Born in Minnesota in 1938, Eddie Cochran wrote and played country music as part of the Cochran Brothers until the hits of Elvis Presley turned him toward rock and roll. In 1958 two hit songs, "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody," shot him to stardom. His fame and good looks earned him roles in the movies The Girl Can't Help It (1956) Untamed Youth (1957) and Go, Johnny Go! (1959). Cochran was killed in car accident at age 21.
Eddie Cochran was born on October 3, 1938, in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and grew up in Minnesota and Oklahoma before settling in California in 1950. Cochran began his musical career in 1954 and soon started a band with singer and guitarist Hank Cochran (who was not related). The pair formed the Cochran Brothers, a country-rockabilly act that recorded albums and toured the country.
However, Eddie Cochran’s style on stage was more rock and roll than country, as he was influenced by high-energy predecessors such as Bill Haley and Little Richard, and as the fifties unfolded, Cochran’s music began to more clearly match his performance style. He soon hooked up with songwriter Jerry Capehart, who would also serve as Cochran’s manager through his transition to rock music and until Cochran’s death.
Rock Records and Movies
Under the influence of Elvis Presley, Cochran dove headlong into a new sound, releasing his first rock-and-roll song, “Skinny Jim,” in 1956. While the song wasn’t a hit, it was a good start, and with Cochran’s Presley-esque gyrating hips and good looks, it wasn’t long before he too was a teen idol, landing his first film role in the comedy The Girl Can't Help It, which also featured his high-energy rendition of "Twenty Flight Rock." The following year, “Sittin’ in the Balcony” became his first hit record and he appeared in his second film, Untamed Youth. He returned to the screen two years later, in the 1959 rock-and-roll film Go, Johnny Go!
During this time, Cochran signed with Liberty Records and released the singles “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody,” both of which epitomized his new sound. The songs featured driving guitars accompanied by lyrics—full of references to parties and girls and the daily grind with parents and school—that represented odes to the contemporary California teenager.
Final Tour and Death
In 1960, riding high on his success in both music and movies, Cochran headed to England to perform on a countrywide tour. The tour was a smash hit, so much so, in fact, that it had been extended 10 extra weeks due to high demand.
It was a tour attended by future Beatles legend George Harrison, who later said of Cochran, “He was standing at the microphone and as he started to talk he put his two hands through his hair, pushing it back. And a girl, one lone voice, screamed out, ‘Oh, Eddie!’ and he coolly murmured into the mic, ‘Hi, honey.’ I thought, ‘Yes! That’s it—rock and roll!” A clear influence on the Beatles, in 1957 Paul McCartney taught John Lennon how to play Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” before they began playing in a band for the first time.
As that fateful UK tour came to a close, on April 17, 1960, Cochran was in a taxi from Bristol to an area airport for his return trip to the United States. The speeding taxi crashed, and Cochran was thrown from the car and killed. Cochran’s fiancée, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, and musician Gene Vincent were both in the car but escaped with injuries. Coincidentally, the last Eddie Cochran single released before his death was “Three Steps to Heaven.”
Cochran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
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