Liner Notes by Lenny Kaye (1971)
It's just a picture, not quite high school graduation genre, stuck three by two in a wallet between that highly polished photo of the last in a long line of cars and the space reserved for your phony ID. There's a shadow along his left chin, the latter cleft in two so it rides the bottom of his face like a pair of crescent moons, pointing the way upward to a long, finely-slanted nose and a pair of eyes that peer darkly beneath the cliffs of his brows. The hair is fifties slick, all properly greased and brushed back, piled loosely on top so that the wave sort of hangs there in mid-space, caught in perfect balance. A good-looking face, the stuff of teen idols and movie stars, and Eddie Cochran wears it well. He leans it on his right hand, a pensive moment for his fans to ponder, only a trace of smile touching his lips. Hinting at untold mysteries, secret wellsprings, the calm before the storm. You can almost imagine him getting up after the flash , straightening his jacket, and walking out of the room, all without changing his expression or manner. He's that cool about it.
With more than ten years gone, you dig up the pieces wherever you can. He liked to go to the movies, preferably the drive-ins, with a load of his old friends and a six-pack of beer. He was a crack pistol shot, able to snuff matches with a Buntline at a hundred paces. He was five feet, eight inches tall, one hundred and forty five pounds. He had small feet, size 6, and so had a problem buying shoes. His favorite food was corn bread and beans. He liked to be home with his family, never enjoyed traveling all that much, turned to the guitar for "companionship" when he moved to California. He thought of himself more as a musician than a performer, had a good rapport with people in the business, and used to answer the phone with the Kingfish's famous "Hello Dere!" Dick Clark once forgot his name in the act of introducing him. His old manager and producer, Jerry Capehart, remembers that "there was nothing soft or fragile about him; he was a red-blooded American boy."
That last, at least, is sure enough. The color of his blood aside, it's remained clear-both from the legacy of his music and his mad dash through life that no other country in the world could have come up with an Eddie Cochran. Nor, for that matter, an Elvis Presley or a Little Richard or a Buddy Holly. But Eddie, out of all of them (Chuck Berry here being the obvious exception which proves the rule), has always seemed the one most tied to his homeland, a kind of unique spokesman who flared up and captured a time so perfectly that the only way to fully recreate it would be to simply go back and play some (any) of his songs. Where the others would sing of women, of love, of personal problems and solutions, Eddie would concentrate on what being a part of teenage America was all about, of the insignificant little times and treats that were so much gathered in the tail-end of one of the strangest decades it might ever have been our privilege to witness.
It was the reason why he had to go out of the country, to England, to achieve a kind of super-success. It was the reason why his music, unlike so many of his contemporaries, has lived on with all its power and richness intact. And it was, perhaps, the reason why an auto accident took place in a wet and rainy April of 1960, creating a legend out of what was once a star.
Maybe, as you're reading his story, you'll think that what he did wasn't so special, that any other kid with a guitar could have done the same, even down to you or me. But that's only because he was you or me, and any other kid with a guitar could have had the chance if he'd wanted, simple as that. In the years that Eddie worked and created, the secret of rock 'n' roll lay in this clandestine knowledge, grasped by everyone within reach of a top-40 station, uncared about by virtually anyone else.
When Eddie goes to the congressman with his troubles in "Summertime Blues", the point is perfectly taken. "Like to help ya, son" the congressman replies in that faintly reminiscent Amos 'n Andy voice, "but you're too young to vote."
But who cared then about voting? Shee-it, all we wanted to do was have a little party. Nothin' wrong with that, is there? Is there??
He was born on October 3, 1938, in Albert Lea, Minnesota, the youngest of five children: the Cochran Family was originally from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (and indeed, Eddie would always refer to it as his hometown), but the depression and its consequent squeeze for jobs had prompted them to move north. Albert Lea was not a large town, with a population of about 20,000 at that time, but if such things can be measured, it made for a happy childhood, full of fishing and hunting with his father Frank, enjoying the rewards which come with being the baby of a close-knit family. In addition, an early Liberty press biography notes that Eddie enjoyed "being lulled to sleep with records. Two of his favorites were 'Hot Pretzels' and 'Beer Barrel Polka"'. More to the point, it was probably western music, a love which he was going to carry through his later career, and which probably gave him the notion to pick up his first guitar at the age of twelve.
