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©1999, Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Interviewers: Rod Pyke and Bob Timmers


It could very well be ...
The True Story on How
"Be Bop A Lula" was Written

As told by "MG"


Photo believed to have been taken at Gene's first gig.

I was there...

Although I have no connections or even interest in Rock 'N Roll, I can shed a bit of light on the origins of the song "Be Bop A Lula." In 1954, while serving in the US Navy, I was injured in a motorcycle accident in Paleremo, Sicily. After treatment in an Army hospital in Germany, I was sent to the US Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, about February, 1955. While there, I was in a ward with Don Graves, and we subsequently met Gene. We were all under the care of Dr. Howard Sather, an orthopedic surgeon, who was originally from Joliet, IL. Once in braces, casts, etc., the three of us were basically ambulatory, and free to wander out of the ward. It was during one of these periods that Gene and Don worked out the song. Don was responsible for the lyrics, Gene the melody. I don't think either could actually score music, and at that time, don't believe Gene could play from sheet music.

The Admiral (whose name I have forgotten) responsible for the post was going to hold a party, and was looking for (cheap) entertainment. Gene was recommended, and while he was a hit with the guests, the Admiral was extremely upset, as he had expected an entirely different kind of music. The effect of the (negative) publicity brought Gene to the attention of Sheriff Tex, who completely overwhelmed both boys. They had already scored a version of "Race With the Devil," and it looked like a partnership had been formed. Sheriff Tex, quickly broke this up, and got both to sign contracts. Don received s few dollars in "royalties" for his work to that date, but never received any more funds. On the original record release, Sheriff Tex was credited as the lyricist.

Later that year, Gene was released, and I had gotten married and lived in an apartment near the hospital. Gene and Don were constant visitors, and when Gene and Ruth Ann separated, Gene lived with my wife and I occasionally for several months. He was still being treated on an out-patient basis at the hospital. Finally, both Don and I were discharged from the Navy, and along with my wife, went to Indiana. After a few months, Don returned to Mississippi, his birthplace, and enlisted in the Air Force. I was told by friends that he remained in the Air Force as a career airman. (ED NOTE: Don Graves is reported to in currently living in the Virginia area, still writing songs.) Sometime in the late fifties, I attended one of Gene's concerts at South Bend, IN, and upon meeting Gene, he said "Don't I know you from somewhere?" Although we both moved to Southern California in 1970, I never looked him up again, and I am sure he never knew I was living within a few miles of him. Sorry, but I do not recall who of the Blue Caps were on the show.



Any questions?

RABHOF: Why have you come forward now?
MG: I have no interest in publicity about the information regarding the authorship of the song. As you mentioned before, I am NOT a fan, and it was by pure serendipity that I located Gene's website, and further, read the posted history. Don Graves was once a good friend, and I wrote to see if I could get credit where credit was due. Nevertheless, I will do my best to remember details, but that was a long time ago, and brain fade increases!

RABHOF: Had you heard the name Gene Craddock before your hospital stay?
MG: I had not met either Don or Gene prior to being transferred to the Norfolk Naval Hospital. Dr. Sather was an interesting character in his own right. He had been drafted near the end of W.W.II, and served several years as an enlisted rate. Following his discharge, he attended college (I don't remember where) under the GI Bill, and while there, joined ROTC. He graduated right at the start of the Korean "conflict," and was again drafted into service, this time as an officer. Upon completing his required service, although still in the Reserves, he acquired his medical training. The Navy promptly drafted him again from the Reserves due to a shortage of orthopedic specialists. He used to joke that he was "forty" and never had a job, although in fact, he was concerned that he would be too old to practice by the time he was free of all military obligation. I suspect that he was a bit younger than that, but regardless, he would now be in mid-eighties. I had tried several times to locate him in the Joliet area some years after I left the Navy, but never heard from him again.

RABHOF: It appears that you all had something in common.
MG: Gene, Don, and I were all born in 1935, and all of us were in the hospital for leg injuries. I do not remember the cause of Don's injuries, but Gene and I were both from motorcycle accidents.

RABHOF: Did Gene and Don ever record any of their sessions?
MG: In those days "tape" was a tool of the studios, not of ordinary folk. If they would have had anything, it would more likely have been a "wire" recorder, but I don't think they had that, either. RCA was still cutting "Direct to Disc Masters."

RABHOF: Where did the song title come from? There are many stories out there.
MG: I certainly cannot comment about what was in Don's mind when he came up with the title phrase of the song. I have already mentioned Be Bop as an emerging musical term. This was also a period when every young person was striving to be "cool," and cool people used hip expressions, many of which only made sense to the user. If I were betting money on it, I would bet that there was more "loo loo" in the phrase than reference to a little girl in a comic strip.

RABHOF: It's a good thing they didn't forget what they had created, as musicians sometimes do when making up songs and not writing them down
MG: Many did not "read" music, so to learn a song, often lyrics were created and written on scraps of paper to establish the rhythm, and as a way to "remember" the tune. I am not about to tell you that this is how Dan and Gene created music, but they certainly saw others do this, and it may have played a part.

