One sign of a great song is when it is has been successfully performed in multiple musical genres. "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is one such song.
Richard Thompson wrote this song, and it he recorded it on Rumor and Sigh in 1991. Thompson is an English singer-songwriter known for his days with the groundbreaking folk-rock band Fairport Convention and for the duo albums he recorded with his then-wife Linda. His recording of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" falls into that same category and the recording is a prime example of the artistic style that is Richard Thompson.
A couple other singer-songwriter and folkie types covered the song in the mid 1990s, but things changed in 2001 when the premiere bluegrass unit performing today, the Del McCoury Band, put this on their record Del and the Boys. Rob McCoury's banjo kicks off the tune, and Jason Carter's mournful fiddle provides musical contrast, portraying both the celebration and sorrow inherent in the story. Del, who was 62 years of age when he made this recording, sings like he really did used to ride around like James Dean picking up up leather-clad redheads. If folks didn't know any better, the Del McCoury Band could make them believe Thompson wrote this as a bluegrass song.
The McCourys did make one change to the lyrics. Thompson sang about riding to Boxhill which is in Surrey near Dorking. Del replaces that with Knoxville, a city in Tennessee.
Since Del and the Boys came out, the bluegrass community has been clamoring for this song everywhere Del goes. He's performed it on a PBS bluegrass special, on Austin City Limits, and it has been featured in the Down from the Mountain tour. Del has been recording since 1963 when he joined Bill Monroe, and it appears that nearly 40 years later he has finally found a signature song penned by an English folk-rocker. With its newfound audience, I wouldn't be surprised to hear this song performed at every bluegrass festival held over the next few years.
Yet none of this takes away from Thompson's own performance. For the past decade he has sung this at many of his appearances, and it is a quintessential Richard Thompson song. But the way the song is at home in more than one genre shows just how great "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is.