Eddie Cochran is regarded today as one of the most important and influential of all the 1950's Rock'n'Roll pioneers. As singer, songwriter, expert guitarist, producer, and actor, he is rightly seen as being one of the first rock stars to have had a huge amount of creative control over his work in an era where pop stars were little more than window dressing for the record labels they were employed by.
His death, at the tragically young age of twenty-one, robbed Rock'n'Roll of one of it's last great ambassadors, and heralded the beginning of an excruciating period in pop history where mundane, chirpy, and wholly unpleasant songs dominated the charts all over the world as the 1960's got under way. In fact, the impact his death had on the world of Rock'n'Roll ranks alongside that of the fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. That terrible event has been regarded as 'the day the music died'. For fans of original Rock'n'Roll thisEddie Cochran is regarded today as one of the most important and influential of all the 1950's Rock'n'Roll pioneers. As singer, songwriter, expert guitarist, producer, and actor, he is rightly seen as being one of the first rock stars to have had a huge amount of creative control over his work in an era where pop stars were little more than window dressing for the record labels they were employed by.
His death, at the tragically young age of twenty-one, robbed Rock'n'Roll of one of it's last great ambassadors, and heralded the beginning of an excruciating period in pop history where mundane, chirpy, and wholly unpleasant songs dominated the charts all over the world as the 1960's got under way. In fact, the impact his death had on the world of Rock'n'Roll ranks alongside that of the fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. That terrible event has been regarded as 'the day the music died'. For fans of original Rock'n'Roll this is certainly true, more so when you take into account the woes that were befalling other Rock artists during the same period; Jerry Lee Lewis and the 'child bride scandal'. After it had emerged in 1958 that he had married his thirteen-year-old cousin it virtually destroyed his career. Elvis had been drafted into the army also the same year, and as the decade ended Chuck Berry would find himself in trouble with the law over a 'transportation of a minor over state lines' charge that would see him imprisoned. Little Richard had found God whilst on tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent in Australia in 1957, and he quickly discarded his Rock'n'Roll Wildman persona and his career never really recovered. One by one the founding fathers of the new music would fall by the way-side. Some by means that were self inflicted, and others in more tragic circumstances. Cochran's death would be seen by many as the final nail in the coffin for original Rock'n'Roll.
Eddie Cochran was the complete package. He could croon with the best of them, although vocally he was not as technically gifted as say, Gene Vincent or Elvis, he still delivered ballads with his own unique style. Equally unique was his gravelly, raucous, and quite menacing vocal he performed on his classic recordings such as Summertime Blues, C'mon Everybody, and more especially, Somethin' Else. The out-standingly tough persona he conveyed just on these three recordings alone testifies perfectly why, in the mid-70s, he was heralded as 'the grandfather of punk'! Then take a listen to Nervous Breakdown, Skinny Jim, and his breath taking guitar work on the instrumental Eddie's Blues, and you will see that the testiment is well deserved.
Born the youngest of five children to Frank and Alice Cochran (and the youngest by five years), the Cochran's had already migrated from their home state of Oklahoma to the small town of Albert Lea, Minnesota when Edward Raymond was born on October 3rd 1938. Eddie would later cite Oklahoma as his birthplace in interviews, mainly for credibility amongst the country & western musco's he worked with in his early career. Frank and Alice did move back to Oklahoma whilst Eddie was a young child, but after the youngster contracted a mysterious illness, the worried parents decided to move back to Albert Lea and rejoin the rest of the family.
Although relatively poor, Frank always managed to find work and would go wherever work was in order to feed the family. He had worked as a machinist, mechanic, labourer, whatever was required to pay the bills during the Great Depression. His sister, Flo, had already moved to Albert Lea with her husband and had managed to find a job for Frank within the same company as she worked. By 1931, the Cochran's had made the move to Minnesota.
Eddie's eldest brother, Bill,after getting out of the Navy had moved to a quite suberb of California called Bell Gardens. This was now 1952, and within the year Frank and the family would pack up their belongings and make another monumental journey in search of prosperity, although the prospects of a sunny, warmer climate would probably have been as much an incentive as anything else!
The young Eddie was already beginning to show signs of an interest in music, and after experimenting with a few instruments he had settled on an old Kay guitar that had belonged to brother Bill. According to Eddie's mother, he carried the guitar with him all the way to California and was by far his most prized possesion.
Eddie's first stab at music immortality came in the guise of a Hillbilly duet called The Cochran Brothers. He had met singer/songwriter Hank Cochran through mutual friends, and as the two shared the same love of Country music and the same surname, they decided to work together around the local clubs and bars around California. Their blend of staid Country classics and depressing ballads soon built them a fairly healthy following with the old time hillbilly fans, many of whom were mid-westerners or from the southern states and had moved to California in search of work during the depression era. During the 50s the Golden State had as big a Country & Western fan base as Nashville, and so duets such as The Cochran Brothers were never short of work. Soon they were to branch out further afield, and on one of their trips to The Lousianna Hayride they felt the full force of a whirlwind called Elvis Presley. He had been in town only days before and everyone was still in shock over his electrifying performance. This intrigued the young Eddie, and he would soon discover first hand just what all the fuss was about after he had witnessed his first Presley gig. So profound was the effect that he virtually sat down and re-invented his whole guitar playing technique over night. Up to this point Eddie was very much a disciple of the Chet Atkins and Merle Travis finger-picking brigade, throwing in the odd little bit of Jazz here and there. He had pretty much got it all down cold and was making a healthy name for himself as a picker aroung the LA area, but Presley guitarist Scotty Moore's approach, although derived from Atkins and Travis, was a whole lot more exciting and tougher.
