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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Rock 'n' Roll Wiltshire > The death of Eddie Cochran

Eddie Cochran

Eddie Cochran

The death of Eddie Cochran

Read the story of how the rock'n'roll legend met his tragic end in a car crash in Chippenham in 1960.

American rock'n'roll star Eddie Cochran died during the afternoon of Easter Sunday 17th April 1960.

His death in St. Martin's Hospital in Bath, came as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash just outside Chippenham, late the night before.

Eddie and his great friend Gene Vincent had been touring the UK since mid-January, on a package tour that had created a sensation amongst UK rock n roll fans.

Not one, but two genuine American rock'n'roll stars, criss-crossing the UK and even making TV and radio appearances! 

By then, the first flush of raw rock'n'roll was long gone, so the sight and sound of Gene and Eddie was an antidote to the blandness of much pop music at that time. They were nothing short of a revelation… Eddie in particular. 

Often described as 'James Dean with a guitar', Eddie Cochran had everything going for him. 

A young, good-looking guy, a hugely talented musician, who as well playing stunning guitar, could also handle bass and drums and most unusually for those times, also wrote his own songs.

Two of which - 'Summertime Blues' and 'C'mon Everybody', had been huge hits and today - nearly 50 years on - are regarded as classics of the genre. 

Eddie had arrived in the UK on 10th January 1960, to join a UK tour with Gene Vincent which had already been on the road since before Christmas. 

It was promoted by top pop impresario Larry Parnes and the support acts and musicians were all young UK rock'n'rollers that Parnes had under contract. 

These included at various times along the tour - Billy Fury, Joe Brown, Georgie Fame, Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle.

It was a long tour with a punishing schedule, and the British winter was not something that California-resident Cochran was used to. 

So by the time they all rolled up at the Bristol Hippodrome on Monday 11th April for a week-long residency, Eddie (and his accompanying girlfriend, songwriter Sharon Sheeley) were looking forward to returning to the USA immediately afterwards.

For this last week of the tour, Billy and Joe were off playing elsewhere and the support acts included Georgie Fame, Johnny Gentle and also Tony Sheridan - who a year later would make a record in Germany, with an unknown Liverpool group called The Beatles.

After the final show on Saturday 16th April - and back at the Royal Hotel to collect their things - Eddie wanted a lift back to London with Johnny Gentle, who had driven himself to Bristol, but his car was full. 

There were no more trains at that time of night, so a taxi was called. Sometime after 11.00pm, a Ford Consul driven by George Martin, with Eddie, Gene, Sharon and tour-manager Pat Thompkins, set off for London. 

Eddie, Sharon and Gene sat in the back, with Thompkins next to the driver.

These were pre-M4 days, so Martin initially chose the old A4 down through Bath, but with this being a bad road, especially at night, he decided on a short cut on the outskirts of Chippenham.

The stretch of road on Rowden Hill where the accident took place.

The accident spot on Rowden Hill in Chippenham

Thompkins later recalled: "You come out from under the viaduct and come across a bridge in front of you.

"On your right is the A4 and then the bridge and on your left is the A4 to London.

"Well, he saw the A4 and turned right, going the wrong way. When he saw the milestone, he realized he was going the wrong way and hit the brakes."

It appears that as the car sped out of Chippenham trying to get back on the right route, Martin lost control on the bend at Rowden Hill, (then a notorious accident black-spot) and spun backwards into a concrete lamp post.

The impact sent Eddie up into the roof and forced the rear door open, throwing him onto the road.

After the car had come to a halt, Martin and Thompkins were able to walk away from the wreckage uninjured.  But Gene and Sharon, along with Eddie were lying on the grass verge.

Gene had broken his collarbone, but fortunately for Sharon, she only suffered shock and bruising. 

However, the injuries to Eddie would prove fatal.

The noise had brought local residents onto the scene. Dave Chivers told the Wiltshire Times: "I was getting into bed when I heard a whistling outside, followed by a series of bumps and smashes.

The Daily Mirror reports on Eddie's death

The Daily Mirror reports on Eddie's death

"My first reaction was that it was a plane crash.

"I went outside and saw the wrecked car, several people lying about, a large guitar and scattered photographs, which had come from the open boot. I telephoned for an ambulance from the kiosk nearby."

The first police on the scene included a young Wiltshire cadet called Dave Harman, who with a name change to Dave Dee, become a highly successful pop star himself.

The time of the accident can be accurately pinpointed.  In those days the street lights went out at midnight and the ambulance from Chippenham arrived soon after, in total darkness.

