April 17, 1960 – Eddie Cochran was born on October 3rd 1938 in Minnesota but moved with his family to California in the early 1950s. He was involved with music from an early age, playing in the school band and teaching himself to play blues guitar. In 1954, he formed a duet with the guitarist Hank Cochran (no relation), and when they split the following year, Eddie began a song-writing career with Jerry Capehart. His first success came when he performed the song “Twenty Flight Rock” which also later came out in the film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. Soon afterwards, Liberty Records signed him to a big recording contract. Like so many of his contemporaries like Elvis and Ricky Nelson, his music career ran parallel with a budding movie career.
His songs have influenced bands and artists such as The Who, The Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Tom Petty, The Stray Cats, Motörhead, Rod Stewart, Humble Pie, Lemmy Kilmister, T. Rex, The White Stripes, Brian Setzer, Cliff Richard, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, UFO, The Sex Pistols and many more. Eddie’s rockabilly songs, such as “C’mon Everybody”, “Somethin’ Else” and “Summertime Blues”, captured teenage frustration and desire in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was his bold attitude and confident guitar playing, that, particularly on the 1960 British tour, impressed budding rockers and fans alike. He experimented with multi-tracking and overdubbing even on his earliest singles, and was also able to play piano, bass and drums.
His image as a sharply dressed, rugged but good looking young man with a rebellious attitude epitomized the stance of the Fifties rocker, and in death he achieved iconic status. His “Three Steps to Heaven” single became a UK No.1 hit a couple of weeks after his death.
While on tour in the UK, Eddie died as a result of a traffic accident, in a Ford Consul taxi he was traveling in on the A4, Chippenham, Wiltshire. He was thrown through the windscreen when it hit a lamp post. Sadly Eddie died in hospital in the early hours of the following morning from severe head injuries. He was 21 years old when he died on 17 April 1960.
As a singer, songwriter, multi-musician, he was one of the greatest, and the most talented of the early pop stars. He was a rock and roll pioneer who in his short career had lasting influence on rock music.
Eddie Cochran had a short career that ended in tragedy, but he was around long enough to establish himself as one of the top stars in the early days of rock-and-roll.
Eddie’s parents were raised in Oklahoma City. The family moved to Albert Lea, Minnesota and in 1938 Ray Edward Cochran was born there (although some sources incorrectly state that he was born in Oklahoma City.) The family later moved back to Oklahoma City for a short time and stayed with Eddie’s grandmother, by coincidence on the very site where the Edward P. Murrah Federal Building was blown up years later by domestic terorists. In 1953 Eddie moved with his family to Bell Gardens, California. As a teenager he began to work with Hank Cochran, who was not related to him. They called themselves the Cochran Brothers. Hank was three years older than Eddie, had grown up in an orphanage in Memphis, and had been working at clubs in California as a teenager. Eventually Hank left to pursue what would be a successful career as a country singer and songwriter; among other things, he co-wrote Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall To Pieces’.
Eddie Cochran first recorded on the Ekko Records label [with Hank Cochran] in the 50’s as a country performer, but met with little success. He struck out on his own. Eventually he signed with Liberty. Eddie was a better singer than most, a very good guitar player, and had ability as a songwriter; he co-wrote a number of songs with Jerry Capehart. He quickly learned studio technology and was comfortable with a variety of styles of music. His first hit came in 1957 with Sittin’ In The Balcony, a pop hit that reached the top twenty.
Eddie was also a dynamic performer, as he showed in many live concerts. He appeared in movies: The Girl Can’t Help It, Untamed Youth, and Go Johnny Go. From his film appearances and touring schedule, he became friends with other rock stars of the day, particularly with Ritchie Valens.
He contined to work in the studio, doing most of his recording in Hollywood where he had access to some of the best musicians in the business. Excellent Los Angeles-area backup session players such as drummer Earl Palmer and the top-notch recording equipment available at Liberty, combined with Eddie’s talent and understanding of the music business, resulted in some very good rock-and-roll recordings. His biggest hit was Summertime Blues in 1958, a top ten record that touched on the anxiety of living life as a teenager, a theme that Chuck Berry had used so well. “I called my congressman and he said, quote, ‘I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote.'”
Eddie Cochran was a good-looking young man who had become a huge star, and he was an even bigger star in the United Kingdom than he was in the United States. His third and last top forty hit in the U.S. was C’mon Everybody on Liberty in 1959, and he had nine such hits in the U.K. His friend Ritchie Valens was killed in a plane crash in 1959 along with other recording stars Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson. Stunned, Eddie recorded a version of the song that had been written about the tragedy, Three Stars.
In early 1960 he toured the United Kingdom with his girlfriend, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, and fellow superstar performer Gene Vincent. The tour was a resounding success. Outside of London on the way to the airport to return to the United States, their cab was involved in a fatal accident in Chippenham, Wiltshire on April 17. Sheeley was seriously hurt but managed to recover fully, and Vincent sustained injuries that left him with a limp for the rest of his life. Eddie Cochran was killed.
The rock world had lost one of its original and best talents. Cochran’s record Three Steps To Heaven shot to number one on the U.K. charts.
Over the years a number of other artists looked to his music and made covers of some of his greatest songs: Cut Across Shorty by Rod Stewart, C’mon Everybody by the Sex Pistols, Summertime Blues by the Who, and 20 Flight Rock by the Rolling Stones. In the 1979 movie Radio On, Sting played a filling station attendant who had a fixation on Eddie Cochran. A number of albums have been issued of Eddie’s studio work in the 50’s.
In 1987 Eddie Cochran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.