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By Russell Williford, Jr.
Russell Williford was born April 2, 1933 in Dunn, North Carolina. His family moved to Norfolk, Virginia soon after WWII started because of the work and shipyards there. When he was ten years old, Russell taught himself how to play guitar.
He served in Korea from 1953-55, and there he played with Roger Miller on a radio show in Seoul for the soldiers. In fact, Russell still has a rare, unrecorded reel-to-reel Roger Miller song from their days together in Korea.
When he came back to Norfok, he played at local clubs and met Tex Davis. In those days Russell played a 1953 Fender Squire, and he and Cliff Gallup had a reputation as being the hottest guitar players in the area. When Cliff left The Blue Caps, Tex asked Russell if he would meet Gene Vincent in Washington, DC for a show at the Casino Royale and then go to Hollywood with him to do the movie "The Girl Can't Help It."
When they arrived at the Los Angeles airport, they met Elvis Presley and took pictures with him. After doing the movie they played the Shrine Auditorium in Hollywood and the Paladium in San Diego. Then they went east to Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and into Canada. After that, Gene took some time off; the record label wanted Cliff to do the next album, but Gene came back to Russell to go with him to Las Vegas where they played until they had to cancel the last few shows due to Gene's leg problems.
In 1957, while Gene was healing, Russell put his own band together called Russ and the Go Boys (later changed to The Go Boys), and around 1959 they recorded some songs in Washington, DC. Russell and the boys played the Baltimore/Washington, DC area, and there he met and became friends with Roy Clark of "Hee Haw" fame, Jimmy Dean of "Big John" fame (as well as the "Sausage King"), and Charlie Daniels.
Later, in 1961, Go Boys evolved into The Palisades, and in 1961-62 they played the world-famous Copacabana in New York City, where they played shows with Wayne Newton. They also made a few recordings; their biggest hit was "Lean Hornet," which got moderate airplay. Russell was well known on the East Coast and was called to fill in at shows in the 1960s for Patsie Cline, Lefty Frizzell, and Tommy Cash.
Russell would not see Gene again until early 1971, when Gene walked into a club that Russell was playing in Norfolk and got up on stage and did three or four rockin' songs. Afterwards he gave Russell a copy of his new album on Karma Sutra records and asked Russell if he would join him if Gene could get the Blue Caps back together. The Palisades ten-year run was nearing its end, so Russell agreed to join him. But Gene died a few months later.
After the Palisades broke up in 1972, Russell moved to Nashville and played the Grand Ole Opry with Tex Ritter. Playing the Grand Ole Opry nearly every week, he played with Little Jimmy Dickens, Jean Shepard, the Wilburn Brothers, Justin Tubb, and others. He also toured with Tex and did some session work with him, and from 1977-1979 he joined Stonewall Jackson and played with him as well.
Russell has always been a songwriter and has written hundreds of songs. He had a moderate hit in 1977 with "Walk Out on Me," sung by Charlie Borchert, bass player for Stonewall and cousin of Bobby Borchert. In 1981 he moved back to Norfolk where he has been writing songs and playing music till today. Dickie Harrell and Jack Neal have come out to hear him play, and the three of them still remain good friends. Recently, Russell made an instrumental CD, called "Pickin' & Pedalin'," which includes a Gene Vincent medley featuring "Bee-Bop-a-Lula."
- Russell Williford JR - Rustywilli@aol.com
RUSSELL DRAUGHON WILLIFORD INTERVIEW
Introduction - the following interview took place in 1991 when Steve Aynsley, Roger Nunn, John Braley and myself (Robert Erskine) ran The Gene Vincent Fan Club. My responsibility, within the club, was to contact people associated with Gene, mostly in the USA. The 'Git It' magazine stopped being issued around 1990/91 and the following interview, which I collated, was never published. The interview was in the form of a questionnaire which Russell replied to via cassette tape. So little, even today, is know about Russell and as you will read he has been very active in the music business, since his time with Gene.
1 RE What is your full name and spell surname?
RW My full name is Russell Draughon Williford
2 RE Date of Birth?
RW April 2nd 1933
3 RE Place of birth?
RW North Carolina
4 RE How did you become interested in music?
RW Back in the 40's my father had a radio, a battery radio and we used to pick up the
Grand Old Opry on a Saturday night. I used to listen to that.
5 RE Who were you influenced by?
RW At that time Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe. They were two of the biggest ones back in
the early 40's.
