In September, Williams quits and returns to his job in studio band at WCMS.
Paul Peek joins on rhythm guitar and just before departure to film "The Girl Can't Help It" movie. Cliff Gallup quits to return to a quieter life at home. Russell Willaford stands in to mime lead guitar in the film. Returning to Nashville to record again, Cliff Gallup agreed to play the sessions, and then quit for good. In November, for a Canadian tour and a residency at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas (which was terminated early because the band was too successful at diverting attention away from the tables), lead guitar was played by DJ Teddy Crutchfield.
March to December 1957
Gene decides he wants backing vocalists in the band, so Paul Peek drops guitar and Tommy Facenda joins to form a backing vocal duo, "The Clapper Boys" as Gene dubbed them. Bill Mack joins on bass guitar, and Johnny Meeks on lead guitar. After rehearsals, they play a package tour of Ohio in April, then Bobby Lee Jones then replaces Bill Mack on bass guitar. They tour extensively, including Hawaii, Fiji and Australia, and all over the States. In November, they appear live on the Ed Sullivan Show with new 17 year old rhythm guitarist Max Lipscomb. Just before this, Dickie Harrell quit, and was replaced for a few dates by Dude Kahn (Sonny James' drummer), until Dickie is persuaded to return. They play an Alan Freed package show in NY. In late December, Max Lipscomb quits to return to school, and Paul Peek and Tommy Facenda leave to pursue solo careers.
January to April 1958:
Cliff Simmons joins on piano and Grady Owen on rhythm guitar and after more touring, Dickie Harrell quits for good in March. For recording sessions and a film appearance in the "Hot Rod Gang" movie in March, Paul Peek and Tommy facenda are persuaded to return, but Dickie Harrell refuses, and 15 year old Juvez Gomez comes in on drums. More touring...leading to Johnny Meeks, Bobby Lee Jones and Juvez Gomez quitting the band.
May to July 1958:
With a 40 date Canadian tour booked, Max Lipscomb on rhythm guitar, Dude Kahn on drums, and new guitarist Howard Reed join up, with Grady Owen taking over bass guitar. With the tour underway, Dude Kahn split, to be replaced by D J Fontana. Gene decided he wanted some more clapper boys, so Grady Owen and Max Lipscomb switched to this role and Bill Mack returned on bass. This line-up lasted just that tour.
Mid-September to mid-November 1958:
Grady Owen** on bass guitar and Johnny Meeks on lead guitar return, and the final line-up includes Cliff Simmons, who is still in there on piano, plus newcomer Clyde Pennington on drums. They gig, and cut the final records in October, supplemented in the studio by sax players Jackie Kelso and Plas Johnson. They play a few more gigs, and Gene does a "bunk" allegedly owing the band money. The ignominious end of the greatest ever rock 'n' roll band. -courtesy Derek Henderson
WILLIE WILLIAMS. courtesy Britt Hagarty. Willie recalls vividly his first night playing with Gene (before any records were cut): "He came up wearing a cast and sang "Be Bop A Lula" and all the chicks went nuts.""Wee" Willie takes a view of Gene's sudden success and sums it up quite articulately: "Vincent was easy to work with and knew exactly what he was doing. From the minute I met him I found him to be agreeable. There was no arrogance or egotism. He was a guy from relative humble beginnings who was a little bewildered by his sudden success. I thought he handled it pretty well. Though I seem to recall he spent a lot of money."
Willie has fond memories of his days with the Blue Caps: "Gene was very friendly. People were always looking for someone who'd act outrageous, but he didn't. He was just a good guy. On stage, Gene was a stylist and a communicator. And very exciting. Offstage, Gene would have a beer or two, but he was more interested in the ladies. Cliff was quiet, the kind of guy you wouldn't fool with. He was a no-nonsense person. But Dickie was my favorite. He was innocent, a thoroughly fine young man, a good cat."
When Willie Williams quit, a guitarist named Teddy Crutchfield came up from Norfolk to replace him.
Lead Guitarist Jerry Lee Merritt. (photo: Adrian White 1993)