GRADY OWEN

GRADY'S BIOGRAPHY

Grady Owen was a late addition to the Blue Caps, joining the band for their final year of 1958, replacing the departing guitarist Paul Peek. And while Grady became quite a versatile member of the Blue Caps (playing at various times bass, rhythm guitar, vocals and appearing as one of the infamous "clapper boys"), his very presence is the band was a rather unlikely event from the start. For even though Grady (a youthful 24 when he joined the band) had been playing guitar, singing and writing songs for over half his life -- his first night with the Blue caps was the first time he had ever played rock and roll!

Grady's musical background and style consisted of traditional country music, with some folk and some blues influences. (What people today might call "Americana" or "old country," such as Ernest Tubb, Cecil Gill, or the Light Crust Doughboys.) Before he joined Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Grady had worked as a music instructor for several years, then landed a songwriter's contract from Ed McLemore (owner of the Sportatorium and the "Big D Jamboree" music venue in Dallas). He then spent a year touring with a country and western act known as the York Brothers (George and Les York). Only a few days after this tour ended (Late December '57) Grady received a call from Ed Watt, booking agent for the "Big D Jamboree" and associate of Vincent's, who had been charged with finding new "Blue Caps" to meet Gene on the road and replace some of the musicians who had recently left the band. "Ed asked how much money the York Bros. had been paying me," Grady says. I told him $125 a week. He told me he was booking Gene Vincent, and he needed a guy who could play guitar, bass, sing background, sing solo, M.C. and put on a good show. He said he'd pay $125 a week if I could leave right away. Ed must have been pretty sure I'd accept, 'cause he already had my plane ticket.

"At the time, I knew nothing about Gene Vincent. I'd heard his records on the radio for the past couple of years -- and I knew he was a big star. And, the money was about as good as a "side man" could expect." So early the next morning, Grady boarded a flight at Dallas Love Field, and flew to Omaha, Nebraska, to meet the band -- and his new boss: Gene Vincent. "At the hotel, there was a banquet room with a small stage. Vince and the other guys were sitting around up there. He saw me and asked if I was Grady, and told me to come on up. He said, "that's your guitar and amp." (Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Bassman amp, the best combo I"ve ever found)

"The other guys (Dickie Harrell, Bobby Jones, Clifton Simmons and Johnny Meeks) didn't seem real thrilled, but kind of nodded toward me. Soon, however, we all became good buddies and had lots of good times just pickin' and grinnin" and hangin" out. Every one of those guys was a solid musician/showman."

Grady told me his first night performing with the band went well, except for one small problem. "I had inherited the uniform of Paul Peek. They said Paul and I were the same size. Our uniforms included off-white shirts with red collars, red corduroy pants, white 'bucks' and white socks. I put on the shirt -- fit good. Then the pants -- uh-uh. It seems Paul had very short legs. His britches fit good in the waist, but the legs struck me about mid-calf. So, about the first two weeks I was embarrassed wearing those short pants on stage."

During his time with the band, Grady actually roomed with Vincent most of the time. "After our first tour together, I came home for a couple of weeks, and Ed Watt called me to his office again. He said one of the big problems he'd always had with Gene was that he was forever leaving things in his hotel rooms -- clothes, shaving kits, cuff-links, wrist-watches, contracts, receipts, etc. He usually neglected the mundane. Ed said that time and again he had tried to get some responsible person to room with Vince and make sure all his things were packed when he left a place. But, he said, no one wanted to room with the boss, and Vince didn't want anyone rooming with him. But this time, Vince indicated that he trusted me, and that we got along good, so it would be okay with him, if I didn"t mind doing it. Ed also told me he'd pay me $10 a week more, so I took on that little job."

"Because of that, I feel I've had a better opportunity than most to gauge Gene's character. Right away, we respected each other. We had a similar sense of humour, and much the same moral values. Unfortunately, I think he was saddled with some undeserved bad raps. Somehow, sometime, someone, had promoted rumours that he was always drunk -- and that he continually missed or was late to shows. I can refute those accusations. During the entire time I knew him -- working and rooming together -- he and I drank some -- but I never (even once) saw him drunk. Also, he never missed a job. He was always there on time, ready to hop on stage and do his bit. And without fail, he did an excellent show, and the crowds went wild."