6 RE When did you become interested in Rock N Roll?
RW I guess in 1955 when it all started. Bill Haley, Elvis and of course Fats Domino and
then along came Gene Vincent.
7 RE What age did you take up the guitar?
RW I guess I was about 10 years old when I started playing the guitar.
8 RE In what group were you playing when Bill Davis approached you to fly to Los
Angeles to appear in the 'Girl Can't Help It'?
RW I was working with a group called The Sunset Valley Boys and the leader
of the group was Carolina Charlie who was one of the leading D Js round here
for years on WCMS radio.
9 RE How did Bill Davis know of you?
RW Well I guess it was through Carolina Charlie who also worked at WCMS.
10 RE Were you a regular around WCMS Radio Station at this time?
RW No, I'd been there several times but I didn't really have anything to do with
11 RE Where were you living at this time?
RW I was living in Portsmouth, Virginia, the same area that Gene Vincent came from.
12 RE Did you know Gene or any of The Blue Caps before meeting them in LA?
RW I'd heard of Gene and I knew his record was doing good but I'd never met him. I
had met Dickie Harrell before and a couple of other guys in the band but I didn't
know any of them really personally.
13 RE How long did your association with Gene and The Caps last?
RW Well I don't really know how long it was. When I flew out to California, of course
we did the movie and then we played the Palladium out there in San Diego and
then we drove back and did some shows in Pennsylvania. We drove up to
Canada, to Toronto and the Ford Theatre. We did two or three weeks and then
I left Gene. It must have been six months later Gene called me and asked me
did I want to go out to Vegas with him and at this time he was going to use two
guitar players. He had Rabid Neverley who lives here in Portsmouth too, he was
going to play guitar and so was I. We all left and drove out to Vegas and worked
the Sands Hotel out there. I think we worked three weeks and Gene's leg
started hurting real bad and we had to cancel the last date. My association with
him was quite a while and I really enjoyed working with Gene.
14 RE Quite a number of photographs exist of your time with Gene. Those which
spring to mind are:-
a. A session at Ken Nelson's home
b. A publicity session at 20th Century Fox
c. Photos from the actual film itself.
a and b were probably taken by Ken Veeder. Can you recollect any other photo sessions?
RW Yes, one I have in mind and I'll always remember is when we were going out to
California to 'The Girl Can't Help It'. As we were getting off the plane Elvis was
leaving Los Angeles and we met him on the ramp and he and Gene talked for a
few minutes and Gene introduced all the band to Elvis and we shook hands
with him and there were pictures being taken all this time. So I guess thats one of
the most notable ones I really remember.
15 RE Do you have any other photos from this time?
RW No I don't. The one you sent is the only one I have. I really wish I had collected all
the stuff we did.
16 RE How did you get on with Gene and the Caps. Was it fun?
RW Yes, we all got along great and Gene was great to work with. He was a real good
friend of mine and like when we were going out to Vegas we would stop out in
the desert have fun and he was never in a hurry and made sure everyone had a
17 RE What are your memories of the actual filming?
RW Well the thing about it, it took so long about four hours to film our whole part. They
kept doing it over and over and I couldn't believe it would take that long to film.
18 RE Have you any funny stories from this period?
RW No I don't have any but I'm sure there were plenty of them. We were always
19 RE Did you see any other artists who appeared in the film?
RW No we didn't see anyone. We all filmed at different times. We did see Jayne
Mansfield in the Twentieth Century Fox cafeteria. She was the only one we
20 RE Can you give ma any reminiscences of Bill Davis and Red Gwynn?
RW Yes, Bill Davis is a very likeable person. He was a good manager for Gene and a
real business man. Bill and I are still great friends. He was A & R man at
Monument Records in Nashville and I was in Nashville about two years ago and
did some session work for Bill.
As of Red Gwynn I never knew Red that much. I had met him but didn't really
know him that well.
21 RE Were you disappointed that the film sequence of Be Bop a Lula was edited to
RW Yes, I was. I feel that Gene got slighted in the movie compared to the rest of the
artists and Gene at that time was really bit and doing great and they showed just
a few little clips of him while the other artists that weren't as well know as Gene
got a lot more film time.
22 RE Was Tommy Facenda friendly with Gene at this time?
RW Yes, they were always hanging out together. He wasn't in the band at this time but
they were real close.
23 RE Did you get to know Eddie Cochran?
RW No, I never met Eddie. I think we did a show with him in Pennsylvania but I never
met him personally.
