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Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 10:48 UK
Fifty years since Eddie Cochran's death
By Geoff Barker
BBC Wiltshire

Eddie Cochran
Saturday 17 April marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Eddie Cochran

April 17 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the brightest, most talented young musical prospects in the history of rock n roll, Eddie Cochran.

At the end of a long UK tour with his great friend Gene Vincent, they had played the Bristol Hippodrome on Easter Saturday April 16 1960 and were travelling back to London to catch flights back to the USA the next day.

In the early hours of that Easter Sunday, their taxi crashed just outside Chippenham, Wilts.

Eddie was taken to St Martin's hospital in Bath, but died from his injuries some hours later.

Fifty years on, Eddie is still remembered and revered as one of the all-time greats who would surely have gone on to even greater things as the 1960s unfolded.

The anniversary is being commemorated with music events all over the UK and in Eddie's home town in the USA, but the main focus of course, is in Wiltshire.

On the anniversary day itself, at Chippenham's Olympiad Leisure Centre, there is an all-day rock'n'roll celebration of Eddie's life with a host of top British rock'n'roll bands. Following the day of rock'n'roll at Chippenham, on the morning of Sunday 18 April there will be a walk by fans, to the site of Eddie's commemorative plaque on Rowden Hill, where flowers will be laid.

Headlining the event is veteran American star Charlie Gracie. Charlie had several million-sellers in the 1950s, including 'Fabulous' and 'Butterfly', and toured the UK three years before Eddie, in 1957.

Eddie Cochran
Eddie was killed when the taxi he was travelling in crashed on Rowden Hill in Chippenham on April 17, 1960

In the late-50s, he and Eddie worked together numerous times on American tours and TV shows and became close friends and would often stay at each other's houses. Charlie is no mean guitar-player himself, but has always said that Eddie was one of the best.

That is probably the key ingredient to Eddie's music living on 50 years later and why the thought of 'what might have been', is all the more poignant.

Eddie was a young guitar prodigy who started playing sessions for other artistes in the USA at the tender age of 15.

For someone so young he had an instant ear for country music, blues and the emerging sounds of rockabilly and rock'n'roll. Melding all this, he honed a unique style which became a dominant part of his recordings and subsequent hits, which is part of why they still sound so vibrant to this day.

But Eddie was a more than just a great guitar-player. He was one of a then rare-breed of rock'n'roll stars who actually wrote their own songs. In this respect his only real contemporary was Buddy Holly.

His two biggest songs 'Summertime Blues' and `C'mon Everybody' are today, recognised pop standards, and have attracted multitudes of cover versions in the decades since, from The Who, The Sex Pistols, Brian Setzer, The Beach Boys, Cliff Richard, Alan Jackson and many more.

Eddie also had a great rock'n'roll voice, with a real punk growl and swagger in his delivery which stood him apart from everyone else, with the only possible exception being the young Elvis Presley.

Also uniquely for a young rock'n'roller in the mid-50s, Eddie was also a multi-instrumentalist, playing bass and drums to a very high standard. So much so, that on many of his recordings, he played everything!

This in itself is another example of how far ahead of his time he was. Working in mono and the very early days of simple two-track stereo, Eddie taught himself the art of overdubbing, mixing and studio-production. In this respect alone he would surely have had a great career in the recording business.

'James Dean with a Guitar'

If all these attributes weren't enough, he was also an incredibly good-looking young guy, which guaranteed him great armies of female fans.

'James Dean with a Guitar' was one of the descriptions, and nothing could have been more appropriate.

But time and again, it is the guitar-playing of Eddie Cochran which is mostly spoken about, especially by musicians, these 50 years on.

There is a strong case to be made that Eddie was the first of the 1960s guitar-heroes, and he was someone whose playing had an especially massive influence on the next generation of British guitar-players.

Playing guitar in Eddie's backing band on that 1960 UK tour was Big Jim Sullivan. Jim was recognised as one of the two best guitarists in the UK at that time, the other being Joe Brown, who was also on the tour and was in Eddie's band for his UK TV appearances.

Eddie Cohran plaque
A plaque in Chippenham marks the spot where eddie was killed

Jim and Joe both recall being in awe at the things Eddie could do on a guitar. He could play amazing rock'n'roll solos, soulful blues and also the Chet Atkins style of country-guitar finger picking, none of which had ever been seen in the UK before.

Big Jim and Joe learnt much from Eddie in terms of style, technique, tunings and stringing a guitar to get more bend on the strings.

In the 1960s Jim became one of the busiest session guitarists in the UK, playing on hundreds of chart hits and numerous number one hits, with the likes of Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, and many more.

But perhaps most importantly, in the very early 60s after the Cochran tour, Jim started passing on his expertise and knowledge gleaned from Eddie, to a new breed of young UK players, including Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck.

So it could be argued that Eddie Cochran taught the UK how to play guitar!

Finally, it was the American musical influence that was also a key part of what Eddie left behind in the UK after his death; Georgie Fame was a 16-year-old piano player on Eddie's 1960 tour, and vividly recalls Eddie playing songs from the then virtually unknown Ray Charles, including 'What'd I Say' and 'Hallelujah I love Her So'.

To this day, if you see a George Fame concert, he readily credits Eddie as being the guy who introduced the music of Ray Charles to the UK.

All this, is the awesome CV and the incredible lasting legacy of the truly great Eddie Cochran.

But just one more thing to reflect on after reading all this, when he died in that Bath hospital that Easter in 1960, Eddie Cochran was just 21 years old.

Read the full story of The Death of Eddie Cochran.




SEE ALSO
Memories of The Beatles on The Plain
24 Nov 09 |  History
The night Roxy played in Chippenham
03 Dec 09 |  History
Singers and songs of the 60s
02 Feb 09 |  Magazine
Your 1950s: Fashion and leisure
24 May 07 |  Magazine
Bid to resurrect Cochran festival
05 Jul 05 |  Wiltshire

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