Actually, to set the record straight, it wasn't really the guitar he first thought of playing. His mother remembers that Eddie had first wanted to join the school orchestra as a drummer, then switched his fancy to the trombone when he discovered he would need a smattering of piano in order to take up the drums. Just as that was about to pass, however, his music teacher informed him that Eddie didn't have the properly-shaped mouth to play the trombone; so all decided that perhaps the clarinet was a better choice. With this in mind, Eddie and his mother traveled down to the local music store to purchase a clarinet. When they arrived there though, Eddie suddenly balked, refusing to even consider a clarinet; instead, he chose a guitar, declaring he wouldn't join the school orchestra if they wouldn't let him play what he wanted. Spurred on by that, ear constantly attuned to the radio, he then took to the instrument quickly, learning a few chords from his older brother, and teaching himself from there.
The family moved to California in 1953 - Bell Gardens, to be more precise - and with the rest of his brothers and sisters married and out of the house, Eddie began to work with his instrument in earnest. After a while, with a small three man band of neighborhood friends, he began to do a little work for local affairs, market openings and the like. The same Liberty press release notes that his first paid engagement was for the "Town Hall" employees at South Gate Auditorium. "Ed was so nervous - he lost his guitar pick!" It goes on to add, however, that this was "A far cry from the pro talent which blossomed over the next few years." Yes, indeed ...
It was at a music store in Bell Gardens that Eddie met Jerry Capehart in the fall of 1955, and it was to prove an association he would keep throughout the rest of his professional career. Capehart, an aspiring songwriter at the time, had been looking for someone to cut dubs for him. Eddie, for his part, had been working the usual series of local shows in a duo with a friend named Hank Cochran (no relation), doing a mild form of rock-a-billy music, and also playing on a couple of local sessions as a guitarist. The two spoke for a while, got it on, and when the team of the Cochran Brothers went into the studio to cut their first single, Capehart was there with them. Ultimately released on the Ekko label, the song - "Tired and Sleepy" - died a rapid-fire death. Though this was perfectly understandable, especially due to the haphazard nature of the company, the song remains interesting because it was the preliminary step in a right direction. Geared around a steady country shuffle beat, it borrows heavily from the concepts of Bill Haley, not unusual given Hank's (and Eddie's) strong country backgrounds. It is only marginally rock 'n' roll, though, and so even by the time "Tired and Sleepy" was recorded, it was becoming apparent that both Hank and Eddie were pointing in different directions.
Due to a series of personal problems, and also because his own particular brand of music seemed to dictate such a move, Hank soon left California for the greener environs of Nashville (where he would ultimately go on to record and write such songs as "Little Bitty Tear"). Eddie stayed on with Capehart, however, and together they joined up with a publishing company known as American Music. There, they made a series of dubs, with Eddie- playing guitar, Capehart on cardboard box (a long-lost technique which, when highly amplified and laden with echo, has the ability to sound like a good quality snare drum), and a school friend of Eddie's: Connie "Guybo" Smith, on bass. Some of these sessions, included here, were old standards-things like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Long Tall Sally"-and they showed that Eddie was definitely interested in making a solid transition to rock 'n' roll. Admittedly, he would always retain the country feel taught him by Hank, but now, adding on his own personal R&B favorites (notably Little Richard, with an equally large helping of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles), he performed the same sort of synthesis that had brought rock ‘n’ roll together at Sun a few years before. As an aside, it might be noted that here, as well as on the whole run of his future recordings, Eddie played all the guitars through the miracle of overdubbing. Capehart (don't miss the "Hit it, Cap!" during the guitar break of "Blue Suede Shoes") feels that if Eddie had not gone into performing, he would have made his mark as an ace studio instrumentalist, and listening to even these early performances, it's hard not to agree totally with him. Remember, this is a kid not much past sixteen years old, playing over himself in a studio condition one could only describe as primitive; with that in mind, these are amazing displays of talent, easy virtuosity any way you happen to look at it.
It was also about this time that Eddie recorded his first solo single, a little rocker in the Little Richard vein called "Skinny Jim". It was put out by Crest, a promotional label under the wing of American Music, and like "Tired and Sleepy", intended to go nowhere in a hurry. Still, its death was not entirely deserved. The piano, played by some unknown keyboard wizard, is an amazing pick-up in the pumping Jerry Lee Lewis style, and the song, contrary to a lot of the I-IV-V old faithfuls of the fifties, is put together nicely, with a fun lyric and a steady forward movement. Eddie sings it gruffer than he would later attempt, throwing in a neat little whistle that seemed to disappear as his stage act got older. It's not a great song by any means, but as a show of strength it was superb.
