Vince Eager was a British Pop star of the late 1950s. Promoted by Larry Parnes, Vince Eager toured with all the greats, including Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Billy Fury and Jerry Lee Lewis. He even portrayed Elvis in a stage play of the same name.
We spoke with Vince Eager about the Pop music and Rock and Roll music scene in England in the late 1950s.
Q - Vince, when you were portraying Elvis, were you playing the Elvis of the Las Vegas period?
A - Yeah. The old Elvis. We did three Elvis' in the production. There was the mature Elvis. There was the middle Elvis, who was sort of (from the) King Creole years. And then there was young Elvis, who was the redneck and the boy who sang at state fairs in and around Memphis. It was a great role. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I did it for maybe six years.
Q - Packed houses every night I would imagine.
A - Yeah. We did big business. It got Best Musical Of The Year over here. An award called The Sir Lawrence Olivier Award in 1979. Best musical in the West End of London. It had a lot of pedigree and street creed. It was produced by a very well known producer. He was revered. It did very big business.
Q - Larry Parnes was instrumental in propelling your career forward, wasn't he?
A - Well yeah, because he was the main player in British Pop between '56 onward. He managed Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Joe Brown. The only two he didn't handle was Adam Faith and Cliff Richard of the really big players.
Q - His luck probably changed in 1964, didn't it?
A - Well, yeah. He turned down The Beatles. He said groups would never make it. Anybody who really knew what they were doing should have known anybody could have made it. You had singin' postmen. You had people from all walks of life that were making it. So, you can never say never. He missed out on a lot of artists. He was into the solo artist. The fact that he was gay, he preferred to handle people one to one as opposed to four of five of 'em.
Q - Your name was originally Roy Taylor.
A - That's right.
Q - That's a pretty simple, easy name. Why did Larry Parnes feel the need to change it?
A - Well, he felt the need to change everybody's name. I guess when you're young, how many of us like our name? I think most people would say, particularly when they're young, oh, I'd love to change my name, even if you'd be called Elvis Presley and someone said Elvis Presley is an awful name. That was the sort of thing that happened. With me, I wasn't too concerned about changing my name. He had Marty Wilde, Tommy Steele, Billy Fury, Dickie Pride. He always chose, with everybody else but not with me 'cause I chose it, chose friendly, boy-next-door names. He chose Marty Wilde because of Ernest Borgnine in the movie Marty. Marty was a very soft, gentle guy in the movie. He was actually quite good at names. I knew everybody of course who he gave the names to and they all suited their names. Probably Dickie Pride not so much because he got into drugs and was not really his true character. I thought the names were very good, apart from mine. Mine was the only one that started with a vowel and it didn't have the same impact.
Q - So, you really didn't like it?
A - I wouldn't say I dis-liked it, but I grew to dis-like it. I've been called Vince Seeger. It's not like Marty Wilde, Tommy Steele, Billy Fury. They're all consonant sounding names.
Q - I would gather it would be near impossible to re-claim your original name of Roy Taylor at this point.
A - Yeah. You've got to stick to it really, once you do it. He tried to get Jerry Brown to change his name to something. Jerry fought it. Jerry's sort of a stubborn guy and didn't like to be messed around. He insisted and kept his name. Of course, Jerry Brown, you don't get much more common a name than Brown. Smith and Brown are very common names in this country. (England) So, he got away with it.
Q - Very early on you were playing this bar, the 2i's.
A - Yeah. A coffee bar.
Q - Donovan played there. It was a Folk club.
A - Well, it started as a Skiffle club. It was folksy. Skiffle was verging on Folk. I didn't realize that Donovan had been there. I was resident there for awhile. It was only a very small room. You could only get 80 people and standing. You couldn't do it these days because health and safety wouldn't permit. It was very dangerous in hindsight.
Q - Beside being over-crowded, what was the atmosphere like?
A - Awesome. You can't describe it. It was, even in the height of Winter, you used to have a trap door leading onto the street in back, which was the fire escape. Even then it was stifling and had a great atmosphere of sweat. It was just a wonderful atmosphere. It was an amazing atmosphere. In the Summer, when you used to get 80 people...wall to wall people, shoulder to shoulder. It was boiling. It was so hot in there. As soon as you walked into the room, you were sweating. It gave off a great atmosphere.
Q - How long would you be onstage?
A - Oh God, some nights we were on for 4 hours on and off. You'd probably be on 3 hours the most, I think, four 45 minute sets. You wouldn't do more than 4 hours a night.
Q - Who might be in the audience watching you?
A - Well, there's people who live in London. The West End is near the town center. Like everywhere else, we used to get regulars there. We'd get girls down there who were regulars trying to pull the guys. We used to get musicians comin' in. We used to get agents and of course it got a reputation. It was the place where Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, Hank and Bruce of The Shadows and there's loads of people, were discovered. They started there. So, it soon gained this reputation of being like the Pop Mecca of any guys who wanted to make it in the business of Pop stars. They would come down to London with their guitars and go straight to the 2i's coffee bar.