The three were taken to St Martin's hospital, but Eddie had suffered severe brain damage. He never regained consciousness and died at 4.10pm that afternoon.

Like Buddy Holly who came our way two years earlier, Eddie Cochran also had a profound influence on young aspiring British musicians. 

Joe Brown has often said what a great and innovative guitar player Eddie was, introducing styles and techniques that had never been seen here before. 

Georgie Fame totally credits Eddie with introducing the music of Ray Charles to a mainstream UK audience, through his playing of Charles' songs in his stage act.

Shadows drummer Brian Bennett backed Eddie on the tour, as a member of Marty Wilde's band, who were loaned out to Cochran for some of the live dates and also his BBC radio sessions for the Saturday Club show.

Brian recalls Eddie showing him some great drum tricks and said what a great player he was.

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both idolised Eddie and of course, 'Summertime Blues' was for years a Who stage-favourite.

Ironically, the biggest UK hits for Eddie's songs 'C'mon Everybody' and 'Somethin' Else', came in 1979, when The Sex Pistols took them both to number three in the charts.

George Harrison had seen Eddie when the tour played Liverpool and even acquired an important  piece of Eddie memorabilia;  In 1999 I worked on a radio series for the BBC World Service with Paul McCartney, looking back at his early rock'n'roll years.
Paul recalled the-then unknown Beatles touring Scotland backing Johnny Gentle in 1960.

Eddie had given Gentle his stage shirt after the Bristol show and following a week of pestering by the young Beatle, Johnny eventually passed it to George.

Johnny came to one of the Eddie Cochran Weekender events in Chippenham, where I interviewed him live on air. He too said what an amazing talent Eddie was, and also said he wished he'd kept that shirt!


The plaque which marks the spot where he died

When someone dies young, it's always the eternal question - what would they have done in life?

In the case of Eddie Cochran, I think there can be little doubt he would have been the first 'guitar-hero' of the sixties, with Clapton, Beck, Page and Hendrix queuing up to play with him.  

Jimi always said he wanted Eddie Cochran played at his funeral, and he got his wish.

What makes this whole story even more poignant, is how young Eddie was when he took his seat in the car that night -  just 21.

Today, that dangerous bend at Rowden Hill, Chippenham has long since been made safe. There is no longer any physical reminder of the tragedy, except for one thing - a plaque on the grass verge in memory of Eddie.

It was erected by fans and unveiled at one of Chippenham's Eddie Cochran Weekender events by Sharon Sheeley, on what was her first visit since that fateful night at Easter 1960.

last updated: 19/03/2009 at 16:24
created: 27/02/2009

Have Your Say

If you are a fan of Eddie Cochran, leave your comments below.

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Cavan Stewart
I've always been a fan of his music but knew little about the man. What a shame he died so young and such a long way from home.

Eamonn O'Leary
Just makes me feel so sad, that a great talent like Eddie died so young. I was 5 at the time. But to hear his music in later years, gave me a great feeling. Listend to sounds of the sixties last saturday. It reminded me what a loss he really was. R.I.P. EDDIE.

dave purvor
ive just come back from the 50th anniv,and it was great to me eddie was the best, and i play my eddies cds all the time,r.i.p. eddie always in my heart forever

Johnnie Berry (Raines)
Ironically, I know first hand that Eddie did not want to go on that tour to the UK.

chris ellison
a great guitarist years ahead of his time sadly missed ironically Gene Vincent lived in Cochran St. just before he died

Brian Lambert
An original talent who's influence can be heard in many artists who would follow him.

tim sanderson from w yorkshire
top man eddie i will never stop playing your tunes love you man

paul collins
such a talented musician and up there at the top with the other rock n roll legends ,long may eddies music and talent live on , just wish the bbc or any of the other channels could have showed some t.v. documentaries about eddie , thanks to bbc radio 2 for there excellent radio documetaries this week with joe brown and brian matthews , keep rockin eddie , your music will never die ...

Kev Corcoran
50 years today we lost a huge talent in the world of rock 'n' roll. Rest in peace Eddie.

john magee,donegal,ireland
eddie,along with buddy holly,were my idols.what a tradgedy the were both killed in such tragic,eddie,buddy.perhaps eddie is three steps into heaven,and buddy is there also,guess it doesnt matter any more.

Paul Holmes
I was born in 1977, however I love Rock'N'Roll. Eddie Cochran is to me the ultimate rocker. I must have been around 2 or three years old when I remember hearing the opening bass line of c'mon every body, sent me mad every time. But there is so much more to Cochrans music than the well known songs, it annoyes me that only the well known songs are played on the radio.

mike hampton
eddie's tragically early death robbed us of a hugely talented singer/songwriter.i'm sure he would have gone on to even greater things.sadly this was not to be.r.i.p.eddie.

