Monday, April 15, 2013

Who the heck is Eddie Cochran?

   One of the true pioneers of rock n' roll, Eddie Cochran's career literally begins at the beginning. He starts performing as a teenager and his life as a professional musician ran concurrent to the very first and greatest rockers such as Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and even Elvis Presley. But somehow, in the U.S.A. and Canada, Eddie Cochran is not known as well as some of his colleagues.
   To examine the story I'd like to explain an era that I like to call 'the gap' in Rock & Roll.
   Many people talk about a certain gap in the era of early rock. They are usually referring to a period, in North America, that begins in 1960 and ends with the Beatles arrival in the U.S.A in 1964, marking the beginning of the British invasion.  Between these two dates, rock and roll either floundered or became a much tamer version of itself. On radio, if not in clubs, the rhythm and blues influence had toned down it's temperament and no longer aroused the same sort of emotions and 'reckless abandon' of it's early days. In looking at the top-selling singles charts of the early sixties, a person finds Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, the Everly Brothers and even Connie Francis took over from the 'real' rockers, and these artists had a much kinder and gentler message than some of their R&B-influenced predecessors.
    There were many reasons for this gap. Many of the original rockers, the supposed 'bad boys' that gave early rock & roll its' rebel image were removed from touring and recording for a variety of reasons. Little Richard found religion, Jerry Lee Lewis was ostracized for his marriage to a teenager, Chuck Berry faced a long court-battle and jail-time for allegedly having transported a 14 year old waitress across state lines. Elvis Presley was drafted, Bill Halley & the Comets supposedly disbanded after some near-riots during their European tour, and, of course: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson all died in a tragic plane crash.
    Into this mix of rebellious rock talent, we add the enigmatic Eddie Cochran. Eddie Cochran was actually booked to be on that same tour that took the life of Buddy Holly, however he survived them by missing the tour to do a fairly cheesy movie called 'Go, Johnny! Go!'. Cochran did not have a long list of smash hits, but his most popular songs were 'Three Steps to Heaven', 'Something Else' and a somewhat presumptuous tune called 'Summertime Blues'. A song obviously aimed at a teenage audience, but clear in it's rebellious message. I imagine the song left some parents wondering: 'How dare some punk kid with a guitar complain about working all summer?" and then those same parents danced along with the guitar riff because it was just too cool.
     One song that Cochran wrote, titled simply "C'mon Everybody" turned out to be a much bigger hit in Britain than in the U.S.A. and so, in 1960, Eddie Cochran and his friend Gene Vincent left on a tour of England hoping for a new level of success that they hadn't found in America. During their tour, the two of them entered a taxi cab. The cab was speeding down a highway, blew a tire, veered off the road and hit a lamp post. Eddie Cochran was thrown from the car. He died of his injuries later in hospital.

     Despite the tragic ending to the tour, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent had, through their performances, placed their stamp on England in such a way that they would forever be remembered as two of the true great rock and rollers of the early era. To this day, while most of the U.S. and Canada think of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent as a footnote to Elvis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, most Britons view them as equally influential if not as famous.
      It was uncommon, in the fifties, for a performer to write all his or her own material, but Eddie Cochran did more than most. Being both a writer and performer, Eddie might have, had he lived, filled some of that dreaded gap between 1960 and 1964 and he might have taken up the Rock & Roll cause where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and others left off. Instead.... after he died and a few years had passed, some musicians took up where Eddie Cochran left off...and they started playing his songs back to the rest of us in a different way.

Video: 1) Eddie Cochran performing Summertime Blues at The Town Hall Party Tv Show.
2) 1969 Blue Cheer performing "Summertime Blues" on German Television.
3) 1970 Led Zeppelin performing two of Eddie's songs: "C'mon Everybody" and "Something Else"