Little known event a long time ago but today 16 April and 57 years ago to the day, Eddie died – so I repost this blog.
I discovered by chance a few years ago that an R & R star from the 50s, Eddie Cochran, died in a tragic road accident in 1960 at Chippenham just east of Bath, and not far from where I grew up.
For those who don’t know him, perhaps the songs Summertime Blues or C’mon Everybody may ring a bell. His big break came in 1956 in the film “The Girl Can’t Help it” staring Jayne Mansfield, Tom Ewell, Edmund O’Brien and Henry Jones – a film with some very funny scenes and certainly the best of the early R and R films of the 50s.
Amongst the stars performing in the film were Little Richard ( The Girl Can’t Help It , Reddy Teddy , She’s Got It) , Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps ( Be-Bop-A-Lula ), Fats Domino ( Blue Monday ), The Platters ( You’ll Never Never Know ), Julie London ( the wonderful Cry Me River ) and Freddy Bell and the Bell Boys ( Giddy Up a Ding Dong ).
Eddie sang Twenty Flight Rock , which started his career in a big way. And it was the song that Paul McCartney performed when he auditioned for the Beatles – with Eddie’s version!
If you are a fan of early R & R then get hold of the video. In addition to the stars listed here, there are a several other singers and groups, each with their own unique 50s sound.
Until recently I thought that Eddie was just another of those 50s rock stars who strung a guitar with rubber strings round his neck for effect and sang a catchy, bouncy song, with a moderately pleasant voice. But not so. Eddie was an accomplished pianist as well as double bass player and drummer, and his reputation as a guitar player was well known in music circles.
Eddie was one of the first rock and roll artists to write his own songs and overdub tracks, and his music has been played by dozens of artists including the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. For a better look at Eddie’s story go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Cochran
The tragic accident occurred on April 16 in 1960 just before midnight. Eddie had been touring Britain with Gene Vincent and a number of British stars including Georgie Fame, Billy Fury, Johnny Gentle and Vince Eager. It had been a punishing tour, and they had been on the road for over 3 months.
For the past 7 nights they had been performing at the Bristol Hippodrome (where I used to go to see pantomimes) and after their final performance they were keen to get back to London to catch a flight home. So they decided to hire a taxi for the trip down the A4.
At 11 pm, Eddie, his girlfriend/singer Sharon Steeley, Gene Vincent and Tour Manager Pat Thompkins took off in a Ford Consul driven by a George Martin. The trip in those days before the M4 was built was a 2 to 3 hour drive. At Chippenham the driver became confused trying to find the A4 (not difficult to do even today), and took the wrong turning. Then in his rush to find the correct route he raced down Rowden Hill, lost control of the car, and slammed into a concrete lamp post. Some say there was black ice on the road, others say he blew a tyre.
Eddie was thrown from the car and landed on the road suffering severe head injuries. Gene Vincent broke a collar bone but the others were OK. Eddie was rushed to St Martin’s Hospital in Bath but died the next day – Easter Sunday. There is a memorial to him in the hospital grounds, but his remains were flown back to the USA. A memorial plaque was placed by the side of the road at the scene of the accident and it is still there today.
The taxi – Ford Consul
In November I was staying in Bristol with friends and decided one bleak afternoon about 3 pm to drive down to Chippenham to see if I could find/visit the memorial. By the time I got there the light was beginning to fade, but what I hadn’t reckoned with was how difficult it was going to be to find it. Rowden Hill, up hill and down, is about 1 km long and I was in afternoon traffic. And being on my own I was trying to drive and also look for the plaque – not a great idea.
I had some 1960s photos but things had changed, trees had grown, new houses etc. Twice I parked the car and walked stretches of the road but after 45 mins had drawn a blank. I was extremely disappointed and about to give up when I spotted it, but not where I expected from all the descriptions. But the location made sense when I looked at the hill and the bend.
Rowden Hill with memorial plaque in the left corner
I stood looking at the plaque with the afternoon traffic roaring past oblivious to the memorial, and I wondered what to do next. Perhaps I should have brought some flowers. Should I ask someone passing to take my picture next to it? No that would be disrespectful. So I just took a close up picture, then stood and looked at the plaque and thought about Eddie. What a tragic waste of a life – rushing to get a plane!
The plaque in front of 36B
How ironic was it that he had died in circumstances similar in many ways to the deaths of his friends Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J. P.Richardson, the Big Bopper just 12 months before.
I stood for a minute or so in silence and then decided it was time for the memorial wake. So I drove to the nearby lovely village of Castle Combe and the Castle Inn to toast Eddie and say farewell to him. It was getting dark so my picture doesn’t do the place justice, but this was the day and it wouldn’t look right in bright sunshine. R.I.P. Eddie Cochran.
Castle Inn, Castle Combe
If you are into 50s R & R, and near Bath any time, then you have all the information here to find the memorial and pay Eddie a visit. Perhaps next time I’m in the UK I’ll visit his memorial in the chapel grounds at St Martin’s Hospital in Bath.