Q - When was the last time you played there?
A - The last time I played it was 1959.
Q - That would probably have been too soon for any of the British Invasion groups to sit in the audience and watch you?
A - Well, no. The Beatles came down apparently when we were there. I saw 2 of The Beatles. I know Paul was one. I guess John was the other. I don't know. I certainly know Paul came in there 'cause I saw an article about him a couple of years ago and he discussed it. So, I know he had been in there. It had a national reputation. Any one who came to London who were crazy about Pop, insisted on going to the 2i's coffee bar to see what was happening.
Q - What label did you record for?
A - I was on 3 different labels. I started with Decca. Then I went to Parlophone. Then I finished with Top Rank.
Q - I never heard of that one.
A - That was bought by E.M.I. in '63 I think it was.
Q - Top Rank is a boxing promotion company in the U.S.
A - Oh, is it?
Q - Now, your fame was primarily in Europe and England?
A - Yeah, England primarily. I did have a single released over in America. I had the track "I Shall Not Be Moved" backed with the song "It's Only Make Believe", the Conway Twitty song, 'cause I'm a big balladeer really. That's where my strength was. It sounds very conceited to say, but I was probably the strongest of the ballad singers at that time, the big ballads, the emotional types. My hero was Johnny Ray, still is. I got to meet him. I recorded a couple of his tracks. I used to love Johnny Ray. He was a great performer. A fantastic performer.
Q - He was a theatrical singer long before singers thought of using theatrics in their show.
A - Oh God, yeah. To me, he was the first Rock 'n' Roller. He really was, because the things he did. He used to pick up microphone stands and bang them on the floor. Guys were doing that years later and thought they started something new. He was doing it in 1954 - 1955.
Q - You toured with Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis. Those people are all legends.
A - Yeah.
Q - Eddie Cochran is especially a legend. That must have been very thrilling for you.
A - Eddie and I had I guess a special relationship 'cause his first concert in England was in January of 1960. Initially I was gonna do a tour with Gene Vincent. Gene was gonna top and I was gonna play the first half, the second top. Then I was told a month before, Eddie was coming out to go on the bill. The reason was he had been booked by a guy named Jack Goode, a big TV producer of Pop shows. He had been booked by Jack to appear on Jack's TV show Boy Meets Girl. I was a bit disappointed because I sang "C'mon Everybody" as my opening number. So, it meant I couldn't do that. I thought it meant I wouldn't close the first half, which for some reason best known to myself, I can't think of. I wanted to close the first half. I wasn't too happy when I thought Eddie was coming across, to be quite honest. (laughs) He came and he went on before me, and I'd sneak around the front of the house to watch. He was absolutely unbelievable. I thought, oh my God, I've got to follow this? But, they always say it's always best to follow a good act than a bad one. So, I followed him and my biggest act had always been Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe" 'cause I used to cry when I did it, like Johnny Ray did. That's what I got from Johnny Ray. And so I'd get tears in my eyes when I was singing it. Girls would be crying and I used to bring the house down. So, I did it this particular night and I guess you could say it worked the best it ever worked that night and the audience went wild. I came off, having done really well and I was in my dressing room drying off, put a bathrobe on and there was a knock on the door. I said "Come in," and Eddie Cochran walks in. He said "Hi. I'm Eddie." He had his bathrobe on and heavy pancake make-up. He said "I'm Eddie Cochran." I said "Nice to meet you Eddie." I said "Saw your act. It was awesome!" He said "I've just seen you. You've done the best version of Make Believe anybody's ever done and will ever do. It was unbelievable." I guess the mutual admiration society and all that, we just clicked. Then I used to hang out with him and Gene. I would drive them around in my car. I did 50 one-nighters with them and all the time they were traveling in my car. We used to share, I'm not saying secrets, but you know, personal things. I felt as if I knew his family. He was going back to the States at the end of the tour for a few weeks and so I arranged to come with him. Because the tour had been extended by 3 weeks I think it was, I was already booked for other dates, so I couldn't do the tour of theatres that he did for a week. I only did the one-nighters. The next thing was, I was supposed to meet Eddie and Gene at Gene's flat in London at 8 o'clock in the morning of the 16th of April, 1960. The boys didn't turn up, so I phoned Bill Reilly, their manager. He was staying in the west end of London, so I knew where he was. He told me he thought they probably had a bit of a party, so I just hop into my car and get down to Heathrow and I'll see them there. I went down to Heathrow only to be paged. I sat talking to Count Basie. His father just passed away and he was getting back to his father's funeral. I was just sitting in the V.I.P. lounge when I was paged and I went, telling me that had been an accident, but it was Gene who was the badly injured one, not Eddie. I was going to New York first and Gene was changing planes and going down to Norfolk, Virginia. Eddie was changing planes and going on to L.A. I was staying in New York for 5 days to spend time with my brother. He lived in Toronto. He was coming down. What happened was, I said "I'll carry on going then", 'cause Gene's plane didn't affect me. It was Eddie. Another half hour later I took a phone call from Larry Parnes telling me it wasn't Gene, it was Eddie...better get down to the hospital. Strangely enough, the city hospital was in, is on the same route as Heathrow, the A4. My driver was still there, so we'd gotten my baggage out, hopped in the car and went down. I got there at about 1. I was the first there, before Larry Parnes and other guys got there. They told me what had happened and Eddie wasn't expected to live. I came out of the hospital and decided to go back to London. Parnes was there with Billy Fury and a couple of other guys. The surgeon had very kindly given me his private number to his office in the hospital. And he said "Give ma call when you get on your way and I'll keep you posted on how he is." But they didn't expect him to live. I phoned at 10 past 4 and he died 10 minutes earlier. So, I cancelled my trip and fell out with Parnes, 'cause Parnes used Eddie's death for publicity purposes, which I didn't approve of. We were very, very close, Eddie and I.
