Ahead of Radio 2’s Sixties Season at the end of May, the second hour of Sounds of the Sixties on Saturday 17 April 2010 marks the exact 50th anniversary of the death of Eddie Cochran. He died in a car crash at the end of a UK tour which ran from 10 January 1960 through into April.
Following the last performance in Bristol, Eddie was pronounced dead after a car accident outside Chippenham, Wiltshire. His girlfriend Sharon Sheeley and Gene Vincent survived the crash.
On this special programme we look at the the tour itself. It was the very first authentic rock tour in the UK and one which changed the sound of British music and the style of stage presentation. Promoted by Larry Parnes it brought together Eddie and Gene and had a profound and lasting influence on young British musicians and audiences alike.
They performed on TV and radio while touring and this programme includes rare live performances from Saturday Club and the TV show Boy Meets Girls.
Friends and fellow musicians share memories of backstage excess, teddy boy riots, and Eddie’s masterful musicianship. With contributions from Joe Brown, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Vince Eager and interviews from backing band members "Big" Jim Sullivan and Brian "Licorice" Locking, Brian Matthew looks at the impact of the tour and celebrates a key event in sixties musical history.
Letter of condolence sent from road manager Mike Bowen and guitarist Colin Green to Eddie Cochran's mother, Alice.
Click on the image to see a full-size version of this letter
"That's me playing Eddie's guitar" says Jim Sullivan, from Eddie's backing band. This photo is believed to have been taken backstage at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London, in April 1960, in the last but one week of the tour:
From left to right "Liquorice" Locking, Eddie Cochran, Brian Bennett, "Big" Jim Sullivan.
Sir Cliff Richard, April 2010:
Eddie Cochran had a huge influence on myself and The Shadows. I first saw him performing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ in the movie ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and thought he was fantastic.
Of course I was a massive Elvis fan and Eddie had the same kind of approach. I’ve been surprised to learn in more recent years that he never had the same impact in America as he did on us Brits.
Pete Townsend, April 2010:
"Eddie Cochran was a primal influence on me. He had a short career, and therefore so few songs, but his acoustic guitar playing was seminal - as important to me as Don Everly's sound in the Everly Brothers.
Most electric guitar players in the late '50s sounded pretty bad. They played too fast, their sound was blunt and stumbling with the exception of a few greats like Hank Marvin and Chet Atkins. It was the great rhythm players who helped launch the first wave of new British Pop. Buddy Holly, Bruce Welch, Eddie Cochran, Don Everly.
Eddie's playing on Three Steps To Heaven actually evokes heaven to me, tears fill my eyes sometimes when I hear it. His flamenco flourishes are sublime, and decorative, and yet part of the backbone. On Cut Across Shorty he whips up the energy of a wild dancing American Graffiti fool, with just three or four instruments. He was a pop giant. He was also a very handsome man, like Elvis. He was destined to be an even bigger influence.
When Eddie and Buddy Holly died, R&B took over. But even though we were R&B bands, the Stones played Buddy Holly songs. We played Eddie Cochran. It was all rooted in the blues of course, to some extent, but Eddie is my main man, and always will be."
Feature producer Martin Shankleman writes:
I remember seeing the Who perform Summertime Blues at the the Royal Albert Hall show in 1969, in a futile attempt to placate rioting Chuck Berry fans, angry that their idol had been turfed off stage. "That was his rock n roll, this is ours", shouted Pete Townshend. It was the first time I heard a Cochran song played live and I was blown away.
Over the years I've been keen to find out about more about Eddie, and last year on Youtube found some audio recordings of Eddie's shows in the UK. That set me thinking. What happened when he came over here? How did the British musicians react? I tracked down Jim Sullivan and Licorice Locking from his backing band, and they both had wonderful stories about Eddie as a musician, a teacher and a friend.
In my mind I could hear how you could overlay the stories about Eddie, with clips from his dynamic shows. I also wanted to find out more about the car crash which killed Eddie. So I used my experience as a news reporter to piece together that part of the story.
Listening to the music from the tour, I think I can hear the origins of guitar driven rock, which Eddie was pioneering, and which eventually took over the world. I hope you would agree that if Eddie and Gene were performing tonight in our town, we'd be queuing to see them.
Special thanks to Norma and Jim Sullivan, Spencer Leigh, Licorice Locking, Mike Bowen, and Vince Eager. And of course the BBC archives.