24 RE Did Gene become particularly friendly with Eddie at this time?
RW Yes, they always seemed to be real good friends and I think when they went to
England they became greater friends.
25 RE When you were brought in to appear in the film was it on the understanding that it
was a 'ONE OFF' deal or were you told that if you proved satisfactory musically
you would replace Cliff Gallup in the group?
RW No, when they called me to got to California to do the film there was not talk of a
deal or prove satisfactory. There was nothing like that.
26 RE When and how did you decide to leave Gene?
RW Well, it was just an agreement between me and Gene. When we left Toronto,
Canada Gene took a little time off. His leg was real bad and at this time I had
just got out of the service and bought a new guitar and I was kind of wanting to
stay round the Portsmouth area and I guess it was a mutual agreement. As I
said before a few months later I did go back with Gene and went to Vegas with
27 RE Were you aware that your photo appeared on some LP covers with Gene?
RW Yes, I've seen some of those.
28 RE What did you do when you went back home i.e. did you play professionally?
RW Yes, I did, I played in night clubs round the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area and I
played six nights a week. I've always been in music and that all I've ever done.
29 RE Did you stay in touch with any of the Caps? I know that you are friendly with Jack
RW Yes, Dickie Harrell and I are real good friends. We see each other every once
in a while. He still works round in the Norfolk area, a couple of nights a week and
I think he has his own group.
30 RE Did you follow Gene's career?
RW Yes, I did try and keep up with Gene but once he went to England for such a
long time I didn't hear quite so much about him over here in the U S. I did hear
good reports of him. Like I say I saw him later on in the 60's.
31 RE Any other comments or reminiscences on your Blue Cap connection?
RW Yes, there is a lot. I think we played a show in Stratford P.A. and we couldn't leave
the front of the building, the kids were screaming, we had to duck out the back
and they were chasing us as if we were stars instead of just musicians. They
had us signing autographs and then started to tear our clothes off. So all along
we had a great time. It was a great era.
32 RE How did you meet Dudley Callicut?
RW Well that involves quite a long story. I was working a night club in Washington
D.C. and Rudi Callicut, Dudley's cousin was a producer up there. He also worked
in the Pentagon, he cut hair there, a barber who cut Generals' hair. We met
Dudley through Rudi.
33 RE How long did you play with the Go-Boys?
RW Well I guess probably around three years. We played clubs in Washington
and cut a bunch of records up there. Also we played along the east coast and
different clubs. Rudi booked a lot of shows for us but mostly it was just night
34 RE We know that the GoBoys recorded 'Heart Trouble', 'Get Ready Baby' and
'Ramble'. Were there any other recordings made?
RW Yes, we made a few more but to tell you the truth I don't know what they were.
I cut quite a few records when I was in Washington but I never kept the
material that I did.
35 RE From 1960 can you fill me in with the Russell Williford story i.e. details of family,
what employment you had and what you work at now?
RW In the early 60's we formed this group called The Palisades, the leader of the
group was Rudi Wesley who was an outstanding singer. We did all kinds of
music. All the top stuff like Bobby Darin, Gene and worked some of the biggest
clubs in the United States. We worked the Copacabana Club in New York City
which was at that time the most popular club in the U S. We were booked two
weeks but stayed for seven and at this time Wayne Newton, one of the biggest
acts in Vegas was working opposite us.
We also worked the east coast a lot of places like Wildwood, New Jersey in the
Manor Hotel there. It was the biggest supper club on the east coast. We were
there for a month. We also repeated at the Copa again in 62 or 63. We were there
for seven more weeks. Then in 1964 we worked the famous Peppermint Lounge
for four weeks and were also the backing band for other artist. At this time too we
worked in Greenwich Village.
The Palisades stayed together for close to ten years and split up in the late 60's.
In 1962 I got married and have four boys. Two of them are now in Nashville with
their mother and two are here in Virginia Beach with me.
In the early 70's I moved my family to Nashville, Tennessee and the first couple of
weeks a friend of mine who plays guitar got me a job with the Great Tex Ritter who
is now passed away and I did some shows with him
Then I went to work with the great Stonewall Jackson in 1974. I did the Opry and
then I left Stonewall and played with a lot of groups out of Nashville for about
In 1978 I went back to Stonewall and worked with him for two years. I ran the band
for Stonewall. I did all the hiring and firing. This was all left up to me.
