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Story Behind The Song: Vince Taylor – Brand New Cadillac

todayFebruary 7, 2024 1

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Inspiring three hit covers and an acclaimed version by The Clash, Brand New Cadillac was a B-side that became a classic, while the life of its writer – Vince Taylor –  came apart at the seams… Words by Douglas McPherson

There’s something timeless about Vince Taylor’s Brand New Cadillac. When this writer first heard it as a young rockabilly fan he would have readily believed it was a neo-rockabilly track cut in the 80s, and was surprised to learn it actually dated from 1959.

CLASSIC STATUS

Maybe it’s the slurred, snarly vocal that gives it a post-punk feel, and perhaps it was that quality that resonated with The Clash when they covered it on their London Calling album in 1979.

One reason why it’s not immediately associated with the 50s, however, is that it was never a hit in that era – or at any other time, in the case of Taylor’s version. Released as the B-side of a single that made no ripples, it crept gradually into the collective consciousness of rock’n’roll fans over time, gaining classic status by stealth.

LEATHER-CLAD ROCKER

Taylor himself was never a hitmaker, much less a household name. An enigmatic, chain-twirling, leather-clad rocker, he had a mesmerising stage presence that was witnessed by far too few. As Van Morrison sang in Goin’ Down Geneva in 1999, “Vince Taylor used to live here/ No one’s even heard of him/ Just who he was/ Just where he fits in”.

Born Brian Maurice Holden in Isleworth, Middlesex, his parents moved to the United States when he was seven years old, raising him in New Jersey and California. When he arrived in London in 1958 he presented himself as an American and it was only when he produced his passport for a trip to France in the 60s that his English nationality was revealed.

Rock’n’roll was exploding, and when Taylor walked into its London epicentre – the 2i’s coffee bar in Soho – with his Elvis-like looks and American accent, he must have seemed like the real deal. Tommy Steele was on stage and Taylor quickly connected with some of the musicians present, including later Shadows drummer Tony Meehan. They formed a band called The Playboys and Taylor took the stage name Vince from the slogan on a packet of Pall Mall cigarettes: ‘In hoc signo vinces’.

Quickly snapped up by Parlophone Records, Taylor was given a crack studio band including later Shadows members Brian Bennett on drums and Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking on bass.

brand new cadillac label

CLASSIC ROCK

Although Taylor calls to “Scotty” for a solo on Brand New Cadillac, it’s not Elvis’ Scotty Moore on guitar but Joe Moretti who would shortly after provide t he classic axe work on Shakin’ All Over by Johnny Kidd And The Pirates. Moretti was Scottish, so Taylor was presumably using his nickname rather than implying that Moore was on the record.

Sadly, Taylor lacked the voice to match his charisma and although he pulled out a coruscating performance on his self-penned Cadillac, it was buried on the B-side of a pallid cover of Johnny Ace’s Pledging My Love that understandably failed to grab anyone’s attention. Other singles for Parlophone and Palette fared no better though I Like Love and Jet Black Machine are worth seeking out.

FRENCH CONNECTION

With his records doing nothing in the UK, Taylor headed for France where his Elvis-like style made him an
in-demand live performer. In one of his most striking shows, at Les Folies Pigalle in 1962, he revved a motorbike on stage while a stripper sat on his shoulders shedding her clothes.

Brand New Cadillac, meanwhile, went on to enjoy a life of its own when it was covered in a strikingly different mod-style arrangement by Birmingham band The Renegades. The Brum group gained little attention at home but became huge stars in Finland where they wore US Cavalry outfits and took Taylor’s song – now titled just Cadillac – to No.2 on the Finnish pop chart in 1964.

Swedish group Hep Stars copied The Renegades’ groovy arrangement for their own cover of the song, which topped the charts in Sweden and Norway in ’65  – aided by scintillating organ work from Benny Andersson, who went on to form Abba. A third cover by Swedish band Shamrocks was a hit in France, Germany and Japan.

While others were enjoying hits with his song, Taylor’s mental health was deteriorating and he blew many of the breaks he was given with his erratic behaviour on stage and off.

His sister Sheila married Joe Barbera of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon production team. Barbera was interested in signing Vince to a record label he was starting, but Taylor arrived at a showcase gig in Paris high on LSD claiming to be the Son of God. He was taken away in an ambulance.

GENEVA CONVENTION

By the 80s, Taylor had swapped rock’n’roll for the calmer life of an aircraft mechanic in Switzerland, hence the Geneva connection in Morrison’s song. He died there in 1991, aged 52.

But although Taylor was not so much forgotten as never known in the first place by the wider public, he made a bizarre contribution to the musical world as the inspiration for the unearthly title character of David Bowie’s classic 1972 album, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

CULT HERO

“I met him a few times in the mid-60s and went to a few parties with him,” Bowie told Alan Yentob in a 1997 BBC TV documentary. “He was out of his gourd. Totally flipped. The guy was not playing with a full deck at all.

“He used to carry maps of Europe around with him. I remember him opening a map outside Charing Cross tube station, putting it on the pavement and kneeling down with a magnifying glass. He pointed out all the sites where UFOs were going to land.”

Part cult hero, part rock’n’roll tragedy, Vince Taylor remains a shadowy spectre on the fringes of the scene, but in Brand New Cadillac he left us one of the genre’s most indelible tracks.

Check out the Vince Taylor catalogue here

Read The Soundtrack Of My Life – Brian “Licorice” Locking

 

The post Story Behind The Song: Vince Taylor – Brand New Cadillac appeared first on Vintage Rock.

Written by: Vintage Rock

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