I saw Gene & Eddie a week before the crash in London. Eddie was a terrific guitarist & went down well with the audience. But he was not unlike a number of American performers in style. I object to the sentence in this piece that "They were nothing short of a revelation… Eddie in particular". It was Gene who was the revelation, an unique performer & singer, who has become a rock icon. The black leather image has been copied ever since. Whether Eddie would have continued to write & perform rock 'n' roll or move over with the trends to trite pop or perhaps country music is open to debate. Gene remained a rock 'n' roller till his untimely death. His recorded legacy is an amazing treasure of a diverse variety of styles, all beautifully sung in his unique voice. Long live both Gene & Eddie.

He was "Somethin Else", as a 14 year old I remember hearing on the Radio he had died I then walked to my Pals house and told him. The rest of the Day was taken up just listening to his fantastic Music, what waste of a superb talent.

rich kingman
Mum and dad gave all the injured coats to keep them warm Eddiehad dads old army coat which I still have. The next morning I found a watch and some jewellery which I gave to the police .I was only 8 at the time and slept right through the unfolding drama.

I am a devoted fan of EC and a child of the 1950-1960's. I am also noted as a 1950's living history reanactor/rocker recreator in the USA. I intend to reanact a show sometime in the future to his memory."I Remember".

Rob Edwards,
There is a very good documentary about Eddie done by the BBC I think. His mother speaks fondly of him. The programme finishes with Eddie's mother bringing one of his prized guitars to show the programme announcer. It brings a lump to your throat. I hope the BBC show this documentary again for the 50 years anniversary.

Derek Macdonald
I wasn't born til '67 but Eddie's a fave of mine and I regularly rattle off one of his classics at karaoke. He may no longer be with us but by hell his spirit is as strong as it ever was. R.I.P. Rocker

David Nicoloff
I am a 45 year old guitar player.... Eddie is what I play... Every Day...Thanks Eddie Cochran

Ray Cunningham
People don't realise what a great guitarist he was, I have lp's of him from rockstar records, absolutly fab even to making errors on some of the takes, I think it's true to say Rock and Roll died that day when he passed away. RIP Eddie

David Collins
Terrific musician who made records that are timeless.

Eileen Parsons Bristol England
I was at Eddies last show at the Hippodrome Bristol, The car he was travelling in was later restored and sold. I remember Eddie, Gene and all the others on the show all together on stage for the finale.I will never forget that night.

The Reverend Paul Freeman (Dj)
Cherished Memmories indeed

Olaf Gluschke (Deutschland)
he was (and is) my first ever idol, as well. Does anybody know, if there are any events regarding 50th anniversary, in Germany or whereever?Guitarist and singer of "redhot54"

Dean Langridge (New Zealand)
I was still six years away from being born when Eddie died but I grew up with his music and still treasure it to this day. Long live rock 'n' roll.

gary ponsford
forever eddie cochran,,eddie cohran forever,,,of to chippenham,,this april,,2010

Pete Nicholls
Does anyone at thee BBC know if the Tape of the Arena of Eddie Cochran still exists ?

Pete Nicholls
What a fantastic legacy of songs and music that Eddie left for us . He really was Something Else .I was 13 when he died and still seems like yesterday !

Danny Hamilton
Eddie once sang a song called 'Three Stars' about his friend Buddy Holly, Ritchie valance and the Big bopper, well, now there are four stars brightly shining north.Eddie Cochran, a legend!!!

Stephen Taney
WOW, 50 years that Eddie is gone! I'll be attending the big show with CHARLIE GRACIE--the first U.S. solo rocker to tour the U.K. in '57 and a good friend of Eddie's. Looking forward to it. ST

jan van gameren - Holland.
Where are the tapes of the BBC concert of our great EDDIE COCHRAN????!!!!!!