My greatest thrill was working the Grand Old Opry for two years and it is a great
thrill to walk out on to that stage realising all the other great people who have been
there before you.
I left Stonewall again in 1980 and me and some of the men who fronted
Stonewall put our own band together and cut a couple of records which did fairly
good for us. We worked out of Nashville and round the Florida Keys a lot
especially the Holiday Island Hotel. We worked this club for a couple of years
on and off.
In 1984/85 I came back here to Norfolk, Virginia and I work the clubs around here
5/6 nights a week. I still get the urge at times to go back to Nashville.
36 RE Did you know that the Blue Caps occasionally perform and have appeared on
three tours to the U K in the last ten years? Dickie Harrell and Paul Peek would be
the ones still in the band known to you.
RW Yes, I had heard they have been over on tour and that they had a great time. I
know of Johnny Meeks. I don't know him but he is a fine guitar player.
37 RE I take it that you know Cliff Gallup passed on a couple of years ago. How did you
rate his guitar playing?
RW I was really shocked when I hear that Cliff had died. He was very young still and I
rate his guitar playing as one of the best. he was a very fine guitar player who had
a style of his own. His playing was very clean and was ahead of his time in his
38 RE Although Gene's career faded early in the States he remained very popular in
Europe and the U K. Were you aware of this and also that the name of Russell
Williford is very familiar to British and European Rock N Roll fans and collectors?
RW I knew Gene was really popular in Europe and I was very pleased that he did so
great over there. As for me its an honor to think that people know of me. I
would like to say Hi to the fans who know of me over there and I appreciate the
fans are still behind the great Gene Vincent.
39 RE Can you repeat the story told to me in your letter of Gene in 1970 coming to the
club you were playing at in Virginia Beach and singing a few numbers with your
RW Yes, I was working this club I was telling you about withe the Palisades and I was
shocked to see Gene walk in, oh I guess it had been twelve years and I don't know
how he found out where I was playing at. It was great to see him and he came up
to sing several songs with us and stayed around till we finished that night and we
went off together and had breakfast together and we talked a long time and
reminisced about old things and he was telling me he would like to put The Blue
Caps back together and he asked me would I be interest in going back out on the
road and doing some shows because at that time the 50's bands were coming
back strong, Chuck Berry and a bunch of others out working clubs and shows
again, it was coming back pretty strong, so I told him I would be really interested,
so he said he would see me in about six months and about six months later he
came back a second time and he said he was working on things and getting things
ready, they were going out to California and he would be getting back in touch
with me but meanwhile this was about 71. I moved to Nashville, Tennessee the
same place as his ex-manager Bill Davis was at, at Monument Records and I was
there and Bill called me one day and told me that Gene had passed away that he
had died on the operating table from a bleeding ulcer. I was really shocked
because I was looking forward to working again with Gene. He seemed so
enthused over it and I think he could have come back strong in the States but his
untimely death took that away.
40 RE This story tells me you still play music. Are you still playing gigs and if so what
king of music do you play?
RW Right now we are playing top 40 country stuff. Of course we play a variety of stuff,
we play some 50's stuff, we still do that but the majority of that is the modern
41 RE When and how did you hear of Gene's death?
RW As I said I hear it from Bill Davis as I was in Nashville and he told me of Gene's
42 RE It is amazing to think that 'THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT' was 35 years ago and in fact
Gene is 20 years dead this year! Would you say life's been good to you. Any
RW Yes, I would say life's been good to me. I have four wonderful sons - Rusty,
Ricky, Robbie and Randy and we always have a wonderful time playing music and
I really enjoyed my time with Gene and I've played all over in the United States,
Canada and as I said I worked some of the biggest clubs in the U S and I've
backed up so many artists on the Opry.
I guess the only regrets I really have is that Gene died before we could get back
together as he planned it when he came back in 70. I think we could have topped
it off with The Blue Caps going again. I think we could have taken the States by
Yes he had great ideas of what he wanted to do and it's just a shame he had to
pass away so darn young.
While I'm closing here I would like to thank you personally Robert. Its been my
pleasure doing it and I really appreciate what you are doing over there keeping
Gene's name alive and you just wouldn't believe things are still going strong after
all these years. It takes people like you to do these things and I hope in the future
I can come over there, work with a group and play a tour with you. I'd really love
that and once again 'THANKS A LOT'.
Posted July, 2009 - © Rockabilly Hall of Fame ¨