Eddie Cochran: The life and tragic death of one of the greatest rock 'n' roll pioneers
21 March 2022, 13:05 | Updated: 1 November 2022, 13:38
As a songwriter, performer and innovator, Eddie Cochran was one of THE rock 'n' roll pioneers
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He may not be quite as well known, but Eddie arguably did as much as anyone to fuze jazz, country, and rhythm and blues to capture the very spirit of rock 'n' roll in his songs.
Eddie was only 21 when he died. He had only released one studio album, but it's for his incredible run of singles that he's best remembered.
So here's everything you need to know about one of rock's earliest superstars.
When was Eddie Cochran born?
Ray Edward Cochran was born on October 3, 1938 in Albert Lea, Minnesota, to Oklahoma-born parents Frank and Alice.
The family moved to Bell Gardens, California, in 1952.
Despite his older brother Bill loaning him a guitar when he went off to serve in the forces, Eddie wanted to play the drums.
He was badgered into piano lessons, wanted to try the trombone, looked aghast at the clarinet before finally asking his other brother Bob to show him how to play Bill's guitar.
In 1955 he bought his own second-hand guitar, the Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body, which is now known as the Eddie Cochran guitar.
As well as being an accomplished guitar player, singer, songwriter and producer, he was an innovator when it came to techniques like using string-bending and using overdubs in the studio.
Was Hank Cochran Eddie's brother?
So we've mentioned Bill and Bob, but it was Hank Cochran who Eddie teamed up with in 1954.
But despite billing themselves as The Cochran Brothers, they weren't actually related at all.
Eddie's earliest recorded music came as half of the duo and included the singles 'Two Blue Singin' Stars', 'Your Tomorrow Never Comes' and 'Tired and Sleepy'.
The pair split up after only a couple of years, and Hank went on to have a successful career of his own, writing hits for the likes of Patsy Cline and Ray Prince.
Eddie then hooked up with manager/songwriter Jerry Capehart, who had a hand in both 'Summertime Blues' and 'C'mon Everybody'.
How did Eddie Cochran die?
Along with the Big Bopper, Eddie's contemporaries and pals Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were killed in a plane crash on tour on The Day The Music Died.
Unsurprisingly, their passing shook Cochran up, and he wanted to stop touring and spend more time in the studio, but needing to earn a living he agreed to play the UK in early 1960.
He and Gene Vincent had played the last date of the tour on April 16, and together with songwriter and Cochran's fiancée Sharon Sheeley, tour driver Patrick Thompkins (or Tompkins, depending on your source) got into a cab driven by George Martin (not that one).
Speeding, the driver lost control of the car that night, crashing into a concrete lamppost at a notorious accident blackspot in Chippenham.
According to testimony from Vincent and Thompkins Cochran leaped over his fiancée to protect her. "Eddie leaned over and shielded me with his body and pulled me over his lap," Sharon said. "He totally covered me, so he was exposed, so he really died saving my life."
The crash had forced the passenger door open and the impact flung Eddie from the car, resulting in a massive brain trauma.
Vincent, who already had his leg shattered in a previous car accident in Norfolk five years earlier leaving him with a limp, was left with further injuries to his legs and a fractured collarbone.
Despite being taken to Chippenham Community Hospital and then transferred to St Martin's Hospital in Bath, Eddie never regained consciousness and died the following day, April 17, 1960, Easter Sunday.
What songs did Eddie Cochran sing?
With rock 'n' roll very much a singles medium, Eddie Cochran's one studio album 1957's Singin' to My Baby, isn't particularly well-known, but his groundbreaking, era-defining singles are what make him so important.
- C'mon Everybody
- Summertime Blues
- Somethin' Else
- Three Steps To Heaven
- Sittin' in the Balcony
- Twenty Flight Rock
- Nervous Breakdown
- Three Stars
- Teenage Heaven
- Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie
- Hallelujah, I Love Her So
- My Way
Who has covered Eddie Cochran's songs?
It might be easier to ask who hasn't covered Eddie's songs.
Everyone from The Beatles and Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty have had a go.
Then there's Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The White Stripes, Rod Stewart, Simple Minds and Van Halen.
Most famously, perhaps, The Who frequently covered 'Summertime Blues' in their live sets, and there's a storming version of it on the powerful Live at Leeds.
And Sex Pistols covered 'Somethin' Else' AND 'C'mon Everybody' for their messy soundtrack to The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.
What films was Eddie Cochran in?
While he was never in as many movies as Elvis, Eddie had a few key parts in rock 'n' roll cinema, usually playing himself.
He was one of the many rock 'n' roll performers in the 1956 Jayne Mansfield comedy classic The Girl Can't Help It.
Eddie sung 'Twenty Flight Rock' in the film, which also featured performances from Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino and more.
Eddie played Eddie once more, in 1959's Go, Johnny Go, playing 'Teenage Heaven' (a performance of 'I Remember' was left on the cutting room floor).
That film featured Chuck Berry, Jackie Wilson and Ritchie Valens, among others.
Between those two, he featured in 1957's Untamed Youth, playing Bong, a delinquent forced to work on a farm (who also has a musical number, of course).
He apparently fancied one of his co-stars, Jeanne Carmen, and his songs 'Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie' and 'Pretty Girl' were supposedly recorded for her.
Was 'Just Like Eddie' about Eddie Cochran?
Absolutely. After Heinz left The Tornados (they who did 'Telstar'), he recorded this tribute to Eddie Cochcran in 1963.
"Whenever I'm sad, whenever I'm blue / Whenever my troubles are heavy / Beneath the stars. I play my guitar/ Just like Eddie"
Written by Geoff Goddard and produced by Joe Meek, it had future Deep Purple star Ritchie Blackmore on guitar and went to number 5 in the charts