It should have been a routine uneventful trip.
All they had to do was travel the 118 miles or so from Bristol to London England.
But as soon as she got in the Ford Consul Mark 11 taxi, a sense of doom came over her.
She later said that when the taxi door shut it felt as if a “tomb was closing on me.”
She found herself thinking not that they could have an accident, but wondering when they would have an accident.
There were five people in the taxi in total.
The man in the backseat in the middle asked the taxi driver to slow down three times. He did so, in part, because she (his girlfriend) was visibly terrified at the high rate of speed they were travelling at.
After each request the driver slowed down, but only for a while. He would soon speed back up again.
The minutes and seconds ticked away…
They were quickly approaching the point in time when everything would change.
Their lives. Their loved one’s lives. Rock and roll.
A legend was about to be born.
It came with a heavy price though. A young man full of promise, energy, life and the pulsing beat of rock and roll would soon be dead.
Music, laughter and fun would soon be replaced with fans quietly speculating “I wonder what would have happened if…?”
Then suddenly it happened.
The twenty-year-old girl remembers hearing a horrible blood curdling scream. She quickly realized the scream belonged to her.
Patrick Thompkins, the occupant of the front passenger seat, later recalled how the accident unfolded…
“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 (the driver) 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.”
The taxi hit a curb then slammed into a concrete lamppost on the other side of the road.
Just before the taxi smashed into the lamppost, the girl’s boyfriend had pulled her body over his lap to shield her from the upcoming destruction.
She later learned that doctors had given her only a 10% chance of surviving. She attributed that 10% and her survival to her boyfriend’s noble actions.
“He gave me his life,” she would later say.
The date of the fateful crash was 11:50 pm April 16th, 1960.
The only person who died as a result of the crash was a 21-year-old American male.
Minutes after the crash on that cold night in Chippenham, a lady from a nearby house, powerless to do anything else, put a pillow under his head and a blanket over his body.
Never regaining consciousness, he passed away at 4:10 pm the next day in St. Martin’s Hospital in Bath.
I remember walking up Yonge Street in Toronto when I was in my twenties. I passed a guy wearing a black T-shirt with the following words emblazoned on it:
“Eddie Cochran October 3, 1938 – April 17, 1960”
I remember thinking how cool it would be to have a T-shirt like that.
I’d discovered Cochran’s music a few years early. I bought a few of his albums. I loved what I heard.
There was one song where, upon hearing it, I couldn’t get over Eddie’s unbridled enthusiasm that burst through the record at every rotation. I also got a huge kick out of the lyrics.
The story of the song is simple. Eddie sees some pink slacks in a display window of a big department store. He instantly knows he has to have them. But he has no money. So he borrows some money from his girlfriend and goes back to buy them. He’s two dollars short. At the end of the song, we’re left to assume, much to Eddie’s sorrow, he was unsuccessful at acquiring the pink peg slacks. The reason why Eddie wants them so bad is he wants to go “catting.” He wants to prowl the town for fun and girls.
Co-writer (along with Eddie and Hank Cochran) Jerry Capehart once said of pink slacks and the song… “At that time, they were the thing. We tried to make it as ridiculous as we could.”
There are two versions of this song. The following (recorded in 1956) is the best version in my opinion:
Capehart once said that “everything Eddie Cochran did in his life had to have humour in it or he wouldn’t do it.”
And indeed humour and a sense of fun are often found in the songs Eddie wrote and recorded.
His sense of fun shines through in his song Teenage Heaven. The lyrics are only eight lines, but they paint a pretty good picture of what Eddie wanted out of life at the time:
“I want a house with a pool, shorter hours in school
And a room with my own private phone
I wanna stay up all night, see the big city lights
No more troubles or worries at home
Mm, just gimme some time on my hands
I wanna make my own private plans
Yeah, I want my own Coupe de Ville
Make my dad pay the bill, yeah man, that’s heaven to me”
From his performance here you get a feel for Eddie’s stage presence. Fans who witnessed him in concert said he would often start his show with his back to the audience. Sunglasses firmly in place, soon to be removed. He’d start playing his guitar and when he got to the vocal part, he’d swing around and go into his act.
He’d saunter around the stage like some rock and roll spider luring fans into his web. The suits he wore often seemed a few sizes too big – but on second look they appeared to fit…or did they?
He was big on charisma. Big on talent. Big on charm.
His influence on rock and roll can’t be overstated.
Eddie was one of the first rock and rollers to not only write his own songs but overdub his tracks. He’s also credited with using an unwound third string in order to “bend” notes up an entire tone.
The Who’s Pete Townsend is a big Eddie Cochran fan. He’s quoted as saying…
“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.”
Former Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer agrees…
“Eddie Cochran? He’s my main man. The guy really influenced me the most. First it was just that album cover standing like that with those big baggy pants. And then I said: ‘Uh, this guy is really cool. I wanna look just like him’. And then I bought the album and took it home. It just blew me away! I mean, ‘Something else’ that was like a theme song. ‘She’s so fine looking, man. She’s something else’. That was it. That was the best.”
