Sunday, April 17, 2011

Salute to Eddie Cochran

One of the great pioneers of rock and roll, Eddie Cochran, died on this date (April 17) in 1960 at the tender age of 21.  He was taking a taxi in Chippenham, Wiltshire when the speeding car blew a tire and crashed into a lamp post.  Cochran had moved over his girlfriend to shield her and was thrown out of the car.  There is a plaque at the location to commemorate him.  Cochran was taken to St. Martin's Hospital in Bath, where he died at 4:10 p.m. the following day of massive head injuries.  His body was then flown home and he was buried April 25 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, California.

Eddie Cochran

Cochran had hits with "C'mon Everybody" and "Summertime Blues".  Cochran was one of the first recording artists to write his own songs and one of the first to use multitracking and overdubbing on his songs.  He could play piano, bass and drums, but his guitar playing had an influence on countless rock musicians.

Eddie Cochran in 'The Girl Can't Help it'
  Cochran in his first movie

Cochran was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota and moved to California in the early 1950's.  He enrolled in Bell Gardens Junior High School in a suberb of Los Angeles.  Eddie became friends with Connie "Guybo" Smith.  The two practiced together and gave a performance at the school and Smith later played bass on all of Cochran's songs.  Cochran taught himself how to play blues guitar and was in the school band.  In 1955, he formed a songwriting team with Jerry Capehart (who also became his manager) and worked as a session musician.  Cochran's first break came when he performed the song "Twenty Flight Rock" in the movie The Girl Can't Help It, which starred Jayne Mansfield.  Cochran secured a recording deal with Liberty Records soon after.

                            The Billboard chart on April 3, 1957

In 1957, Cochran starred in the movie Untamed Youth and sang "Sittin' in the Balcony".  Liberty released the only studio album of his life, Singin' To My Baby.  "Summertime Blues" reached #8 on August 25, 1958 and became his best-known song.  He also had minor hits with "Somethin' Else", "My Way", "Weekend", "Teenage Heaven", "Three Stars" and a song released shortly before his death called "Three Steps to Heaven".  That same year, Cochran toured Australia with Little Richard and Gene Vincent in "The Biggest Show of Stars" tour.  It marked the first time American rock & roll performers had appeared in Australia and every date was sold out.    

In 1958, Cochran played at the Loews State Theater in New York for an all-star show hosted by Alan Freed that also included Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson and Bo Diddley.  The following year, Eddie appeared in the movie Go Johnny Go!, where he can be seen dancing with his guitar!

                   The lobbycard from the movie Go Johnny Go!

Cochran was deeply disturbed by the death of good friends Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, who were killed along with the Big Bopper in a plane crash while on tour in Iowa.  "Three Stars" was a song Cochran had recorded as a tribute to the three and Eddie's voice broke when he sang the lyrics about Holly and Valens. The surviving members of the Crickets played on the song.  Cochran was worried that he would also die young and was determined to spend time in the studio recording songs rather than suffer a similar fate while on the road.  Nevertheless, contractual obligations required Cochran to continue to perform, hence his acceptance of an offer to tour the UK in 1960.

Eddie Cochran in 'Go, Johnny Go!'

Songwriter Sharon Sheeley and Gene Vincent were also riding in the taxi on the fateful night of Cochran's death but survived the crash.  Cochran's guitar had been carried to the taxi by a young fan who would later be known as Marc Bolan of T. Rex.

Cochran is credited with being one of the first guitarists to play with an unwound third string so he could "bend" notes up a whole note.  This practice has now become common in rock music.  

Eddie Cochran
Cochran's songs have been performed by Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Who, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Rush, Simple Minds, Cliff Richard, the Stray Cats and many others.  In fact, Paul McCartney became a member of the Beatles in large part because he knew the chords and music to Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" and was hired by John Lennon.  The Who played "Summertime Blues" often in concert.  Bolan, who had carried Cochran's guitar from the stage to his taxi, had his Les Paul guitar refinished in orange to resemble the Gretsch 6120 played by Eddie.  Brian Setzer of the Stray cats played a 6120 very similar to Cochran's and portrayed him in the movie La Bamba.  In 1987, Cochran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was also honored by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Who knows what the strange hand of fate will deal to any of us.  All we can do is live each day to the fullest, aspire to be the best person we can be, and cherish our friends and loved ones.

Rest in peace, Eddie--51 years after your death, we love your music and admire your great guitar playing.  

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