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Eddie Cochran

A fine singer, songwriter and guitarist, Eddie Cochran was dynamic on stage, and handsome. In short, he had it all. He was one of rock and roll's earliest casualties, killed in a car crash while touring England with his friend, Gene Vincent. Cochran - whose hits included C'mon Everybody, Somethin' Else, and the classic Summertime Blues, was 21.

The youngest of five children, Eddie was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Some years later, the family moved to suburban Los Angeles as Eddie's father sought work as a machinist. In high school, Eddie met Conrad "Connie" Smith; the two soon began performing together. Cochran's skill grew, as he listened to and imitated, guitarists including country musicians Chet Atkins and Joe Maphis, and jazz players Johnny Smith and Joe Pass. Before long, he'd formed a band with singer-songwriter Hank Cochran. Though not related, they billed themselves as The Cochran Brothers. Signing with the local Ekko label, the Cochran Brothers released a couple of singles. Though the duo had gained a following on the local club and radio circuit, Ekko hadn't the power to promote their records - which, in truth, were pretty primitive to begin with.

Eddie - still in his mid-teens - and Hank continued to perform together, hooking up along the way with singer and songwriter Jerry Capehart. Capehart hired the two to record demonstration records on songs he had a hand in, and before long Eddie had come to the attention of American Music, a music publishing company. Cochran (now minus Hank, who eventually reached fame as the composer of country hits including I Fall to Pieces and Make The World go Away), signed with the relatively new Liberty. (Before he was signed, Eddie appeared in two movies: both starring Mamie Van Doren: Untamed Youth, and The Girl Can't Help It.) His first record for Liberty was a cover of John D. "Johnny Dee" Loudermilk's regional hit, Sittin' in the Balcony; it outsold the original.

He recorded several more songs for the label before coming up with Summertime Blues, the one that would catapult him to stardom. Simultaneously, Cochran was playing guitar and/or singing on record sessions for many other artists, the best known of whom being country singers Wynn Stewart (Keeper of the Keys) and Skeets McDonald (You Oughta See Grandma Rock), and his friend, Gene Vincent.

The two had met while touring on package shows, and became unlikely partners - Cochran the clean-cut Californian, Vincent a Navy veteran from Norfolk, Virginia, with one leg seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. Still, the two palled around Hollywood, sometimes with Ricky Nelson.

Cochran and Vincent were (and remain) more popular in the United Kingdom than in their own country, and the two - along with Cochran's girlfriend, songwriter Sharon Sheeley -- were on their way to London's Heathrow airport when the speeding cab they'd engaged slipped on a newly-graveled road. Cochran died of brain injuries on April 17, 1960, a few days after the accident; Vincent and Sheeley escaped with their lives.

Following the February 3, 1959 air-crash death of Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson, Cochran had recorded a tribute called Three Stars. Cochran's first posthumous release was a song he'd cut on his final session for Liberty: Three Steps to Heaven. Another title from the same session was Sheeley's Cherished Memories. Though both songs were about love, not death, they still seemed uncannily prophetic.

© 2004