British musician Vince Eager who met Eddie in January 1960 and subsequently toured with him had this to say about Eddie…
“Not only was he an amazing guitarist, he was generally a brilliant musician who could play guitar, bass, and drums equally well. He was also a very generous guy who enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other musicians.”
16-year-old Georgie Fame who backed up Eddie and Gene Vincent on their British tour was quoted as saying…
“We were told to report to this club in Soho to meet them. I remember Eddie playing guitar and we were astounded. Apart from his own stuff, he could do all that brilliant finger-style stuff that Chet Atkins did. Then he played this amazing intro to “What’d I Say” and apart from a few blues enthusiasts who had the Ray Charles record, nobody had heard it before. He played “What’d I Say” every night and within six months, every band in the country was playing it.”
Eddie’s songs have recorded by everyone from The Who and the Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen, Alan Jackson, and The Beach Boys.
A young George Harrison reportedly followed Eddie around on his British tour, in awe of his guitar playing. On July 6, 1957, Paul McCartney famously got John Lennon’s ok to join the Beatles after McCartney auditioned to Lennon playing Eddie’s rock classic Twenty Flight Rock.
The following is Eddie’s performance of Twenty Flight Rock from the 1957 film The Girl Can’t Help It.
British musician Johnny Gentle (who once toured with an early incarnation of the Beatles) was a last-minute substitute on the bill that April 16th, 1960 night in the Hippodrome in Bristol. After the show, Eddie, looking for a ride to Heathrow, asked Gentle if he had any room in his car. Gentle recalls his response…
“I said Eddie I’d love to, I really would – because he was a terrific guy, he really was a terrific guy – I said I’d love to, but I’ve got a party of four that I’m going back to London with…”
In what can only be described as a strange event, Gentle came across the crash scene that night. He had no idea it was Eddie Cochran who was involved. Low on gas, he asked the person in the “breakdown truck” preparing to tow the taxi away if he could syphon some gas from its tank. He was given permission and made it back to London on gas from Eddie’s taxi.
The following is the song Eddie is most associated Summertime Blues. It’s a teenage anthem for the ages to be passed down generation to generation.
For whatever reason, I’ve always gotten a kick out when a singer “name-checks himself or herself” in the song they are singing.
Freddie Mercury did in it Queen’s A Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Until I’m ready, Ready Freddie); Gord Downie did it in The Tragically Hip’s New Orleans is Sinking (Sometimes I feel so good I got to scream, She said, Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean); Martin Fry did it in ABC’s – The Look Of Love (They say Martin, will you ever find true love?)
There are many other cases of this, of course, that have occurred over the years.
Eddie was one of the originators this (with a nod of the hat to The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace.) He mentions himself in his recording of Nervous Breakdown (Well, he said, “Eddie boy, you just gotta slow down You can’t keep a traipsin’ all over town) and Money Honey (Eddie boy, just exactly what do you want with me.)
And in his take of Ray Charles Hallelujah, I Love You So: (‘If I call her on the telephone, say baby Eddie’s all alone’ ‘Eddie-baby, everything’s alright’ ‘Eddie-baby, everything’s swinging’) .
Plus in an update of the traditional Boll Weevil song (a traditional song sung by Tex Ritter) Eddie changes the line (modelled after Ritter’s version) to contain the lines…
Well if anybody should ask you
Who it was who sang this song
Say a guitar picker from a-Oklahoma city
With a pair of blue jeans on
Just a-lookin’ for a home, just a-lookin’ for a home
It’s an interesting claim given that Eddie was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota. He later moved to Bell Gardens California.
So what’s the deal with Oklahoma City?
Here is Eddie’s singing the Boll Weevil song:
The other occupants of the taxi that fateful day were George Martin (unscathed), Eddie’s girlfriend Sharon Sheeley (broken neck, back ,and pelvis) rocker Gene Vincent (badly injured leg) and tour manager Patrick Thompkins (uninjured.)
George Martin (not The Beatles’ future producer obviously) was the driver. Martin was convicted of dangerous driving. He was fined 50 pounds and lost his license for 15 years.
Note: The original reports of the accident said one of the tires blew on the taxi. This was found not to be the case although many sources have it reported as such.
All through my years as an Eddie Cochran fan, I always kept tabs on Sharon Sheeley.
A songwriter herself she scored a hit when she was just 15 years old when Rick Nelson recorded her song Poor Little Fool (the first song she ever wrote.)
The story goes that she lived near Ricky Nelson in Newport Beach (a suburb of Los Angeles.) Sharon conveniently stalled her car outside his house one day in hopes Nelson would invite her in. He did.
She presented the song to him, telling him that it was written by her godfather. Her godfather, she told Nelson, wrote it for Elvis, but she thought it would be perfect for him.
