In Moscow on 14th March I was pleased to host another tribute concert, to a great rockin’ icon. The artist in question this time can well and truly be said to have conformed to the culture of “live hard, die young.” His name was Eddie Cochran and he was one of the greatest rock’n’rollers of all time, despite the fact he died at the age of only 21.
Regular readers of this column will know I organise rock’n’roll concerts on a regular basis in Russia. On 14th March I held a concert at the Esse Café in Moscow, to remember the great man. The Café is an iconic venue for rock’n’roll in Moscow. I booked the Great Pretenders to perform at the event. Readers of this column will remember my piece on them; they are a superb rockabilly band with a great rock’n’roll history in Russia. They were a fitting choice to celebrate the legend of Eddie Cochran. A great night was had by all. You can see here some of the photos taken on 14th.
Cochran composed and performed some of the most famous rockin’ songs of all time. For example just look at this list of numbers – “C’mon everybody”, “Teenage heaven”, “Three steps to heaven”, “Twenty flight rock”, “Somethin’ Else” and the immortal “Summertime Blues”. A while back, I compiled a “Top Ten rock’n’roll tracks” for this magazine. I put Summertime Blues as my all-time number one and I haven’t changed my mind. The only amendment I’d make to that Top Ten today, would be to add Eddie’s “Somethin’ Else” to it.
Another very special quality about him was the dynamism of his stage performances. In 1960 he came over from the States with Gene Vincent to tour the country. His sound and stage persona took the country by storm; as did Vincent’s, about which I wrote in a previous Russia’n’Roll column. I need to cover more of that 1960 tour later, for tragic reasons.
The first time I ever saw a film clip of Cochran was in the movie “The Girl Can’t Help It.” One could say a lot about that film. For example I could write a whole column about the effect of seeing Jayne Mansfield had on me and I’m sure I’m not the only guy ! It was a brilliant rock’n’roll film and in it there is a magical clip of Eddie Cochran singing one of his own compositions, “Twenty flight rock.” It’s an unforgettable clip of a rockin’ genius in action.
Although he was before my time in terms of when he was performing, as a young rock’n’roller he was the perfect role model to relate to. His image was that of a smartly dressed young social rebel. This was a persona many young working class boys like myself aspired to. And he certainly lived that life-style. Although not quite as wild as his close friend Gene Vincent he nonetheless lived it up, in the short time he was a star up to his premature death. And unlike many other rockin’ icons, the consensus amongst those who knew him personally is that he was a real nice guy. Glen Glenn, who was a friend of his, described him as follows: “Eddie was a fun guy to be around. We liked the same things. He liked to drink beer and chase women – although the women chased him when he had all his hit records. He had a lot of friends. Elvis was just the opposite, he was a lonely guy.”
Now back to that 1960 UK tour. The previous year, 2 good friends of Eddie’s and legends of rock’n’roll, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, had been killed in a plane crash while on tour. The Big Bopper had also died in that tragedy. This affected Eddie greatly and family and friends say he developed a psychological premonition that he too would die young. He released a very famous song to commemorate his friends’ deaths, “Three Stars”. He decided he wanted to give up life on the road touring and instead spend his time recording music in the studio, thus reducing the chances of suffering a similar fate to his 2 friends. But he had to continue touring and performing, because basically he needed the money. So he agreed to tour Britain in 1960, along with his friend Gene Vincent.
The tour was a great success with the British audiences and one of the most memorable in rock’n’roll history. It certainly resurrected Gene Vincent’s career as a super star, albeit relatively briefly due to Gene’s ongoing problems with his critically injured leg and his alcoholism. But it wasn’t a good experience for Eddie and Gene on a personal level. Jim Sullivan, who was part of the project, recalls the problems: “Eddie and Gene both seemed like very lost human beings. I don’t think that Eddie wanted to be here for one minute. They both drank heavily. At one stage, Eddie was getting through a bottle of bourbon a day, if not two. At one point in the tour, he ended up with these great big blotches in his eyes caused by alcohol. Another time we had to prop him up at the Liverpool Empire where the microphone stand came up through a flap in the stage. We had to put his guitar over the microphone as it came up so he wouldn’t fall over !”
It was towards the end of the tour that tragedy struck. Driving back in a taxi from a concert both he and Vincent had been performing in, the taxi was involved in a collision. The speeding car blew a tyre and crashed into a lamp post. Cochran, seated in the back, threw himself over his fiancée Sharon Sheeley to protect her. He was then thrown from the car when the door flew open. He died the following day of severe head injuries. Vincent survived the crash, but his already permanently damaged leg from an earlier accident became even worse as a result of his injuries. The taxi driver was convicted of dangerous driving but got off with a small fine.
In death Cochran became a sort of rock’n’roll martyr, especially to his fans in Britain. As a young rocker in the 1970s I can remember being caught up in this feeling. There is a memorial stone commemorating his death in Rowden Hill, Chippenham (not far from Bath), where the accident happened. I went to visit it some years ago, during a period in my life when I didn’t live all that far from the site. It was sort of a mark of respect to a rockin’ legend. The stone is still there; it’s not extravagant, but it’s a real nice touch.
Eddie Cochran was sure special. He wrote and sang some of the greatest r’n’r songs of all time and the film clips of the time testify he was a great performer on stage, possessing charisma and raw energy. In the short time he was with us, he made his mark as one of the all-time rock’n’roll greats. He was “Somethin’ Else !”