Although Eddie Cochran was only 21 when he died, he left a lasting mark as a rock and roll pioneer.
Cochran zeroed in on teenage angst and desire with such classics as “C’mon Everybody,” “Something Else,” “Twenty Flight Rock” and “Summertime Blues.” A flashy stage dresser with a tough-sounding voice, Cochran epitomized the sound and the stance of the Fifties rebel rocker. But he was also a virtuoso guitarist, overdubbing parts like Les Paul even on his earliest singles and playing with an authority that led music journalist Bruce Eder to pronounce him “rock’s first high-energy guitar hero, the forerunner to Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman and, at least in terms of dexterity, Jimi Hendrix.” Cochran was also proficient on piano, bass and drums.
Beneath Cochran’s polite exterior lurked an all-American rebel, and in death he achieved iconic status with several generations of rock and rollers, from the first wave of British Invasion bands to the Sex Pistols (who covered “Something Else”). He even played an indirect role in the Beatles’ formation. In June 1957, Paul McCartney taught John Lennon the chords to Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” at a church picnic where Lennon’s Quarrymen were playing. In the late Sixties, Blue Cheer recorded a memorable version of “Summertime Blues,” a timeless anthem of teen disenchantment. The Who recorded and released a cover of "Summertime Blues" in 1970.
Cochran was born in Minnesota, raised in Oklahoma and moved to California with his family, where he began his musical career in 1954. Initially, he teamed up with singer-guitarist Hank Cochran (no relation), touring and recording as the Cochran Brothers, who performed in a country-rockabilly vein. Cochran’s musical influences ran more toward the extroverted likes of Bill Haley, Little Richard and Carl Perkins, and that is the direction he pursued as a solo artist in the late Fifties. Cochran found a manager and collaborator in songwriter Jerry Capehart, with whom he worked until his death. Cochran cut his first rock record, “Skinny Jim,” for the Crest label in 1956. His big break came when a movie producer approached him to appear in the film The Girl Can’t Help It, which featured his frenetic version of “Twenty Flight Rock.” That same year Cochran signed with Liberty Records, where he perfected a sound on “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody” that featured driving acoustic and electric guitars, handclaps and tambourines, and lyrics that unerringly expressed the alienated teen mindset.
Cochran recorded prolifically for Liberty, with mixed results. The label tried molding him as a crooner, and his debut album, Singin’ for My Baby, was full of schmaltzy ballads that had been foisted upon him. Cochran favored a leaner rock and roll sound, and it is that aspect of his catalog – including not only the hard-rocking hits but also such posthumously popular tracks as “Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie,” “Something Else” and “Nervous Breakdown” – for which he is remembered. He was especially revered in Britain, where his influence as a rock and roll original endures to this day.
Eddie Cochran released only one album during his lifetime, which was abruptly cut short when the taxi in which he was a passenger crashed en route to a London airport at the end of a British tour. Also injured in the accident were rocker Gene Vincent and Cochran’s fiancée, songwriter Shari Sheeley. The single Cochran released just before his death, eerily enough, was entitled “Three Steps to Heaven.” Ironically, he’d been planning for some time to cut back on touring in order to concentrate on songwriting and studio work.
Eddie Cochran (guitar, vocals; born October 3, 1938; died April 17, 1960)