written by columnist Larry Bonko.

When I heard that guitarist Cliff Gallup died in a Chesapeke hospital not long ago, the news carried me back to my youth, to the 1950s, to high school, and the birth of rock 'n' roll. Gallup helped make rock 'n' roll happen. He was among the musicians who unleashed a tornado in the 1950s. One moment, we were listening to civilized music ­ Gogi Grant singing "The Wayward Wind," Tenessee Ernie Ford doing "Sixteen Tons," and Prez Prado playing "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White. Then came bursting on the scene the beat of Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. They blew Grant, Ford, Prado, Perry Como, Guy Mitchell, Pat Boone, Jonnie Ray and Mitch Miller right off the charts.

Rock 'n' roll was born the week of July 9, 1955, when Decca released Haley's "Rock around the Clock." A year later, Presley was on the hit parade with "Heartbreak Hotel."  Popular music would never be the same.  When Capitol records was looking for a headliner to rival RCA's Presley, they signed Vincent Eugene Craddock of Norfolk, changed his name to Gene Vincent, and promoted his song. "Be-Bop-A-Lula," into a hot selling record. Cliff Gallup was a member of Vincent's group, the Blue Caps, from 1956 until 1958. Life became a rocket ride to the stars for the young local musicians.

When Clifford E. Gallup died at 58 recently, many of his friends, neighbors and former co-workers probably had no idea that he helped to pioneer a form of music that will likely endure well into the 21st century. So modest was Gallup that his wife, Doris, asked that not one word of his days with the Blue Caps be included with his obituary. That is how Gallup would have would have wanted it, she said. He never bragged. It embarrassed him to be called a legend of popular music, which he was. Gallup was uncomfortable when fans of his "rockabilly" style of playing ­ there are still many devotees in the British Isles - called to chat or wrote to request autographs. "He never did sign an autograph," said Doris Gallup. "He was not that kind of a person."

Cliff Gallup, a maintenance man in the Chesapeke city schools for nearly 30 years, was the same Cliff Gallup who was on the cutting edge of rock 'n' roll. He played on the same bill with Presley at the old Norfolk Arena - when Elvis was billed as "Pressley" in newspaper ads.  Gallup played guitar - rather anonymously - right up until the day he died of a massice coronary. He had a gig in Norfolk with a group called the H-Lo's 48 hours before he took ill in his Great Bridge home and died shortly after in an emergency room. Of the original Blue Caps, only Jack Neal, Sr., Dickie Harrell and Wee Willie Williams survive. Neal and Harrell live in Hampton Roads. Vincent died in 1971.

The editors of Guitar Player magazine gave significant space to Gallup's passing, recognizing him as a guitarist who influence Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and other musicians who would elevate rock 'n' roll to a noisier, heavier plane in the 1960's. The rockers paid Gallup the untimate compliment.  They said as a musician he was a killer. The Blue Caps have been all but forgotten in America, even here where their music was born. Overseas their records sell well. "We're adored to death over there," Neal said. The Blue Caps' success did not make the musicians wealthly. Who knows where the money went? "We are not sitting pretty," Neal said.

In his obituary, not a word was mentioned about Gallup's virtuosity or his impact on popular music. Wherever you are today, Cliff, take a bow.


From Jeff Beck...

  • For the lover of the style of Cliff Gallup, here is an interview of Jeff Beck talking about Cliff' s technique:

    "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 metally 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.

    "I had the right sort of guitar for when we started the 'Crazy Legs' album - a Gretsch Duo Jet - so I thought if I'd gone this far I may as well try to pick in the same way as Gallup. I remembered reading this interview with Cliff Gallup in a magazine years and years ago ['Guitar Player', December '83] where he talks about his playing technique but I couldn't remember where it was. I had a stack of magazines but I just couldn't find it! In the end I had to get in photocopied and faxed from the States. It was a bit smudgy and right where he was talking about picking the page was blurred! So I still couldn't use it!

    "Then something amazing happened - an American journalist who had some of Cliff's picks gave them to me along with a little letter. He used metal fingerpicks on his middle and ring fingers, but to fit them in an envelope to post them Cliff had flattened them out! He also used a huge, triangular plectrum with his thumb and first finger. Now, I tried that but it was hopeless - I couldn't do it at all! I found myself using the pick only and the other two fingers were just hanging around doing nothing. My normal style is using thumb and first two fingers, so I put fingerpicks on my fingers and a thumbpick on my thumb.

    "The guitar parts were all difficult to get right. Some of the harder sounding things like the triplet runs were not hard at all but it's what you do after the runs that counts. I put myself in Cliff's shoes for a month and I've got to take my hat off to him - if he came out with those solos off the top of his head then the guy was more of a monster than I ever believed. Having said that, I've tried to copy myself sometimes and it's not easy to copy something spontaneous.

    "If people are disappointed with the album 'cause I didn't do my own thing then they're missing the point. I wanted to show people what Cliff was doing and I wanted to be Cliff when we were doing it. The solos are so beautifully formed with a beginning, middle and end that they're like small miracles."

  • Bonnie Creef (Cliff Gallup's daughter) and Bob Timmers meet in Nashville, Sept 20, 1999.

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