Twisted Tales: Rockabilly Prince Eddie Cochran Takes Three Steps to Heaven
For British rock, one dashing young American singer made an unmatched impact in the late 1950s. The Who, the Beatles, even the Sex Pistols were all die-hard fans of ... Eddie Cochran. With his hair pomade and his hula-hipped strum, the kid was clearly cut in the Elvis mold. In the U.K., though, he might have surpassed even the King in terms of idol worship, short-lived though it was.
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;