In February 1968, Gene Vincent performed for one week at the Frontier Club. The appearances proved so popular that Vincent returned for a two week long residency in March 1968. Gene, and his wife Jackie, attended the Frontier Club (owned by Dick and Marlene Povliski) a fortnight earlier to finalise arrangements for the forthcoming shows. One of the two groups to back Gene during this stint were a local band called The Nitelife.
The Nitelife were formed in 1959, comprising of : John 'Boots' Varholdt-vocals, Mike Moriarty- Guitar, Russell Peterson-bass guitar and Rick Heaton-drums. Although the group never contributed their material to vinyl, singer- John Varholdt, released a solo single during 1965-1966 on the Twintown label: 'Sugar Shack'/ 'I'll Make It Up To You', both covered later by Jimmy Gilmer and Jerry Lee Lewis respectively.
The Nitelife were contracted to play on a one week per month basis at the Frontier, for the princely sum of $25 a night. They backed many star names of that time, including: Lonnie Mack, Joey Dee and Buddy Knox. Typical stage gear worn by the group throughout their tenure, were white shirts and black tuxedos ; at one point they wore trendy, Jawaharlal Nehru robes!
John Varholdt recalls his first introduction to Gene Vincent, and the preparations for the shows:
I was in there early one Sunday, setting up for our matinee show. Dick called me over and said 'i'd like to have you meet Gene Vincent'.I said 'oh gee, this is gonna be quite an honour.' We rehearsed very little, and worked out his material beforehand. When he came up two weeks later, and told us what tempo to do the songs- everything jelled. He could lead the band instead of the band leading him-Gene set the pace. Long-time Vincent fan, Tony Flores, had just got of the army, and learnt of the gig through his girlfriend. Tony had first seen Vincent perform ten years earlier with the Bluecaps.
I saw him play on a Sunday afternoon, his last night at the Frontier. He wore black leather pants, a medallion, and a Roman type shirt with ruffles at the front-he would change his shirt for each set. The Nitelife would start playing- fifteen minutes later, they would announce 'Capitol recording star-Gene Vincent.'
During week days, Gene would perform his fifteen minute set, four times a night to an audience of 200 people. On weekends, this was increased to six shows, starting from 1 in the afternoon ; until 1 in the morning. A typical set would begin with 'Lotta' Lovin', and go on to feature Vincent's familiar Capitol and Challenge recordings : 'Rocky Road Blues', 'Dance To The Bop', 'Baby Blue', 'Be- Bop- A- Lula' (1958 & 1962 versions) and 'Hi Lilli - Hi Lo'.Gene would also sing a selection of songs that he never recorded, including: 'That'll Be The Day', 'Green Green Grass Of Home', and a Beatles medley.
Gene, would often extend his set, and was open to requests and questions from the audience. He still incorporated a wild stage act, and had the lead guitarist- bend down on his knees, in classic Bluecaps fashion.
I talked to him a little, and asked him to do 'Blues Stay Away From Me'. He was real soft spoken-real polite.I asked him where he'd been, he said he'd been working overseas an awful lot. Gene drank a beer once in a while - that was about it.He was surprised that a lot of his records in the UK didn't make it over here- he didn't really understand that they never released a lot of stuff.
Gene put his heart and soul into those shows, and was up on everything that was on the market place. He was a super person, there was a lot of laughter and humour.I never saw him drinking anything other than a Cola. He did a fabulous show-people loved him.
The Nitelife continued playing until the mid 70's. Russell Peterson and John Varholdt played together in various bands through the 80's and early 90's.The Frontier club burnt down several years later, the site is now an Armed Forces Military Base.
Thanks to Tony Flores and John Varholdt. Photos from the collection of Tony Flores.
Extracts from 'Sweet Gene Vincent ('The Bitter End') by Steven Mandich - to be published early next year by Orange Syringe Publications.
I would like to hear from anyone who was connected with, or saw Gene perform between 1969-1971.
Please Write To :
Orange Syringe Publications
PO Box 26203