Eddie Cochran was born on 3 October 1938, the youngest of five children.
The Cochran family home was in Oklahoma City but shortly after Eddie was born the family was forced to move to Albert Lea, Minnesota, in search of employment.
In Albert Lea (population 20,000) Eddie grew up in a relaxing atmosphere of hunting, fishing and practising the guitar, but the family moved again – to Bell Gardens, California.
There Eddie began playing rockabilly music and met Jerry Capehart, an aspiring songwriter who was to become integral to his success.
Soon after they first met, Capehart got some recording studio time and took Eddie and Hank Cochran along to cut some songs they had co-written.
Following this session, three titles were released as singles under the name of The Cochran Brothers: Tired and Sleepy, Mr Fiddle and Guilty Conscience. Hank Cochran preferred a different style of music though and set off for Nashville to play pure country music.
In 1956, Eddie and Jerry made some dubs for publishing company American Music, and among the songs they laid down were Long Tall Sally and Blue Suede Shoes – an indication of how fast they had moved on to pure rock & roll once away from Hank’s country influence.
On the dubs, Eddie sang and played the guitar while Jerry played a cardboard box, amplified to sound like a snare drum. The bass was played by a session guy called Connie ‘Guybo’ Smith (as it was on most of Eddie Cochran’s hits).
As a result of these dubs, Eddie had his first solo record released – Skinny Jim b/w Half-Loved – on the Crest label (a promotional subsidiary of American Music).
Armed with the dubs and the solo record, Jerry Capehart did the rounds of the record companies in the area and found Liberty interested enough to sign Eddie. Then, instead of using any Capehart/Cochran material, Liberty gave them a John D Loudermilk song, Sittin’ In The Balcony, to record.
Released in late 1956 it sold over one million copies with Eddie singing in his gulping, ersatz-Elvis voice, and Capehart on the cardboard box drums. As a direct result of the hit came a cameo part for Eddie in the film The Girl Can’t Help It (1957), starring Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield.
Liberty permitted Eddie to record a Capehart/Cochran original as a follow-up single, but Mean When I’m Mad was a disaster and marked the beginning of a lean period for Eddie and Jerry. While they spent their time trying to find the right style for them – a sound that would sell and make them both successful – Eddie appeared in another film, Untamed Youth, about kids picking cotton in California.
And then, in March 1958, Eddie and Jerry wrote Summertime Blues in less than an hour. They released it in May and it quickly became an enormous hit and has become one of the most covered songs in popular music history.
The sparse instrumentation of Eddie’s voice and guitar, Connie Smith’s bass and Jerry Capehart’s cardboard box were again used on the follow-up single, C’mon Everybody. It didn’t do as well as Summertime Blues – except in Britain – but still sold well over a million copies and soared up the charts in the autumn of 1958. His next single was Somethin’ Else, written by Eddie and his girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley.
In order to fulfil his touring commitments, Eddie put together a live band featuring Connie ‘Guybo’ Smith on bass, Gene Riggio on drums and a variety of musicians on piano and sax. The group even cut some records together, notably the instrumental Guybo b/w Strollin’ Guitar.
Following the death of Buddy Holly (who had been a close friend of Eddie’s) in February 1959, Cochran vowed to move out of the limelight and concentrate on recording and producing some of the other acts that he and Capehart liked, including a young studio musician by the name of Glen Campbell. He agreed to make one last tour – of England – to play with Gene Vincent.
Cochran and Vincent were treated like royalty in Britain and their TV appearances and concert performances blazed a triumphant trail around the country. When promoters Jack Good and Larry Parnes asked Gene and Eddie to extend their tour by ten weeks, they both agreed but insisted on a short break before the second half of the tour.
After the final date of the first half of the tour, at the Bristol Hippodrome on 16 April 1960, Eddie set off in a hired taxi to London Airport with Gene Vincent and Sharon Sheeley. Gene was going to Paris for a few dates and Eddie was returning to the US with his fiancée Sharon, to get married.
In the early hours of the following morning, a burst tyre sent the taxi crashing into a lamppost on the A4 in Chippenham, Wiltshire (pictured at right). The three of them were sleeping in the back when the accident happened and Eddie was thrown up into the car roof.
A few hours later, he died of severe head injuries without ever regaining consciousness.
Both Sharon and Gene were badly injured, and Gene was in pain from his injuries until his death in 1971. Following the accident, Sharon Sheeley returned to the United States, where she lived until her death on 17 May 2002, at the age of 62
Cochran’s next scheduled single release was the ironically-titled Three Steps To Heaven (although the song referred to the ‘heaven on earth’ of being in love, not the great jukebox in the sky) and in the month following his death, it became his biggest hit ever.
That car crash in Wiltshire, England, gave Cochran instant immortality and, with it, he joined the growing list of rock & roll stars whose untimely deaths turned them into cult heroes.