Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on May 16th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Raised in Minnesota and Southern California, the teenage Cochran briefly shared an act with unrelated country singer Hank Cochran as the Cochran Brothers before going whole-hog for the new rockabilly sound. The photogenic musician made appearances in teen flicks such as 'The Girl Can't Help It' and 'Untamed Youth,' and his singles soon began to chart: 'Summertime Blues' in 1958, 'C'mon Everybody' the following year.
A moderate success in his homeland, Cochran was an instant smash in England, where the youthful Teddy Boy and rocker generations saw the devil-may-care newcomer as a real icon. At the beginning of 1960, the 21-year-old star and another authentic American greaser, a gimp-legged former Navy man named Gene Vincent, shared stages across the English landscape in a tour that was said to inspire virtually every major guitarist Britain would produce in the next decade.
But Cochran was homesick, and he sent for his sweetie, teenage songwriter Sharon Sheeley, who joined him for the last few weeks of the tour. Following their last date, in Bristol, the two headliners hired a car to speed them to London, so they could catch the next flight back to the States.
While Cochran sang 'California Here I Come' in the backseat with his girlfriend, the inexperienced driver, named George Martin (not the future Beatles producer), lost control of the car on the road near Bath and crashed into a concrete lamppost. Sheeley broke her pelvis; Vincent reinjured the bum leg he'd shattered years before on his motorcycle. But it was Cochran who got the worst of it. Suffering massive head injuries when he was thrown from the car, he was bleeding from his nose, ears and mouth.
Eddie Cochran died the next day. His first posthumous release -- the uncannily titled 'Three Steps to Heaven' -- was the first of several to chart high in England. His music had major resurgences in the U.K. during the rocker revival of 1968 and as late as 1988, when a popular Levi's commercial resurrected 'C'mon Everybody.'
Though Vincent survived the crash, it effectively ended his career, too. He had his moments, playing the Beatles' famed Shea Stadium concert, for instance. But by the time he took the stage at Jim Morrison's urging at the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival of 1969, ripping it up with the impromptu backing of Alice Cooper's band, the 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' man was a personal wreck. He died two years later of a ruptured stomach ulcer. He and his friend Cochran were reunited with early inductions into both the Rock and Roll and Rockabilly halls of fame.