Techie, singer, writer, star: Rockabilly pioneer Eddie Cochran did it all

By Mike Greenblatt

The songs written or co-written by rockabilly pioneer Eddie Cochran have been covered by a virtual who’s who of rock and roll: Sex Pistols, U2, UFO, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, The Stray Cats, The Who, Little Richard, The New York Dolls, T-Rex, Blue Cheer, The Beach Boys, The Flaming Lips, Alan Jackson, Bobby Vee, Chris Spedding, Alex Chilton, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, James Taylor, Ritchie Valens, Joan Jett, Robert Gordon, Motorhead, Humble Pie, the White Stripes, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.

Should I go on? I certainly could.

Cochran was born in 1938 in Minnesota. He died in England in 1960, at the age of 21, when the taxi in which he was riding crashed en route to the airport.

Eddie Cochran publicity photoIn concert, Cochran was like a feral animal — prowling the stage, driving the little girls crazy. Gene Vincent, who survived that same crash, was supposed to be the headliner of that tour. After a few shows, though, Vincent graciously relinquished his headlining status.

(RELATED ARTICLE: Don’t go calling rockabilly artist Gene Vincent a one-hit wonder)

He didn’t want to have to follow Cochran.

As a guitarist, Cochran was of the cut-and-slash variety, all propulsive rhythmic churning, his body moving to every shift. As a singer, he was decidedly of the rockabilly hiccup variety, and on songs like “C’mon Everybody,” “Twenty Flight Rock” (which he performed in the 1956 movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” starring Jayne Mansfield), “Summertime Blues” and “Somethin’ Else,” he’s tightly coiled like a snake, ready to lash out any second. His records universally represented the frustrating teenage angst of the 1950s era; check out 2008’s “The Very Best Of Eddie Cochran” on EMI to get the full picture.

Eddie Cochran record valuesIn fact, the only reason Cochran isn’t mentioned in the same breath as rock forefathers such as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and The Everly Brothers is because he never made it to age 22.

Edward Raymond Cochran was also something of an early techie, experimenting with multi-tracked recording techniques and studio overdubbing. If Buddy Holly heads the list of dead pioneers who would have gone on to unfathomable heights — Holly was experimenting with strings — Cochran would be right on his heels. He played guitar, piano, bass and drums. An impeccable dresser, he had an innate flair for fashion. He was ruggedly handsome, and he had a natural rebel streak a mile wide.

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It’s a safe bet to say Cochran would have had a huge career. Forever frozen in time, though, he has taken on the kind of icon status akin to actor James Dean (who died at 24). Great Britain reveres him more than the U.S.

When Cochran’s family moved from Minnesota to California, the trek west hastened his ambition. He met country singer Hank Cochran — no relation — and the two formed a duo, to no avail. He played on some sessions, wrote some songs and was discovered by West Coast-based songwriter and manager Jerry Capeheart [1928-1998] with whom he co-wrote his most famous songs.

There was a brief period of time, prior to Cochran’s startling ascent, where he not only performed on sessions but co-produced (with and without credit) with such artists as Johnny Burnette, Wynn Stewart, Jewel Akins and about a dozen others.

He was friends with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. When they perished in that Feb. 3, 1959, airplane crash, Cochran was horribly shaken, and developed a morbid premonition that he, too, would die young. His plan was to stay in the studio to avoid such a fate, but financial considerations forced him on the road.

In death, Eddie Cochran has had the kind of career he could only dream of. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. There have been two published biographies. As the legend goes, John Lennon asked Paul McCartney to join The Quarrymen after hearing Macca perform “Twenty Flight Rock.” GM

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