I am only 19 and think he is a legend, C'mon everybody is such a fantastic song! R.I.P. Eddie x

darren reed
he was my firt ever idol, i first saw him on tele when i was a young lad and thought thats who i want to looklike when im older,i love is music and his style,you would only ever see me from the age of 16 in jeans and white t shirt,im now 38

Mark-Allan Pilgrim
I visited the crash site several years ago. I had trouble finding it, as I had never been to Chippenham before or since.A lady in the Tourist Information Centre told me how to find it...Her words ring out in my mind each time I hear an Eddie Cochran record...She said "at Easter time and around Oct 3, (Eddie's birthday) you can't see the pavement for ten feet around it for Fresh Flowers. Any passer by who didn't know the history of that spot would think there'd been a major coach accident or something!"ALSO ANOTHER THING... When I visited the site, it was about five or six days after easter that particular year, and there were loads of dead decaying flowers, blackened by the sun and the heat, which backed up her tale.Also, as I stood there, looking at that beautiful memorial plaque, the was Elton john playing on the radio. I can't recall which of his songs it was, but it was awful. Just what supermarket would he have been stacking shelves in in this hadn't happened to Eddie Cochran?I WAS FILLED WITH GRIEF AND AN OVERWHELMING SENSE OF ABSOLUTE DESPAIR.That's the only way I can describe it.I am so sorry Eddie. I am SO SORRY.Lot's of Love and admiration to the greatest of his generation.

cochran reste le meilleur

gil federico
cochran restera eternellement au fond de mon coeur et le roi du rock and roll , je reste hanté et faciné par cette légende .Sa musique , très en avance sur son époque , résonne en permanence et je semble vivre sur une autre planète quand je passe en boucle des titres tels que :Long tall sally ou bien :Blue suede shoes , mieux que les originaux! J'ai aujourd'hui 50 ans et sa musique et sa voix sont pour moi à tout jamais indissociables de ma vie. Je laisse mon mail au cas n'hésitez pas à me parler d'Eddie , il me manque trop!!

andrew cole
I always loved summertime blues and I just think Eddie is just a great artist. What a loss. And 50 years on. Ironic it is also 50 years too next year for Johnny Horton another great loss in a car crash too. Thats spooky!

I was Born twelve months after his death, and grew up listening to his music. It has been with me all my life, so took my five year old to the memorial in May 09 whilst passing that way. cought him clapping and banging his knee while listening (loud) to Tired and Sleepy in the back of the car on the way home. PRICELESS.

My father-CHARLIE GRACIE will headlline the big 50th Anniversary Memorial Concert at Chippenham on April 17th, 2010. My father and Eddie were close friends-with Eddie visiting his South Philadelphia home in the late 50s. My grandmother prepared a few homemade Italian meals for him and his manager--Jerry Capehart at that time. Needless to say, when word came of the fatal accident, my dad and my grandparents were shocked and saddened. My dad's 2001 recording of I'm All Right is a tribute to Eddie. 50-years tugs at one's heartstrings. To thie day, my dad still becomes very emotional about. Now 73, he's enjoyed a full time career as an entertainer and musician for close to 60 years--still playing and touring around the globe! He was the first solo American Rocker to tour the U.K. for Lew and Leslie Grade in 1957 and '58. Dad will be over to play in England and Ireland this October, 2009 as well. His tribure song to Eddie is now a staple in all his shows! Chas.,

andrew noott
eddies guitar work was superb listen to his solo on"pushin" by ray stanley its brilliant also eddies blues is classic cochran great rock singer even greater rock guitarist

percy stark
went to spot today rip

ray williams
is anything happening at the memorial next year 2010

Eddie Cochran will never be forgotten!RnR fans won't ever allow it

rick aldous
wonder who eddie's heroes were ? and bet its one *hit kickin jam at that reunion thanks for the music EDDIE

Malcolm Cummings
In the early 1960's I worked in a Furniture store facing the Empire Theatre in Newcastle.On.Tyne and went three times during six days of memorable rock-roll music by Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. I was 19years old at the time I am now 68 years old and I will always remember the shows for ever"Twenty flight rock in particular, and from Gene Be Bop a Lula. Wonderful memories

carol holding
he began it all. the sound the lyrics.he was and is the best. he died before i was born. but to me he is ahead of metallica, foo fighters, nervana, elvis - no one can match.

Trev Taylor, Swindon, Wiltshire
'Summertime Blues' was the very first record I ever bought, when I was a teenager. I'm now 65 and I still have that record, framed, on my wall.

Richard Kendall
I'm only 38 years old, seems old to me but young to a lot of Eddie fans. I grew up listening to his tunes and I've been playing live gigs now since the age of 15, I don't do a gig without a few Eddie Cochran licks, and of course a few Buddy Holly rhythms thrown in. I don't even notice it until after the gig, I suppose it's just built in. Keep on rockin'.

Paul Smith
Eddie Cochran 50 years gone and still a guitar legend- Rock On!!

Alistair Murray
I was only 5 years old when it happened, but feel really sad about it now. He was a real talent and will always be missed.

James Robert Wallace
I'm just a fan.....what more can be said about the Great Eddie !!

Bob Sanders.....Brisbane Australia
A great story about a great artist.

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