Armed with the dubs then, and "Skinny Jim", Capehart went knocking on doors. By this time, to set the chronology straight, it was about the beginning of '56. Rock 'n' roll, through the mediums of Elvis Presley and his rash of followers, had already made its preliminary inroads, but with all the sound and attendant furor, had not yet really made itself felt on more than a quick rush level. It wouldn't be until their July issue of that year that Hit Parader would begin easing off coverage of Snooky Lanson and Julius LaRosa and put "Teenage Heartbreaker Elvis Presley" on their cover, adding inside: "The big songs of the day are the Rock 'n' Roll ditties, and currently heading the charts are some great songs by two Country and Western recording stars who have made the popular music lovers sit up and take notice. They are Elvis Presley, of "Heartbreak Hotel" fame, and Carl Perkins, the lad who wails the "Blue Suede Shoes" rocker . . ." Subtract six months for media lag, add a voice that compared with the best of the "rock 'n' rollers" and a growing concern over how this new and very unexpected market could be sold, and you have a mighty hot company at Liberty, where Capehart eventually wound up with his wares.
"It was there," notes the Liberty bio, "that [Eddie] met and captured the admiration of Si Waronker, chairman of the board and Liberty's founder."
Coincidental with this occurrence, Eddie had been offered a part-a cameo, really-in one of the prime rock 'n' roll movies of all time, The Girl Can't Help It; and with the two working together, it was thought that Liberty would use the song from the movie, "Twenty Flight Rock", as Eddie's first single. (The part, incidentally, involved someone turning on a television set and having Eddie perform his song as the only logical reception.) However, before it was released, Liberty came upon a John D. Loudermilk tune called "Sittin' In The Balcony". The company called Capehart and Eddie down to 1654 No. La Brea, and asked them if they might want to do it as their opening gun. The pair were given a day to think about it, and Capehart remembers that on the ride home, he asked Eddie what he thought of the song. Eddie turned to him, said "Well, dad, -1 think it's a hit," and when they got back, called up Liberty and gave them the okay to go ahead. From there, Waronker conferred the nod on Johnny Mann for the arrangement, Eddie played guitar, Capehart once again slapped away at what sounds to be the cardboard box, and they recorded the whole thing in eight hours, put it out toward the fall of ’56, and it was an immediate hit.
In retrospect, though, "Sittin' in the Balcony" was only partly the sound that Eddie would gravitate to as time went on. Up front, it was a fine song, bouncy and full of teen appeal ("Just a-sittin' in the bal-co-ney/In the very last row . . ."), but in its own way, it came off as just a bit too coy and innocent. The voice, clearly on the Elvis wave-length (this wasn't unusual: everybody sounded like Elvis then, even if they purposefully set out not to), drowned in a sea of be-bop-a-lula echo, only becomes fully clear during the chorus lines, and in between, with a kind of humor that's only hinted at, Eddie gives out with a series of sub-liminal moans and murmurs. Heart-throb stuff, you know; a little well proven tum-tingling material for the fans. In the end, though, what saves the record from being fawningly sweet and candy-coated is Eddie himself: his dissatisfaction with the material is almost obviously evident, a kind of game which he had yet to learn his way around, and though he sings the song with a lot of feeling, it's clear that he's not knocking himself out either. The sudden up-surge of the guitar break, double-laden and highly involved, only serves to bring this conflict out the more.
But this idea of nascent artistic integrity can be overemphasized also. Disregarding any of Eddie's future stances, which would not be set up to appeal to younger teenage girls as they would to a more solidly adolescent community, it's a very basic fact that both Capehart and, to a probably slightly (but only slightly) lesser extent, Eddie himself, were very calculatedly commercial. They wanted hit singles, to establish themselves in the business - much, I suppose, as did anyone else then or now - and indeed, the early part of Eddie's recording career can be seen as an attempt at trying out different styles, "identification", as Capehart described it himself to me. If, perhaps, they got lucky with their first single and it was a solid smash... well, then that must be the way to do it. No?