"All the other "stars" we met or worked with respected him. In fact, on package shows, we were always the closing act, because nobody wanted to follow Vincent on stage. The other guys knew that Gene's act was so powerful, that they couldn't draw as much audience response, and their shows would come off flat."

"Off stage, he was very shy. He never fully realised that he was a star -- or that he was really that good. Once, sitting around the hotel room, he asked, 'Grady, do you think I can sing as good as Frank Sinatra?' Well, I thought that one over for a while, then I told him that I knew of no valid way of comparing them, because their types of music, their vocal styles -- their entire presentations were worlds apart. It would be like comparing Italian food with Chinese. So Vince thought that one over, and at last said, 'I sell just as many records as he does, so I must be as good as Sinatra.' I think Vince slept good that night."

Grady remained with the band for the rest of "58, until the ill-fated break-up in November. "During the latter part of 1958, we had worked our way back to Hollywood," he said. "That"s when I cut my third album with Vince. We also did three or four network T.V. shows that week. Now none of us Blue Caps had been paid for the preceding three weeks or so. We were checked into the old Knickerbocker hotel. Our last night in Hollywood was a Saturday night. We'd seen Vince get checks from all those T.V. shows -- should have been a fairly hefty amount - -and we'd become concerned about our back pay.

"Late that night, two of the guys (probably Johnny and Clifton) went up to Vince"s room to ask about the money. He told them he couldn't cash his checks that night, but that we should all go to his room the next morning, and he'd pay us all up to date. Next morning when we got there, we found that he had already checked out -- and left no forwarding address! And that, as they say, was that."

"A good while later, we learned he'd gone to Alaska -- worked there a while. Then, he went to Europe. In England, he made more records; did more shows -- then worked all over Europe. I've read that he was a big influence on the Beatles during their formative years. I don't know, maybe he figured that if he didn't make a move, right then, while for once he had some of his own money in his pocket -- maybe he'd never be master of his fate and fortune. Who knows?"

During his time with the band, Grady performed on several of the albums Gene and the band cut, as well as appearing in the aforementioned television specials. He can also be seen playing rhythm guitar with the band in the cult classic film "Hot Rod Gang."


Grady continued to work and make a living as a musician and song-writer for the next 30+ years after the Blue Caps broke up -- Performing solo and with a number of other acts, including Johnny Carroll, Howard Reed and the Levee Singers. Several of his songs have been recorded by Sonny James and other singers. (Gene Vincent himself recorded some of Grady's songs, including "Lovely Loretta," a song that was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a studio owner's wife -- that Grady says was actually anything but "lovely.") Grady himself can be heard singing one of his own song's "I Don't Feel Like Rockin' Tonight" on the recently released album "Gene Vincent -- the lost Dallas Sessions," from Dragon Street Records.

Grady recorded many more of his own songs as well, and several of these were released as "45's on the Sandeb label, but he never got around to producing a complete album on his own. During the last years of his working career, he mainly performed solo shows in clubs throughout the west coast, including San Francisco, Fresno, Reno and the Lake Tahoe area. Over the years he made a number of friends from the Philippines, and after visiting there several times, he decided to abandoned the smog-heavy air of California and lead the idyllic lifestyle of an expatriate among the islands. Since "95 he and his wife have lived on the small island of Siquijor in the Philippine Archipelago, where he still plays and writes songs while relaxing on the beach with family and friends.

--Chris Owen
31 January, 1999.



Note: Inquiries regarding Grady's songs, recordings or others aspects of his career can be sent to me at cowen@flash.net, and I will forward them to him. Or if anyone would like to write to him themselves (I know he's made a wealth of friends during his days in the music biz), drop me a note and I'll send you his mailing address. I plan to pay him a visit in the Philippines sometime late this year or early next, and while there do a full round of interviews regarding his fascinating career. If you"ve got a question regarding his days with the Blue Caps, or the Dallas music scene in the 50's and 60's, let me know, and I'll add it to my list of questions.





Rockabilly Hall of Fame