|Bird Doggin', The Complete Challenge Sessions, Gene Vincent
TKO Magnum CDMF 109
It was Dave Burgess, frontman of The Champs and president for Challenge Records Hollywood (originally formed by Gene Autry in 1957) that gave Gene Vincent the break he needed very badly in 1966. Gene's leg was hurting a lot, he was taking large doses of painkillers, and he was dying for a another hit record. With Bread's David Gates hired as arranger and backing vocalist, Gene recorded 12 songs in two sessions with The Champs. The Champs at that time were Al Casey (lead guitar), Glen Campbel (accoustic guitar), Dave Burgess (guitar), Jimmy Seals (tenor sax), Dash Croft (drums), and it is assumed that Larry Knechtal played keyboards, but this was never confirmed.
All material came from the 4 Star catalogue, a subsidiary of Challenge Records. The result was Gene's best work since his Capitol period. Gene's voice was as terrific as ever, and just take a look at the star line-up of musicians, this can only be a tremendous collection. The problem is that it isn't rockabilly or rock 'n' roll the way fans like to hear it today. But this was the mid-sixties, and pop music was changing rapidly. Many rock 'n' roll fans will often only play Gene's early Capitol work, which was of course the cream of the crops in the fifties, but true Gene Vincent fans, and all that have listened to these Challenge recordings, know that is was a work of art, and Gene's heart was in it all the way.
Most of the songs have been re-released numerous times on all kinds of sublabels and compilations, often in questionable sound quality, with album titles as "Legends in Music", "Mister Gene Vincent" and many, many more. Even Magnum Force themselves have released the original songs before on their album "Lonesome Fugitive". But now, for the first time, all of Gene Challenge recordings have been put together of one great release, compiled with the help of Steve Aynsley, who also wrote the liner notes. This album contains 20 tracks, which include the original 12 songs plus a number of alternate takes. Also present are Jerry Lee Merritt's recordings of his self-penned songs "Hurting For You Baby" and "Born To Be A Rolling Stone". Lots of studio talk and false starts were left in, which gives a nice impression of the releaxed atmosphere in the studio during the recording sessions.
Sadly, the hits were not to be, but the music is timeless and you can just feel the hurt in Gene's voice. Each and every songs still gives me the shivers today, this re-release is absolutely a valuable addition to any music collection, even if you already have all the original songs. These are surely my favourite Gene Vincent recordings from his post-Capitol period.
TKO Magnum Music Ltd.
Reviewed by The BlackCat, 2003