Well, that was the way they did it. After the initial success, Eddie took off on his first promotional tour, meeting Dick Clark in Philadelphia not too many weeks after American Bandstand first went on the national air, hitting the top city DJ’s (Cleveland's Bill Randall, Howard Miller in Chicago, Boston's Joe Smith and Barry Kay out in Pittsburgh), making friends and solidifying fans. When he returned home, Capehart and he collaborated on a tune called "Mean When I'm Mad" that was sent out as the second single. It's not included here, and Capehart refers to it as "a mistake". Which is not entirely right: "Mean When I'm Mad" is a good, albeit a shade colorless (especially considering the hard-as-nails title) usual tune of the times, and worth a hearing, if only to see the sort of stuff that would come out of the first flush of Cochran success.
Sadly, however, it proved to be the end of their run for the year. By the time 1957 had gotten well underway, it was apparent to both Capehart and Eddie that things were not working for them in top-flight fashion. They had a regional hit in the midwest that summer called "(Baby Let's Go To A) Drive-in Show", but it never moved nationally, and the rest of the year was similarly not very productive. "Nothing really happened, record-wise," recalls Capehart. "We were looking for some kind of feeling, but it just never came around in the right way." The only bright spot during '57 was the release of Untamed Youth, a feature film starring Mamie Van Doren with Eddie in a prominent role, about kids picking cotton near Bakersfield, California. ("Cotton Picker", included here, is from that movie, which can be seen flickering across late night television now and again: watch for it, so you too can share the indignities of hard work in the hot sun, outrage upon outrage, all your favorite familiar storybook characters, etc. etc.) A bit uneven, then, Eddie finished out the year in the east, doing the Alan Freed show over Christmas and a little more spot touring.
In March of 1958, he went over to see Capehart at the latter's place in the Park Sunset apartments in Hollywood. They had a session scheduled for the next day, and they wanted to run through some already-written material, picking out the goods from the bads. By the end of the night. however, they realized they had nothing on their hands worth recording. Still, Eddie had a lick on the guitar that he sort of dug, and he played it through a couple of times, which started Capehart thinking about things to write around it. "I knew that there had been a lot of songs about summer, but none about the hardships of summer. And of all the seasons, there'd never been a blues song about summer: they had 'em for winter, for fall, for spring . . ." Hmmmm. Forty five minutes later, the tune was done. They went in the studio the next day, laid it down, Eddie playing his new guitar riff, dubbing in his Kingfish voice, and Connie working the bass underneath. "Summertime Blues" was released in May, hit the charts in June, and stayed there all summer. Just, as that old show biz story always goes, like it must've been meant to.
It was a natural. More than that, it was a classic. In one full swoop, not only had Eddie secured himself a name and consequent career, but he found a musical personality with which he could be comfortable, that translated itself over to every kid in every city or town who hunched around the corners with nothing to do, delivering groceries or dry cleaning in the daytime, looking for trouble at night, watching an aimless thread of existence that lasted until school started up once again in the fall. By some strange alchemy, the song transfused the annual summer let-down into an anthem, the collective moan of an at-ends generation who, in spite of all their other in-group trials, had to also keep getting bothered, and nagged, by everyone in sight. He told the simple story of jus' anybody who tries his best to function - to get a car, to arrange a date, to lay back and catch even another five minutes of sleep - and nowhere, nowhere, is he given a break. Except, of course, when he busts through for a stolen moment or two. He'll get caught, and put down again, but what the hell. There ain't no blues like the-you know the rest of it I'm sure.
The record itself was a beauty, a veritable producer's dream. For all its past tense, "Summertime Blues" sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday, so clean and alive, acoustic guitars ringing around some old traditional handclapping, driven by a vocal which no one before or after could have done one whit better. As Eddie moves into the chorus, he drags out a "weelll . . ." that strikes me as being one of the most perfect moments of rock 'n' roll singing ever captured on record, and he doesn't get down from there for a moment. With all this to the ledger, it's no wonder that the song has since been picked up and become an easy standard, a staple of Who live performances, the first crazed hit single of Blue Cheer, part and parcel of every band that ever made a climb to the stage of a high school dance or party. When they come perfect, they don't come any better.
And Eddie, as was his way, took all this new-found success very casually. Capehart speaks of him as a remarkably mature individual, a kid who went from being fifteen to almost twenty-three or four in a matter of moments. "Eddie loved success," he told me when I asked how Eddie responded to each new stage in his career, "and he loved the recognition that success brought." But if he loved it, he never let it really get out of hand. Perhaps because of his temperament, which was somewhat introverted, or perhaps because his two big launching blocks were separated by a year and a half, fame always stayed subdued for him, held in perspective at all times. A short interview recorded with him in England right before his death, reveals him as polite, answering questions in a simple, direct manner, everything thought out and then verbalized. Dick Clark figures that many might have thought him "sullen", because of this restrained and careful part in his character, but also adds that he "was different, not the usual sort of performer we had on the show."
This bit of difference would reveal itself in Eddie in a variety of different ways. An easy star, he would never mingle much in Hollywood. Rather, held prefer to stay home, hanging out with his family and old friends, doing the things that most any other teenager would've liked to do. He couldn't play the game all the way, of course - obviously, he would never be just another ordinary guy, walking down the street anonymously, messing around for no good reason, doing the whole ride-around number of car/ school/girl. But he made up for it with a kind of uncanny brilliance in sussing out the root of teenage America; for a kid who had dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade to pursue a career in music (and his mother remembers that he'd always enjoyed school, and was very good at it), he never lost his touch with the underlying moods of high school culture, pulling them in stronger and more directly than anyone had yet attempted or thought meaningful.
It would prove the secret of his music. Even putting the excellent lyrics aside (in general, Capehart is credited with most of the work on them, since Eddie was always more the musician), the songs have a unique flavor, the feeling of being on ground which had never been chorded over before. His style was unique, in a field which prided itself on repetition, and though you can pick out the influences, run them down one by one, you'll still find yourself with a pretty big chunk of music to account for. And when you come down to that, pared away down to the bone, you can take a look and see the figure of Eddie Cochran. There's no one else. "He must have had something more than the other guys," from Dick Clark. "His records never lost touch. .."
After "Summertime Blues" had run its course, Eddie and Capehart went into the studios to think about a follow-up. Presented with a situation not unlike what followed "Sittin' In The Balcony", they fully showed they had absorbed their previous lesson by doing a tune called "C'mon Everybody", which, despite the greatness it proceeded from, easily proved itself to be quite a worthy successor-for all the right reasons, of course. Detaching the topicality from "Summertime Blues", picking up on the idea of The Party that Bobby Darin had put his feet on in "Splish Splash" (and which would be lost until U.S. Bonds and Claudine Clark rediscovered it several years later). then laying on a lyric which has yet to be e qualled for pure frivolity and power, the record was a one-two masterpiece. And what was even more interesting was that although the style (comparing the two hits side by side) was nearly similar-large helpings of acoustic guitar, the same per-sonal stolen moments description that any kid could in-stantly identify with, the same general themes dealing with those old has-beens of generation gap, and the desire to let loose right in the belly of the beast - the two songs managed to sound amazingly different. They moved at conflicting speeds, broke at different parts, had choruses that never touched any of the same notes.
And, with a generosity not unlike hearing a great double play over the radio courtesy of the All-American Good Guys, you're going to get to hear the song twice on this album. The first, over on side one, is the way the work was designed initially, called "Let's Get Together" and a mite ragged around the edges. On the other hand, "C'mon Everybody", the hit version in the midst of side three, is how it sounded over the radio back then, working its way east over the late fall of '58 and early winter of '59. Though it never managed to sell as many pieces as "Summertime Blues", which did garner a gold record for its troubles, the impact "C'mon Everybody" generated was nearly as great. NRBQ, to bring things up to date for a second, included it on their first album, and the question of whether it was done better or worse is not as relevant as the fact that they made the move at all.
"C'mon Everybody" solidified Cochran's reputation, and all during 1959, he worked a series of tours through the country, coming back to record and then heading off again. The troupe went by bus, by train, sometimes by air, once over a series of one-nighters that seemed to include about every place that could conceivably set up a show in the midwest. He had formed a band about this time, known as the Kelly Four feature Connie, and later Dave Shreiber, on bass, Gene Riggio on drums, and a variety of musicians on piano and sax. The group (so named because of Eddie's Irish ancestry) had begun to be seen with a "steady" girl, Sharon Sheely, who had written "Poor Little Fool" for Ricky Nelson. In between the dull stretches, there were Moments. One night,stopping in a Cleveland hotel on the way to New York, Sharon had gone to sleep early, about 9:30 or 10:00. Eddie was up in his room (this was 1959, remember) and was startled by a call from Sharon about the house detective. He rushed down, battered open the door with Capehart, and discovered that a drunk private eye from the hotel was standing there, saying he would arrest Sharon as a prostitute if she didn't, ah, deliver some of her favor to him. Whereupon Eddie, in time-honored fashion, proceeded to stomp the shit out of the house detective, breaking his nose and tossing him down the stairs. Chivalry, even then, was not yet dead.
But the tours were long, immensely tiring, and Eddie didn't like them too much! Each time he would return to California, he'd talk with Capehart about future plans, most of which revolved around getting into the recording/ producing end of the music business; he liked song writing and intended to stick with that. Capehart, in the meanwhile, had just discovered a young studio musician named Glen Campbell, and Eddie and he were anxious to start working with him. Perhaps another reason for Eddie's dissatisfaction might have been being party to the deaths of Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly. Buddy, in particular, had been an especially close friend, and until Eddie had been pulled off for some unremembered reason, he had originally been scheduled to appear on the same tour with the trio when they were killed. Most likely, he was feeling their tragedy in some personal way. ("Three Stars", on this album, was originally designed as a record to garner royalties for the three stars' families; but there was some problem in the details of this agreement with Liberty and it was never released.)
Still, there was a lot of good music done during this time, and Eddie was in good form throughout. Though he and Capehart were destined never to find another "Summertime Blues", they couldn't be faulted if such a dynamite song as "Something Else" (which Eddie wrote with Sharon and has since been preserved by the Flamin Groovies on their Supersnazz album) failed to make the grade. Similarly, "Three Steps To Heaven", which was recorded in the summer of 1959, is an excellent song, not so much for the implications it would raise in the light of subsequent events, but rather for its strengths as a single; those incredibly strong opening chords (shades of Tommy), a fine set of words, and Eddie's best heartbreaker voice.
But musical considerations aside, you just can't get away from the fact that even though Eddie seemed perfectly cut out to be a rock 'n' roll star, the very cut of a Teen Idol, that he had the talent, looks, and personality to back him up all the way, in the end he'd decided it just wasn't his kind of life. Instead, he looked forward to settling down, to getting married, to relaxing and working on his guitar playing. Maybe there was an idea to do some studio work (like the time he sang bass for Gene Vincent), or a few little constructions of his own (most of the tracks on side two, which might also be known as Eddie and his Friends, fall into * this category), and maybe 'there was just a notion to lay around out in the desert a lot more; you know: a little hunting, camping, them much talked-about good things in life he had learned about back in his Minnesota days.
There was going to be another tour, though-this time to Europe and specifically England. Leaving in February, 1960, it was slated to last about four or five weeks, featuring such as Gene Vincent and English stars like Billy Fury, and, according to Nik Cohn in Rock From The Beginning, it was to be "the first ... full unaborted tour of Britain" by an American rocker. Simply, at least for Eddie, it was to be the touch that blew the lid off. In Italy, they placed his face on national magazines opposite Brando's, daring you to choose one over the other. In England itself, caught in the grip of an intense rock 'n' roll fever, desperate for just about anything American that had a beat attached to it, the pandemonium went even higher. Where there were rock stars in America, just another Frankie Avalon or Conway Twitty or Danny and the Juniors, they were national heroes over in the British Isles. Front page news, celebrities of the highest order, followed everywhere by stricken kids, anxious to pick up on their strange magic (George Harrison, for one, followed Cochran around from town to town just watching his fingers; for another, Georgle Fame played keyboards in his back-up band). The excitement was intense: by the time Sharon came over to join him in March, it couldn't be said that a tour was happening; there was rather a triumphal procession, moving from town to town, snatching up audiences and leaving them dazed, irrevocably dazzled and forsworn to the faith.
Finally, it looked to be about over. Eddie had been booked for another ten weeks, but he wasn't set to start until near the end of the month, so he had decided to go back and visit the States. Talking to his mother before he left, he said it was going to be the end: "After this, I won't have to go on the road anymore.''
So here are a lot of stories surrounding April 17, 1960. It's said that he ran screaming from his room the night before, filled with the fear that he was about to die, however, he recovered by the time he got in the car with Sharon, Gene Vincent, and a chauffeur the next day. Or that a week previously, Sharon went to see him in his room, finding him there playing Buddy Holly records. She thought that was unusual, since he had never been able to bear listening to Buddy after the latter's accident. Sharon told him to stop, that "you'll only hurt yourself, honey", but that Eddie replied, in a kind of dazed, far away voice, of how he thought he'd be seeing Buddy soon. Or Capehart remembers a time driving on the freeway when Eddie turned to him and said that he had a feeling he wasn't going to live very long. And then, at the session to record "Three Steps To Heaven", Eddie had showed two hours late, to be greeted with a mighty peeved manager/ producer. "Who's gonna care?" Eddie shrugged. "It doesn't matter, none of it does."
Maybe he sensed his death. Maybe not. Everybody drops clues to their own time of passing; they just have to formally go before we're able to recognize them. But presaged or not, a tire blew on the limousine during its ride to the airport, causing it to collide with a lamp post by the side of the road, causing Eddie to bounce straight up in the car causing him to sustain multiple head injuries. He died several hours later without regaining consciousness.
Over here, the news never made much of a big stir. Bottom of page two, with luck, a spot on the late night wrap-up, a couple of memorial spins by all too-few jockeys. After watching Buddy Holly/Richie Valens/the Big Bopper go down, it was going to take someone really huge to shake us again. (This was also the case with the death of Jim Morrison being overshadowed by Janis Joplins', Jimi Hendrix's, Brian Jones' and Louis Armstrong's.) By the time a couple of years had passed, you would have a hard time finding his records in stores; except for "Summertime Blues", religiously at the start of every June, he'd begin a slow fade from just about every consciousness.
Over in England, though, you can write to the Eddie Cochran Memorial Society, 85 Kingsway, Kinsgwood, Bristol. "Summertime Blues" or no, they never forgot the mark he placed on them during a whirlwind set of moments.
As is usual with most 'What If . . questions, there's no telling where Eddie Cochran would have gone had not his life ended so suddenly and tragically. Though he had never made it as big in America as in England, overnight, it was probable that Liberty, who had -never done much in the way of promotion and publicity (due, it must be admitted, in part to Eddie's nature, which had always tended to shy away from such music business necessities as an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show which he blew by simply not showing up) would have recognized a good thing when they saw it and gone all out to make sure it happened here as well. On the other hand, it's just as likely that Eddie's desire to ease out of the Teen Idol scene into other, more behind-the-curtains actions, might have meant that he would have retired from performing and simply concentrated on his guitar (always his first interest), his writing, and his producing.
In either light, it's abundantly clear that Eddie's talents were so great, so all-encompassing, that wherever he would have chosen to make his stand, the likelihood was that he would have had a poor chance of not succeeding. Those who were lucky enough to see him perform report that hisstage presence had a magic quality over people; that when he would come on stage, everybody in the place would quit dancing and crowd around, watching him put it over, song after classic song. As a guitarist, he was singularly great, able to ride the strings with subtlety or great power, versatile as only the best usually are. Once asked what would happen if he ever lost his voice (another strong point, which could cross from rock-a-billy into rhythm 'n blues without missing a notch), he replied "I'd consider it a blessing". There was no doubt: he loved his instrument very much.
And, like most good musicians, he could never get enough of playing. He and Capehart held most of their sessions in L.A.'s Gold Star Studios, and since recording costs had yet to feel the bite of big money (a comparatively miniscule fifteen dollars an hour was the normal charge), they spent a lot of time there, trying out this and that. Consequently, there remains a large amount of Cochran material that never made it to records when he was still alive, most of which has gradually been released post-mortem over in England to satisfy an unceasing popular demand, though for various reasons, little has seen the light of day over here. Much of it - studio jams With the Kelly Four, dubs of one sort or another, alternate takes - is fairly crude, and probably couldn't have been released had Eddie still been around (he was quite a perfectionist in all he did), but with his death, its value in illuminating the music of the man has become incalculable.
Some of the tracks here, as in the after-hours tape-roll of "Eddie's Blues" and Chuck Berry's 'Little Lou", show off areas in which Eddie always enjoyed dabbling, a bit of fun to relax with when all the real work was over and done. Both are from sessions in 1959, the first (and probably the second) featuring a large slice of the Kelly Four. In "Eddie's Blues", Cochran gives us what might be the longest and most sustained example of his guitar prowess on record, with clean, surprisingly pointed and coherent phrases, coupled with a liberal use of the sway bar (that much-loved fifties technique).