Nelson was delighted at being giving a crack at a song written for Presley. He quickly recorded it where it topped the charts making Sharon the first American female songwriter without the aid of a male writing partner to write a song that hit number one.
When he found out later that Sharon had written it herself, Nelson was annoyed at being deceived…but I’m sure he got over it.
Throughout the years her songs have been recorded by Glen Campbell, Ritchie Valens, and Brenda Lee among others.
She chummed around with Elvis, dated Don Everly, knew Gene Vincent (who she called “drunk and obnoxious”) and was part of a very interesting time in the history of rock and roll music that pretty much died with Buddy Holly’s death in 1959 and Eddie’s death in 1960 and would only regain its footing, life and power when The Beatles emerged in 1963.
In 2000, a collection of Sheeley’s songs were released on a CD called “Songwriter.” As Sharon was not a vocalist the CD featured guest artists such as Glen Campbell, Mac Davis, and Herb Alpert. Half of the songs on the CD were born from her songwriting partnership with Jackie DeShannon. There are no songs here that would be recognizable to the casual music listener.
The Jackie DeShannon-Sharon Sheeley songwriting partner had a notable success with their song Breakaway when it was recorded by Irma Thomas in 1964 (it’s not included on the “Songwriter” CD.)
She also wrote a few songs for Eddie. Her most famous song recorded by Eddie was Somethin’ Else which she co-wrote with Eddie’s older brother Bob. Many people have mistakenly credited the co-writer of this song as Eddie himself. Some say that Sharon wrote the majority of the song, giving Bob credit because she asked for his help filling in some of the details about cars.
Eddie’s rock and roll has been described as raw. A good description. He knew the teens of the day wanted a powerful beat that they could dance to highlighted by a ragged unforgiving guitar.
And that’s what Eddie gave them. Somethin’ Else exemplifies that. If I had to choose a theme song for an advancing army, this would be it.
Live version of Somthin’ Else:
In 1961, Sharon married Los Angeles disc jockey Jimmy O’Neill in 1961, but it ended after five years.
I’m purely speculating here, but I always thought the memory of Eddie was so strong, it shaped many of the relationship decisions she made throughout her post-Eddie life.
Ok, maybe I’m not speculating. At the start of the 2001 British documentary Cherished Memories Sharon says the following about Eddie…
“He was the one great love of my life. He was so unique he left a vivid impression on your mind.”
Irrespective of how her heart felt, Sharon would always be associated with Eddie. She’d always be the girl who was in the taxi the night that Eddie Cochran died. She’d always be asked about him by curious fans and Eddie Cochran devotees.
In the Cherished Memories, Sharon recalls a conversation she had with a “kind nurse” she met at the hospital after the accident…
“She said dear, many people will tell that you’re young and you will love again and time will heal all and in time it will become a faint memory and you will forget. But she said you won’t, don’t listen to them. Because you will never forget. And it will never fade with time. It will always be with you. She said she lost her husband in the war. And her honesty was of great hope for me to know it’s alright. It’s alright not to have them fade. The pain is not as sharp today. That does fade, but not those beautiful memories and not those sad memories. They are always there.”
Sharon Sheeley died on May 17th, 2002 of a cerebral haemorrhage. She was 62 years old.
Somehow I find it comforting to know that she was ok being a torchbearer for Eddie’s memory. Helping keep his memory alive in the hearts of his fans and, of course, her heart. She seemed to accept it and enjoy it. It appears she never saw it as a burden.
Fittingly one of the last song’s Eddie recorded was Sharon’s song Cherished Memories which contains the lyrics:
“Now you say that we must part
And even though it breaks my heart
There’s one thing you can’t take from me
That’s my cherished memories”
I’ve looked online and while there is a number to choose from I can’t just find the right Eddie Cochran T-Shirt to buy. I would love to find a black one that simply says…
October 3, 1938 – April 17, 1960
Other than their standard use, this, in my opinion, is what T-Shirts should be used for. Not to become a walking advertisement for a multinational company brand, but to simply say “Yeah, I think this person was good stuff. Deal with it.”
Ok, maybe the attitude wasn’t necessary, but this is Eddie Cochran we’re talking about.
And while no such “Sharon Sheeley shirts” exist, another cool shirt would be one that simply says…
April 4, 1940 – May 17, 2002.
(photo from eddie-cochran.info)
Eddie would often sign autographs “Don’t Forget Me, Eddie Cochran.”
A few notable Eddie Cochran-related videos.
Paul McCartney talking about (and performing) Twenty Flight Rock.
Conan O’Brien and Jack White do a blistering version of Twenty Flight Rock:
Eddie’s famous call for everyone to party…at this parent’s house. C’mon Everybody containing what I consider to be a classic line “Well my baby’s number one, but I’m going to dance with three or four.”
Nervous Breakdown (rare version):
Alan Jackson’s take on Summertime Blues:
Ricky Nelson – the Sharon Sheeley-written Poor Little Fool: