Ray Edward Cochrane (1938-1960) was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota but the family moved to California for Eddie’s health and it was here he grew up. His older brother taught him to play the guitar and by 12 he had mastered the instrument and put his first band together, four years later he was playing professionally. In 1954 Eddie is teamed up with country singer Hank Cochran (unrelated) and they toured as The Cochran Brothers playing rockabilly.
In 1955, they saw Elvis Presley perform which convinced Eddie he should be playing rock’n’roll. Eddie and Hank parted company professionally and Eddie began collaboration with a young aspiring songwriter and drummer, Jerry Capeheart. Between the two of them, they were to produce some of Eddie's finest work. Twenty-Flight Rock /Dark Lonely Street became Eddie’s first hit record.
Aged 18 he got his first break in the movies. The girl can't help it (1956), starred Jayne Mansfield and Edmond O’Brien but it was also a show of Rock’n’roll talent including Julie London, Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard and Gene Vincent. Gene Vincent and Eddie became good buddies.
Eddie appears in another film “Untamed Youth' (1956) but music was his first love. To publicise his next single 'Sittin' On the Balcony' (1957), he joined the Biggest Show of Stars for '57, along with Buddy Holly (who also became a close friend), Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers. The tour extended to Australia with Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Elis Lesley (the female Elvis Presley). This was the first American rock and roll show ever to come to Australia. Every single date was sold out. It was during this tour Little Richard threw his jewelry into the Botany Bay, declaring he would leave show business and dedicate himself to religion.
When he was back in the States, Eddie and Jerry Capeheart, tried to find a song that reflected the hopes and yearnings of teenage life and come up with Summertime Blues. It became a teenage anthem and had not only appealed to kids of the 50s but was also was loved by fans of the Who when they did a cover version a decade or so later (1970).
Eddie Cochran was well known for his favorite electric guitar the Gretsch 6120 This was a classy electric guitar with a hollow body and f holes. Chet Atkins had made them popular but it never gained the popularity of Fender's Stratocaster or Gibson's Les Paul during its time of production. Gretsch ceased production of guitars in the late 70's. It is said that Pete Townshend used a 6120 on much of the classic "Who's Next" album.
Eddie Cochrane was filming Go Johnny Go with Ritchie Valens days before the fatal air crash which killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens (February 3, 1959). Eddie had been scheduled to join the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour but was prevented from doing so because of filming commitments. Eddie was devastated at the loss of his friends and always avoided flying whenever he could. Eddie was a decent sort and had a remarkably uncomplicated life style for a teenage rocker. His girlfriend was Sharon Sheeley, was also a songwriter and the couple had been introduced by Phil Everly. Sharon worked with Eddie to produce C’mon Everybody and the single that followed Something Else. 'C'mon Everybody' was used on the soundtrack for an ad for Levi-s 501 Jeans, to commemorate the fact that Sharon Sheeley had been wearing jeans on her introduction to Eddie.
He decided to consolidate his popularity in the UK and undertook a tour of Great Britain with his friend Gene Vincent. Eddie was the darling of the British teenagers. They loved his music and his all-American good looks, turning out in number for his live television and radio appearances. Eddie was also a personable celebrity and the envy of every would be rock’n’roller. Someone dedicated to Eddie was Joe Brown a UK rocker who spend hours listening and talking to his hero. No one had seen guitar playing the young American was capable of.
The UK tour was such a resounding success that it was decided to extend it for a further ten weeks. Eddie and Sharon thought they would give themselves a break and fly home for Easter with Gene Vincent as their guest. En route to London Airport the car blew a tyre and crashed into a lamp post. All three were rushed to hospital. Gene Vincent was treated for broken ribs and collar-bone and further injury to his bad leg. Sharon Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis but Eddie Cochran sadly had been thrown through the windscreen and had severe brain injuries which he never recovered from. That was April 17, 1960. Almost a quarter of a century later in 1987 Eddie Cochrane was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His contribution to popular entertainment was immense and despite dying forty years ago his music continues to inspire young rockers.
Worth a listen:
Twenty-Flight Rock (1957)
Summertime Blues (1958)
C'mon Everybody (1959)
Three Steps to heaven
The Girl Can't Help It. (1956)
Joe Brown and the Bruvers
That Yellow Dress