Q - I believe Eddie Cochran would have been a bigger star in Europe than in the U.S.
A - Yeah, he was. For sure. Eddie was very fond of his home, his ranch in California. He loved hunting. We were going mountain lion hunting. To somebody who comes from the back waters of England, the thing about going mountain lion hunting in California was quite exciting. But, he was very, very big over here. He was talking of buying a home over here (England), so he could have a home when he worked over here. He knew he'd be working a lot more. He was very popular in Germany and France particularly. So, I think he would have done a lot of work in France and Germany, but he never got around to doing it.
Q - I wonder what he'd think if he knew we were talking about him 49 years later.
A - I'm sure he'd be delighted. He was a very humble guy. Very, very humble. Very quiet. Just a lovely, lovely man. You couldn't help but like him. He was just sort of one of those people. I think one of the most amazing things about Eddie was that all the big Rock stars over here... I don't think Cliff Richard got to meet him because he wasn't with Parnes, and Parnes brought Cochran across. Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, myself, a very brilliant guitarist over here, Big Jim Sullivan, a drummer called Brian Bennett who played with Cliff's Shadows and Rick Osloken, who played with Cliff's Shadows, those were the musicians who backed him on the tour. They were totally besotted with him. He just had this amazing influence over the guys where you'd sit with him over a beer and he would tell them all about music and the things he does on the guitar. Like, he puts the third on the second so it bends more. He even taught Brian Bennett, who's a great drummer, certain drum parts that he used on records in America. He used to play drums on some of the records. So he had all the musicians and artists in the palm of his hand 'cause he was such a lovely guy, but yet he was so knowledgeable. And he was quite happy to pass that knowledge on.
Q - You were living in Fort Lauderdale (Florida) for 12 years...
A - Yeah.
Q - Where you were a cruise director.
A - I was indeed.
Q - What were you doing as a cruise director? Booking? Entertainment?
A - It varies from cruise line to cruise line. In the '70s, I used to do quite a lot of cruises as an entertainer and I used to love it. When my first niche went sour and pear-shaped in 1980, I was single for 5 years and I met my wife while I was touring in Elvis. She came out to England and we got married. We just bumped into an old friend of mine who was a cruise entertainer / booker. He was the one I did all the work for. All that time they were talking about me carrying on doing Elvis, but I'd had enough at that time. I just wanted a change. So, they were very kind. He said "Why don't you become a cruise director?" He said "You have a beautiful wife who can speak 5 languages." She was in the hotel / hospitality industry, so she was perfect for cruising. So, we got a job, both of us, on a cruise line. It was absolutely brilliant. We stayed doing it for 13 1/2 years. A cruise director on most ships, they're in total charge of the entertainment and also excursions and the daytime activities and booking artists and that sort of thing. It was a great job. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was fantastic.
Q - What famous entertainers did you book for the cruises?
A - Well, I wasn't on that big of ships. I used to do the smaller yacht-like, as they call a yacht star cruising, which was only, probably 300 to 400 passenger ships, which is small but very luxurious...5 and 6 star. I had Rita Rudner, The Eagles, Michael McDonald, Christopher Cross. I had quite a few English ones, which you probably wouldn't know.
Q - Do people recognize your name?
A - Yeah, English people do. A lot of people, English people, used to come up and say "Are you the Vince Eager?" Which is kind of flattering.
Q - So, besides talking to me and running your website, what are you doing these days? Are you recording?
A - We're just in the throes of putting a CD together now. I had a CD come out 2 years ago. (2007) to celebrate my 50th year in the business, which was a double CD of all my material. I'm still performing. I'm flying up to Scotland this week, the day after tomorrow, for the weekend. I'm putting together a 1950's show for a production company to tour next year. There's some of the '50s artists from the U.K. Up 'til 3 or 4 years ago I did web design. I do quite a bit of graphic work. I'm very artsy. I'm just an artistic type of person. So, I do stuff like that. Yeah, I'm busy. I'm kept very, very busy.