By Damian Fanelli
This story is part of our ongoing series about the 10 best backing bands of all time. We kicked things off last week with band No. 10 — The Band. (Check out that story here.)
Note that we kept our choices to backing bands with actual "names." These are groups we call "ampersand bands," since their name, in most of these cases, follows an ampersand or an "and" in the act's full name, such as John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers or Johnny and The Moondogs (neither of whom are included on this list).
So even though Bill Black and Scotty Moore kicked vintage ass as Elvis Presley's backing duo, the duo never had a name. And the talented gents who backed Roger Waters or Paul McCartney at the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief? No name. You get the idea.
We also tried to focus on bands that kept a core group of members intact over the years. For example, we'd consider Elvis Costello's Attractions (always the same three guys) over Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention (This Wikipedia page says it all).
On that note, here's band No. 8, the Blue Caps.
08. The Blue Caps
Of the major "named" backing bands of rock’s first generation — Buddy Holly’s Crickets, Bill Haley’s Comets, Johnny Burnette’s Rock n’ Roll Trio and Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps (We'll even include Johnny Cash's Tennessee Three) — the Blue Caps had a monopoly on super-serious chops. Among their lineup was — to quote Jeff Beck — the “demon-like” Cliff Gallup.
Gallup, whose playing and sound are perhaps best described as "ahead of their time," was a true pioneer who had a massive influence on the first wave of British Invasion players, particularly Beck, who incorporated Gallup’s lightning-fast triplet pull-offs into his own playing. Gallup's quick "slap-echo" delay, as heard on Bluejean Bop and Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, is still considered the gold standard sound for rockabilly guitarists.
The Blue Caps also included Willie Williams on rhythm guitar, Jack Neal on upright bass and Dickie Harrell on drums, a crew that could drive fans into a frenzy with relentless rockabilly beats as heard in “Jump Back, Honey, Jump Back,” “B-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go” and “Hold Me, Hug Me, Rock Me.”
Gallup, who left the band in 1956, was replaced by Russell Williford, followed by Johnny Meeks. He died in 1988.