Although the career of Edward Raymond Cochrane was brief, during which time he had only had one major hit in the USA and topped the UK charts only once, he is now regarded as one of the finest ever rock 'n' roll artists and an outstanding rhythm guitarist.
Cochran formed his first proper group when he was 15, and known as the melody boys he started a musical partnership with his school friend Connie 'Guybo' Smith (bass) that would last throughout his short life. By now the young Cochran had already become a formidable player, using a chunky electric picking style similar to Chet Atkins. He formed a duo with non-relative Hank Cochran (guitar/vocals), and they went out as the Cochran Brothers. He soon became an outstanding rockabilly guitarist, with his now trademark Gretsch 6120 guitar, and he was soon finding plenty of work as a session player. Artists like Cochran and his friend Glen Glenn, were in transition during the mid-50s, moving out of country inspired rockabilly, into a harder rock 'n' roll sound.
Cochran's early recordings on the Ekko label sank without a trace, but in 1956 his cameo performance of'Twenty Flight Rock' in the film The Girl Can't Help It gave this handsome James Dean looka-like the career boost he needed, and he was signed by Liberty Records. Strangely, his new record company decided to release a ballad, 'Sittin' In The Balcony', which became a US Top 20 hit. The following year after a couple of minor hits ('Drive In Show' and 'Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie') the first of his classic anthems was released. The song 'Summertime Blues' (USA number 8, UK number 18), has now been recorded and performed by dozens of artists, and is now one of the most famous rock songs of all time. This lyric of teenage angst is timeless and features many perceptive observations of frustration, for example: 'Well my ma and papa told me son, you gotta make some money, if you wanna use the car to go a-riding next Sunday'. The repeated chorus 'Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do, but there ain't no cure for the Summertime Blues' perfectly encapsulated American teenage feelings. Additionally, the infectious riff has been copied down the ages, as the simple chord progression E,A,B,E sounds great to every guitar novice. The Who's lengthy and gutsy version on Live At Leeds is probably the most famous other than Cochran's. The following year, another timeless classic appeared, originally titled 'Let's Get Together', 'C'mon Everybody', had a similarly infectious riff; this time Cochran brilliantly conveyed the relief of finishing a hard day's work and preparing for a night out: 'Well c'mon everybody and let's get together tonight, I've got some money in my jeans and I'm really gonna spend it right', followed by the repeated and long-anticipated chorus, 'Whooah c'mon everybody'. This gem of a record ably showed how 50s rock 'n' roll could be uplifting, musically brilliant and yet contain simple, honest and enduring lyrics.
Cochran toured the UK in 1960 and became an immediate favourite, on radio, television, due to the lengthy Larry Parnes package tour all over Britain. He was due to return to his home in California for a brief recording session, and come back to the UK for a tour extension. He travelled by taxi after a gig at Bristol, intending to fly home in a day or two. He was tragically killed in Chippenham, Wiltshire, when his taxi went out of control and crashed after veering off the road. Although he was sitting in the back seat, Cochran's body was thrown clear and he died a few hours later in hospital. The driver was subsequently prosecuted with a fine, a driving ban and a token prison sentence. His close friend and co-star Gene Vincent broke a collar bone in the accident. His girlfriend, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, was badly injured. She was co-writer of his posthumous hit 'Something Else', which became a major hit for the Sex Pistols in 1979. His biggest record was the inappropriately titled 'Three Steps To Heaven', which topped the UK chart shortly after his untimely death. Surprisingly it failed to dent the chart in the USA. 'Weekend' was another posthumous hit, and the last of his classics, another tale of simple youthful enthusiasm for life, and the anticipated wild weekend: 'Friday night and everything's right for the weekend, boy its great for staying out late at the weekend'.
In 1963 ex-Tornados bass player Heinz launched his solo career with the Joe Meek-produced tribute 'Just Like Eddie'. Heinz was only one of the many artists who have been influenced by Cochran. His reputation continues to grow as his slim catalogue of recordings is constantly repackaged to a perennial audience. In recent years Tony Barrett of Rockstar Records in the UK, has uncovered many tapes of early Cochran demos, outtakes and unreleased gems. The whole catalogue has been released on this enterprising label, dedicated to keeping Cochran's name alive. It is remarkable that in a chart career of little over two years, Cochran made such a big impression, and like Buddy Holly he continues to be cited as a major influence. The recent excellent biography Don't Forget Me, which uses some of Rob Finnis' thorough research, has also invited a reappraisal of his career. He was a dedicated musician and one of the greatest exponents of 'progressive' rock 'n' roll.
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