Less disciplined, much more attacking with his solos, Scotty was developing a style that helped fill out the sound for Elvis (who played acoustic rhythm alongside slap bassist Bill Black, as yet no drums had been added to the line-up) with a lazy finger pick style accentuated with blazing Blues inspired double string solos that helped raise the excitement levels during the guitar breaks.
Elvis was without doubt the founder of Rockabilly music. Much more influenced by Country music, especially Hillbilly Boogie, as opposed to Rock'n'Roll's main influence of Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly is today fondly regarded as the slightly deranged first cousin of Rock'n'Roll. It was much wilder and raw, and as it only required a bare minimum of musical talent and bags of energy teenagers all over the country took to it in their thousands.
Elvis Presley's first records were released on the small Memphis label, Sun Records, and although they did not set the charts alight they had a tremendous amount of credibility with the teenage audience they were aimed at. Eddie immediately embraced this new music with a passion, marking his transition from a cowboy hat wearing Country warbler to all out rockin' hepcat!
The Cochran Brothers released three singles for a tiny Memphis based label called Ekko Records. This label also had an office in California, and the label boss, Red Matthews, spent quite a considerable amount of time rehearsing and grooming the duo. He obviously had high hopes for them, but all three singles failed dismally to garner any record sales. The first release, in June 1955, Two Blue Singing Stars/Mr. Fiddle (Ekko 1003), was very much tradition Hillbilly fare as was the next single, Guilty Conscience/Your Tomorrows Never Come (Ekko 1005) which was released the following month.
The final release, in May 1956, marked a quite radical transition. Gone were the fiddles and steel guitars, and in were slap bass and manic piano boogie-woogie. Tired & Sleepy/Fool's Paradise (Ekko 3001) clearly showed the affect that Rock'n'Roll was having on the duo, and although Eddie was totally sold on the new music his partner, Hank, although only a shade older than Eddie was very much into his traditional Country & Western. This divide would eventually split the partnership, although other factors would greatly contribute.
Jerry Capehart had been an aspiring songwriter and singer. He had managed to get a couple of his songs published through American Music - based in L.A, this healthy and well respected publishing company owned the rights to a huge back catalogue of million selling Country and Hillbilly songs - and had come into contact with Eddie whilst the two met, quite by chance, at The Bell Gardens Music Store (Eddie's local hang-out, he even worked there part-time and bought his Gretsch 6120 from the shop). Capehart quickly reaslised, much to the relief of music lovers the world over, that he was never going to cut it as a singer and persuaded Eddie and Hank to demo some of his songs in the small studio in the backroom of the music store. These earthy demos duly arrived on the desk at American Music, and Capehart further got his feet in the door as one or two of the songs ended up recorded by artists at Crest Records - a small indie label owned by American Music which served as a shop window for the songs they had publishing rights to, a common practise in the 50s. Capehart also swung a few one-off deals with other tiny indie labels around town for The Cochran Brothers, but his interest really lay with Eddie's talents. Jerry knew that Eddie was getting more and more into the new Rock 'n' Roll craze, and realising the potential he did everything in his power to end the duo's career. Within a very short period of time, The Cochran Brothers were indeed history. Hank would eventually move to Nashville and write some of the most successful and endearing songs of the early 1960s, right up to the present, for the likes of Patsy Cline, Burl Ives, Elvis Presley, Ray Price, Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, Patti Page, Willie Nelson, to name but a few. He and Eddie remained on friendly terms, and no fall-out happened as a result of the partnership dissolving.
The summer of 1956 saw Eddie and Capehart whirl into action. By now, through their connections at American Music, Eddie was playing session guitar on most of the Crest releases as well as a whole host of other tiny labels dotted around L.A. Crest even helped out by releasing the first solo Eddie Cochran 45 - Skinny Jim (Crest 1026). This record came about as a split session with artist Bo Davis. Four songs were recorded that evening, and so two singles were issued, Eddie's Skinny Jim b/w Half Loved, and the Davis 45, Let's Coast Awhile b/w Drowning All My Sorrows (surely one of the greatest double-sided Rockabilly records EVER released!).
Skinny Jim, although a terrific rocker and superb performance from the young 17 year-old Eddie, was never likely to set the world on fire, it did give Eddie the confidance to experiment with new material. Much of the rest of the summer was spent recording demos of everything from Pat Boone covers to Carl Perkins rockers, as well as Cochran/Capehart originals, in the hope of building up a big and varied enough back catalogue of material to take to bigger labels.… Expand
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