RABHOF: Since we've never heard about Don, only Gene, it appears Don didn't fit into the picture.
MG: I didn't see Sheriff Tex as a guy who was offering "contracts." Don and Gene were lacking any sophistication in Tex's world, and I am sure that you have heard the expression, "If you can't dazzle 'em with your brilliance, baffle 'em with your BS." Don became somewhat bitter about his treatment later on. I have no idea how things worked out with Tex and Gene.

RABHOF: What music were you guys listening to at the time?
MG: When I went overseas in late 1953, pop music was still being created by "Big Bands." Remember that "Rock Around the Clock" was released as a 78 RPM record, and was listed as a "Fox Trot." By mid-1955, Big Bands were fading, and a lot of "new" kinds of music was becoming popular. There was a fair amount of Folk, Country and Western was creeping near the Pop charts, and there were a lot of small groups, trios, quartets, etc., many of which played jazz tunes, in a style known then by many as "Bop" or "Be Bop." A lot more "vocal" and less instrumental music was being played on many radio stations. A few weeks, as I recall, before the Admiral's party, Louis Armstrong and the Nat King Cole Trio appeared in a joint concert in Norfolk. I don't know if you have ever heard Nat King Cole sing, but a lot of people in Norfolk did NOT know he was not white. The reason I point this out, is I seem to recall hearing that the Admiral liked the music, but .... this was the South before integration. It would not be surprising for Sheriff Tex to be aware of the party. Portsmouth and Norfolk were "Navy" towns, and everybody knew what Admirals said!

Try to imagine this, while you are recovering from injury/illness, etc., you are restricted to quarters, except for weekend passes, because the Navy has deemed you "unfit" to return to duty. A lot of guys played a musical instrument, and in the barracks (Not in the wards, where patients were truly ill) many impromptu jam sessions were held, their "color" base upon the musician. By that, I mean Pop, Country, even Jazz. Bystanders (who appreciated the music of the moment) might beat out the tempo with any convenient tool, and may even have played a part in creating "clapper boys."

RABHOF: What kept you three busy in the hospital?
MG: A word about our condition at that time. All of us were in the process of "reconstructive" surgeries. In the Navy, you are either totally fit for sea duty, or you are unfit, but unlike civilian hospitals, they don't send you home. As a result, much of the time, we were just hanging around (unfit) waiting for the next process, or healing from the last. To keep from total boredom, we took small jobs around the hospital. For example, I worked in the library, washed ambulances, and sometimes operated the small boats that connected the hospital in Portsmouth with the Navy piers across the river in Norfolk, while I underwent three reconstructive surgeries. It is impossible to comment on "pronounced limp," as that condition was directly related to treatments. I have no idea what, if any, light duty jobs were held by Gene. Don, however, did sometimes act as a jailer in the hospital brig ward. It was located in the basement, and sometimes we would go down when Don was on duty, and play card games in any empty cell. The hospital had its origins as a fort, and in a sub-basement below the brig ward, were dungeon-like rooms with manacles on the walls. My marriage in March of 1956 allowed me to "go home" at night, and escape the barracks, but also establish a place where shipmates could go, other than the usual hangouts.

RABHOF: Any talk of amputating Gene's leg?
MG: Although I cannot speak with authority, I would guess that Gene, like myself and Don, had to consider amputation. Dr. Sather would have taken that as a personal defeat, however, and he worked very hard to "repair" his patients to the maximum of his ability. Remember that this was some years before joint replacement became commonplace for similar injuries. After Don joined the Air Force, we only corresponded a few times. I do not think that he ever got married. What I do recall is that his grandfather was quite wealthy, having made his money in auto parts. His father, on the other hand, was content to drink his inheritance, and never worked. While Don was with us in Indiana, late in 1956, Don's father sold the title to Don's 1950 Buick Special. The local Sheriff, who was a friend, told us that the new lien holder had a warrant for the recovery of the car, but allowed Don to drive the car back to Mississippi to try and resolve the problem. I don't remember Don talking about any other family members. The last time I talked to him was in the mid sixties. He was at an air base in New England, and was about to take delivery of a new Jaguar XKE.

RABHOF: Typical boys, interested in cars. Gene sure loved those T-Birds.
MG: Before the "British Invasion" of small cars in the mid-fifties, most of us were impressed with "big" Detroit offerings. As for myself, at that time, drove a DeSoto. While in the hospital, however, I fell in love with a MG (1500TF). (My initials!) It proved to expensive for military pay, so settled later for a less costly Triumph TR2. Don also caught the fever, so the Jag was no surprise.

