The world is determined to forget the
greatness of Eddie Cochran. Almost
reduced to a small footnote among the pioneers of rock, people forget that
Cochran was more than just Summertime
Blues. He wrote his own songs, produced them, was one of the first to experiment
with multitrack and overdubs, played several instruments and was an exceptional
guitarist. And, with his iconic Gretsch 6120, Cochran became one of the first
and most important 'guitar heroes' of early rock by creating a unique rhythmic
style and he was also capable of performing incredible solos for the time. In
addition his role as an ambassador of rock & roll in the United Kingdom was
fundamental and his fingerprint in the 'British Invasion' gigantic.
Eddie Cochran was born on October 3, 1938 at Albert Lea, Minnesotta and christened Edward Ray Cochran. From childhood he showed great affinity for music by constantly listening to the radio, and it was understandable that when his older brother left his Kay acoustic to go to the Marines, the young Eddie learned fast. When the family moved to the outskirts of Los Angeles in 1953, Eddie was already able to copy any solo he heard on the radio, note by note. There he would play guitar (his mother even said he would have been playing 24 hours a day if they had let him) and he would make his first performances at his college. His fame began to grow locally among country fans and he soon came into contact with a vocalist named Hank Cochran with whom he would begin playing under the name of the Cochran Brothers, despite not having any kinship.
The Cochran Brothers were dedicated exclusively to country and hillbilly; despite being city boys they wore scarves around their necks and checked shirts as if they came from the meadows of Tennessee. At the end of 54 they were signed by Ekko and the following year they recorded their first singles, Two Blue Singing Star and Your Tomorrow Never Comes. It was a pivotal year in Cochran's career, in addition to releasing the record, young Eddie left college to devote himself completely to music and tour across the US with Hank. In Dallas he had a revelation when he saw Elvis Presley live. Shortly after he changed his Gibson L-4C for the guitar that would define his career, a 1955 Gretsch orange 1920. But Cochran was already an expert guitarist and knew how to achieve his sound, so he modified it by changing his DeArmond DynaSonic pickup with a Gibson P -90, with a warmer and jazzy sound.
To finish off the year, in October he met his future manager and composition partner, Jerry Capehart. He, like Eddie, knew that rock & roll was the future, so he started recording the Cochran Brothers on Crest. There is a notable change in his sound at this time with songs like Latch On, Fool's Paradise or Slow Down sounding like pure rockabilly with the voice of Eddie getting more and more weight and his guitar proving that in addition to seeing and listening to Elvis, he had also been impressed by Scotty Moore. For Eddie there was no turning back, he had contracted the rock & roll fever and he did not want any other medicine than that music; on the other hand Hank wanted to go back to country. The road separated and Eddie was clear about the detour he was going to take. One of the first songs he recorded solo was Teenage Cutie - pure dirty and swampy rock & roll. His guitar playing was in high demand and in a short time he became an excellent session musician, learning everything there is to learn about the recording studio, something that would be very useful in the future.
In July 1956 Skinny Jim appeared, his first single as a soloist, composed with Capehart. It was pure rock & roll and showed that, in addition to being one of the best white guitarists of the genre, he had become an irresistible singer. Shortly after, his first big break came when his good image and his resemblance to James Dean helped him get a small role in The Girl Can’t Help It, a film to the greater glory of the voluptuousness of Jayne Mansfield, in which also appeared Little Richard, Fats Domino and Gene Vincent. The song that Cochran chose for it is his first absolute classic, Twenty Flight Rock. A song that belongs to rockabilly heaven, even though some enlightened one decided to cut Cochran's solo in the movie.
A month after its premiere, in January 1957, it can be seen that his record company, Liberty, was also trying to soften its image, with a ballad backed by a male chorus, like Elvis's Jordanaires, called Sittin 'In The Balcony. It was not a bad song by any stretch but it was not representative of Cochran. Even so it was his first great success, slipping into the top 20 and making Liberty try to repeat the move and turn the young Cochran into a kind of crooner, as shown by Singin 'to My Baby, his first album, released in November 1957, full of mid tempos, with the Gretsch in the background. Things did not look good and Eddie only really enjoyed the numerous tours that brought him together with some of his favorite rock & roll and r & b artists like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and the Drifters. That's how he became friends with other rockers like Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly.