From a much earlier period is "Pink Pegged Slacks", with Eddie, Capehart, and Hank Cochran assuming the writing chores. "At that time, they were the thing," remembers Capehart, and "we tried to make it as ridiculous as we could." They succeeded nicely. The following cut, "Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie" (not to be confused with the Little Richard song of nearly the same title), was released during the dry spell of 1957 as the flip side of "Am I Blue". It's a formula song, buoyed up by a good performance on Eddie's part and a firm grasp on the mechanics of the style, but not to be considered anything on the spectacular side.
Side Two of this package features records by Eddie made in conjunction with other people. Both "Pretty Little Devil" and "Thinkin' About You" (recorded not far Into 1959) were done by a close friend named Bob Denton, whom Eddie had always wanted to see have a hit record. The songs are basic country, and without too much trouble you should be able to pick out the Cochran harmonic voice and guitar building up the foundations. He Plays a less prominent role in the two Jewel (Akens, who would later have a smash with "The Birds and the Bees") and Eddie (Daniels) songs included here: "Who Can I Count On" and "Opportunity", another pair from early '59. "Opportunity", and you should notice the vaguely recognizable set of guitar chords in the beginning, was the only one of the four that did make some noise as a minor hit when released. The following two selections, "Latch On" and "I'm Ready", date much earlier, with Hank Cochran singing lead and Eddie backing him on guitar. Even more than "Tired and Sleepy," they tend to show exactly the kinds of places Hank liked to visit in his music, an up-beat kind of rock-a-billy with the emphasis on the "billy".
Side three might be referred to as the superhit side, containing as it does, both "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody". Sandwiched in between them, however, are several songs which are among Eddie's finest work, imperfections and all. "Cut Across Shorty", which should by now be infinitely familiar to all of you out there due to Rod Stewart's version on his second album, comes from Eddie's last session, in late '59, which also produced "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" (self-explanatory) over on the fourth side. Liberty supplied the song, and Capehart remembers that Eddie never cared much for it. In retro-spect, this appears somewhat hard to understand: the track seems perfectly molded to Eddie's particular style, his voice picking up the phrasing strong and naturally, moving it right along till he fades off the vinyl at the end. A lovely piece of work. "Milk Cow Blues" is a standard, best known from Elvis in his Sun period, that Eddie used to make a staple in his stage act; the take here has all the looseness of a late night jam, which it was, recorded in early '59. "Nervous Breakdown" comes from an early 1958 dub, and its moment to watch for is a great sax and guitar interchange stuck beautifully in the middle. Short and sweet and hard to beat.
The fourth and final side is the one where it's all gathered together, the odd bits and pieces, a kind of golden scraps approach. "Teenage Cutie" is a heretofore un-released master which Capehart remembers was probably done for The Girt Can't Help It in the chance that they might have needed a second song for Eddie. "Weekend" was written by Bill and Doree Post (who would also come up later with Connie Stevens' "Sixteen Reasons"), a simple rock'n' roller that was recorded a little after "Summertime Blues". "Fourth Man Theme", from early 1959, is an instrumental, non-rock but sort of infectious anyway, with Eddie playing the varied assortment of guitars, and Connie on bass. And finally, the last cut which we haven't already covered elsewhere is "Bo Weevil", public domain courtesy of Tex Ritter, a small tribute to the country music which never detached itself from Eddie's side, and prob-ably never would have, no matter where his creativity was about to lead him when he ran out of time.
"I not only resents de allegation," Eddie used to say in his Kingfish voice, "I also resents de alligator!" With that in mind, perhaps it's best to leave well enough alone. It's too easy to get melodramatic over Eddie Cochran; in the end, all you can really say about him is that he lived, he died, and in the process he made some music that stands by itself. Sharon Sheely once remembered that Eddie would disappear sometimes, and when he'd return, she'd find that he'd been out entertaining at a children's hospital somewhere. It's a nice story, so nice that you begin to wonder if it was ever true. And maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. It might've been though, and that's all that counts.
"Well, we'll really have a party," was just another way of looking at it. "But we gotta put a guard outside…"
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