RABHOF: You mentioned that you and Don remained buddies
MG: Just an observation here. I don't know if any of you have spent time in the military, but there is a subtle difference in relationships as compared to civilian. Because your life can depend upon your shipmate, friendships are quickly and firmly made, however, upon transfer, discharge, etc., these same friendships are often just as easily forgotten, as you move on to the "next" friend. Such is the case here, although Don and I had a special relationship that lasted longer than most.

RABHOF: Can you remember any more about the hospital?
MG: In 1956, the Norfolk Naval Hospital was a large facility that provided primary care for the Sixth Fleet. As I remember, there we about 3000 staff members, and approximately 5000 patients. Dr. Sather had surgical patients on Ward 20, post surgical or Ward 22. Ambulatory, and recovering patients were housed in barrack like outbuildings. People of similar ages and problems tended to hang together, thus Don, Gene, and I. There were several others who might have been present at about that time, but I don't know if they knew Gene. I recently became curious if the hospital still existed, and started an Internet search of US Navy web sites. The hospital does still exist, and does have a site, and their history is posted at: http://www-nmcp.med.navy.mil/NMCPHistory/main.htm - You may find it of personal interest. The article speaks of reconstruction in 1955, but I do not think actual ground breaking began until after 1956. I also was able to refresh my memory on the Admiral's name: RADM Sterling S. Cook.

RABHOF: What was Ruth Ann Hand like?
MG: The closest I ever got to Ruth Ann was to see her in a car. We never met. My impression at the time, however, is that a whole new world was opening up for Gene, and it was difficult to make her a part of it. Gene never talked much about family. He used to joke about living in Craddock, which was a small community near Portsmouth, as a sort of birthright.

RABHOF: Ever have your photo taken with Gene?
MG: My wife and I divorced in 1973, and any photos are long since gone. I do not recall any specific ones of Gene, although he may have been included in a group photo.

RABHOF: How was that Indiana concert were you met Gene again?
MG: I have absolutely no clear memory of the concert at South Bend. I am not exactly sure where it was held, but I suspect at Notre Dame, as I did go to various musical concerts held there. I did not forget that Gene failed to recognize me!

RABHOF: Did you recover from your injuires? Guess you know Gene never did.
MG: Regarding my recovery. The simple answer is not completely, the end, it had little to do with how I lived my life, and what I was able to accomplish. I was not a dispatch rider, just an overeager kid inept on the cobblestone roads in the mountains of Italy when I was injured.

RABHOF: What was it like in Navy in 1955 and what's a "tin can" we often heard mentioned?
MG: The term "Tin Can" is a reference to a class of war ship, a Destroyer, or DD, which reportedly had a battle life equivalent to a tin can in World War II. DDR referred to Destroyer/Radar, and in addition to our escort duties, also became an extension of the DEW line (Distant Early Warning). If you are 55, your probably remember our paranoia over whether the Russians had better German Rocket scientists than we.

To give you another perspective, the Navy at that time was an all volunteer service that accepted seventeen year olds. (One year earlier than any other branch of the US military) The notation of "born in 1935" was not an idle one. That generation graduated from high school into the heat of the Korean conflict. Perhaps we had seen to many John Wayne movies, which were filled with calls to civic duty, or perhaps we simply wanted to escape a bad home, or perhaps become a "hero," but for us this was not to be. The entire group of names that I gave you were people that enlisted right out of school and into basic training, only to hear that a cease fire had been declared mid way through the training. Although the treaty was not signed until a year later, it was obvious that we would have never been drafted, and would not have had to serve at all. Not that we were any less patriots, mind you, but all we had in store was four years of boring patrol in the midst of the cold war. Everyone, therefore, looked outside of the Navy for youthful excitement, and might explain some of our actions.

RABHOF: Anything else you'd like to say before we close the interview?
MG: As an afterthought, I should have read the material on Gene's site before I contacted the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Needless to say, I am absolutely amazed at the material you have collected, never mind the fame that Gene had acquired. For Bob and Rod's I salute you both.

I have another thought on the relevance of Rear Admiral Cook's party. The point was, the poor Admiral's world had been turned upside down. He had attended a concert of "white" music, to find it sung by a black man, King Cole. A few days later, the "white" singer (Gene) recommended to him by staff, sung what was then regarded as "black" music at his party!

I believe that a musician upsetting the status quo was an attraction to promoters like flowers to a bee. In my recollection, one approached Gene. The story of Gene as a waif hanging around the studio is a great story, but I doubt this happened until he had painted a picture of the future that Gene could not resist. No doubt Gene did hang around later, waiting for this future to materialize. But that was long ago and very far away, and I have already pleaded brain fade.

RABHOF: Thank you for sharing this story with us and the many Rockabilly Hall of Fame readers around the world.
MG: You are welcome. I hope this has been of some interest. But again, I stress that I am looking for no personal recognition or desire contact by anyone else, but in reading the ambiguity of the song's origins, felt I could corroborate the correct version. Please keep in mind that this was a long time ago, and not something that I have thought about in years! For your info, I still play my music on a record player, mostly big band and classical guitar.






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