But his luck would change when he wrote the definitive teenage anthem, one of the great songs in the history of rock & roll, Summertime Blues. With its well-known riff, played with his brother's Martin D18, with those 'power chords' on which Pete Townshend would build the Who's career and his lyrics of youthful challenge, the song elevated Cochran to stardom, despite the record company releasing the song as a B-side. It was the radio DJ's that took it to the Top Ten of the charts and allowed Cochran to take full control of his career. As you can see in this song he was one of the first artists who composed and produced his songs, and also one of the pioneers in recording overdubs in the studio.
Shortly after another absolute classic would arrive, C'mon everybody, in which he also uses the D18 and on which Liberty would again prove their poor hearing skills by relegating it to a B-side. It was the song that turned him into an idol in the United Kingdom and ratified his status as the rebel without cause of rock & roll with a lyric in which he defied the punishment of the elderly for a good party. At the end of the year he recorded his scenes for a new movie, Go, Johnny, Go! in which he shared the bill with Chuck Berry and a very young new rock star, Ritchie Valens. Supposedly they were going to share a tour in early 1959 with Buddy Holly but Cochran had a possible appearance on Ed Sullivan and Holly did not hesitate to advise him to stay instead of freezing with them in the cold north. When on February 3 the plane carrying Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper crashed and killed them, Cochran began to have horrible omens about his own death. Two days after the accident, he entered the recording studio and recorded Three Stars dedicated to his friends. When he got to the part about Holly, his voice broke when he said "Well, you're singing for God now, In his chorus in the sky, Buddy Holly, I'll always remember you, with tears in my eyes. " Still with tears in his eyes he entered the recording booth and told his manager that if he released that song while he was alive he would not record again. Tragically, there was not too long to wait.
But we must not advance events, 1959 was a good year for Cochran musically with songs like Teenage Heaven, Weekend and, mainly, Somethin 'Else, a pulsating, vibrant and lustful song in which he also plays bass and which is a clear antecedent of punk (It is not surprising that the Sex Pistols ended up recording it). In spite of everything, success in the USA seemed to evaporate and in January of 1960 he embarked, with Gene Vincent, on a tour of the United Kingdom. They were received like Gods and their influence on later British music would be enormous. Among his many contributions is his innovation of using an unwound third string in order to "bend" notes up a whole tone.
But, despite the warm reception, Cochran missed the US and remained obsessed with the death of Buddy Holly, to the point that he continuously listened to his music. When his girlfriend asked him if he was not sad to always be listening to his friend, Cochran replied: "No, I'm going to meet him in a short time." On April 17, 1960 the taxi that took him to the airport to return home, along with Gene Vincent and his girlfriend, crashed, killing him instantly. He was the only mortal victim. Posthumously his record company released his final masterpiece, Three Steps To Heaven, recorded in his last session in January 1960, before leaving for England. In another nod of fate it was Holly’s Crickets who did the backing vocals for that song.
For those who only know him for Summertime Blues or C'Mon Everybody, they should do themselves a favor and listen to things like Pretty Girl, Eddie's Blues or Chicken Shot Blues to learn about the class of guitarist we are talking about, with the perspective of knowing the age and time in which he recorded. Or his many collaborations as a session guitarist such as his excellent solos on You Oughta See Grandma Rock by Skeets McDonald or Guitar Picker by Bob Luman.
For those who believe that he has left no trace it is enough to say that it is impossible to listen to Teenage Cutie and not think about John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, with that swampy guitar sound, while Bowie copied the riff of Three Steps To Heaven for Queen Bitch and Pete Townshend used it in Tommy's Overture. Jimi Hendrix expressed his wish that Cochran’s music be played at his funeral, and Led Zeppelin did several covers of his songs, Marc Bolan customized his Les Paul to look like Cochran’s Gretsch, Brian Setzer revitalized the rockabilly scene using a 6120 like Cochran’s and, as is well known, Paul McCartney achieved his place in the Quarrymen when he impressed the group leader, one John Lennon, by playing and singing to perfection Twenty Flight Rock. That's not leaving a mark...it is something else.