Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
For this edition of TWR, we remember Eddie Cochran, a young rebel of Rock N Roll who was, like too many others, gone too soon.
While Eddie Cochran is probably most well-known for his 1958 smash-hit “Summertime Blues”, he was another influential pioneer of early Rock N Roll who came out of the Heart of America and into the spotlight of the world.
Ray Edward Cochran was born on October 3, 1938 in Albert Lea, MN to Alice and Frank Cochran. At age 14, the Cochrans moved to Bell Gardens, CA where Eddie began high school at Bell Gardens High. However, he dropped out of school in his Freshman year to pursue a career in music. It was then that he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who surprisingly was of no relation! The two young men began performing together as “The Cochran Brothers”, although they were not brothers at all (who knew?!)
Eddie’s first instrument was the drums, but he decided early on that he preferred the guitar. His famous instrument was a 1955 Gretsch 6120 which he is seen playing and cradling in many photos.
In July of 1956, Eddie’s first solo single was released by Crest records. He appeared in the musical comedy The Girl Can’t Help It performing “Twenty Flight Rock” the same year.
In 1957 Eddie signed with Liberty records and starred in the film Untamed Youthplaying the character “Bong”. “Sittin’ In The Balcony” was released in 1957 and made it to #18 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Eddie also appeared in Go Johnny, Go in 1959, performing the same song.
1958 was the year Eddie Cochran made his biggest mark in Rock n Roll history with the teenage political anthem “Summertime Blues”. The song hit #8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in August of 1958. It was the first time that teenagers had their very own song to express themselves in a somewhat frustrated manner against the establishment. It was also an instant sock-hop favorite and has become a juke box staple in every practically every diner in the world.
Hits such as “C’Mon Everybody”, “Somethin’ Else” and “Teenage Heaven” followed. Teens loved Eddie’s raucous music and rebel-like persona, and with his rugged good looks, girls found him “dreamy”. Dressed in denim, leather and plaid, Eddie Cochran’s look was ahead of its time. He often wore his shirt partially open to reveal his chest which was considered both risqué and rebellious in those days. Many of his photos were taken with early color film.
It was also in 1958 that Eddie began working with fellow Rockabilly Star, Gene Vincent in a recording session that later ended up on Vincent’s album “A Gene Vincent Record Date”.
In early 1959, Eddie Cochran set out to tour the Northern Mid-West of the United States. The tour, known as “Winter Dance Party ’59” opened in Milwaukee on January 23, featuring several of Eddie’s fellow Super-Stars. On the 3rd of February, 1959, Eddie Cochran lost 3 of his tour mates in a plane crash: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. It has been said that Eddie was terribly shaken by their deaths and supposedly, the tragedy made him eager to stop touring so he could begin working in a more stable and less dangerous environment. And, supposedly, Eddie began to have a bad feeling… a feeling that he too, was destined to die young. As a tribute to his fallen tour mates, Eddie recorded the song “Three Stars” (written by D.J. Tommy Dee). In the recording, Eddie chokes up when he mentions Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, whom he was friends with.
Eddie met his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley, a young songwriter, through his manager Jerry Capeheart. Sharon Sheeley is known for writing great hit songs such as “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson, “Hurry Up” by Ritchie Valens and “Somethin’ Else” by Eddie Cochran which she co-wrote with Eddie’s brother Bob.
In April of 1960, Eddie began a tour of the UK with his friend and colleague Gene Vincent. Sharon traveled to England to join Eddie on the tour. The two are said to have been “unofficially engaged”.
On the night of April 16, 1960, Eddie, Sharon, Gene Vincent and tour manager Pat Thompkins were riding in a private taxi on the way to the London Airport (now Heathrow Airport) after a show. According to accounts of the incident: the cab driver was speeding recklessly and the taxi blew a tire. The vehicle then slammed into a light post. Eddie covered Sharon to shield her as the taxi was crashing and the door flew open, ejecting him from the vehicle. Eddie was rushed to the hospital with massive head injuries and died the next day. He was 21 years old.
The three survivors of the crash sustained significant, but non-life threatening injuries and made full recoveries, with the possible exception of Gene Vincent, who already had a weak leg. The cab driver was held accountable for the crash, but was not charged with a serious crime.
The remains of Eddie Cochran were flown back to the States and buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, CA. There is also a memorial plaque at the site of the crash and a memorial sundial at St. Martin’s Hospital in Bath, England where he died.
His gravesite plaque contains a lengthy poem about how Eddie was perfection and God likes perfection, so he was called home. In addition to the poem, is also the line:
“If mere words can console us on the loss of our beloved Eddie, then our love for him was a false one.”
The ballad, “Three Steps To Heaven” which Eddie recorded not long before his death, was released posthumously as a beautiful and haunting tribute. The upbeat Rock n Roll song “Nervous Breakdown” was also released after his death.
Flipping through the listings on a table juke box at the diner I used to go to… I’d get an eerie feeling every time I saw the label “SUMMERTIME BLUES: EDDIE COCHRAN”. Unlike Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, I do not recall how I first heard about how Eddie Cochran died… Although, I must have heard it somewhere while I was growing up because I knew that he died young. I think of him now with a bittersweet fondness when I hear his music or see one of his many photos. Frozen forever in time as one of the great icons of his era, Eddie Cochran is a permanent part of my love for the 1950’s .
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