Just before midnight on April 16 1960, a Ford Consul taxi travelling on the A4 near Chippenham had a tyre blow-out and spun backwards into a lamp post. The driver and three of the passengers survived but a fourth was thrown from the car. About four hours later, he died at St Martin`s Hospital in Bath as a result of massive head injuries. Aged only 21, Eddie Cochran was dead.
Described as James Dean with a guitar and even Elvis with talent, Cochran had the bad boy good looks that typified manufactured teen idols of the nascent rock and roll era. In those pre-Beatle days, when mediocre Presley clones from the Larry Parnes stable with names like Vince Eager, Jonny Gentle, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury dominated the British charts, Eddie Cochran was something else.
Apart from having a great rock voice, he was almost unique during that period as he wrote his own material. As a guitar innovator, he introduced techniques that still have resonance today. The full tone bend on an unwound third string, the use of overdubs and power chords are the legacy that can still be heard in music that is created by guitar players today.
His importance as a songwriter, singer, guitar player and, more potently, as a rebellious youth, marks him as a touchstone that has reverberated across the intervening five decades since his death. As the first guitar hero, Cochran was a major influence on players like Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and Page and bands like The Who, The Faces, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. More recently, The White Stripes, Elbow, Muse and The Arctic Monkeys owe a debt of gratitude because they play just like Eddie. The young John Lennon invited an even younger player to join his band, The Quarrymen, because McCartney knew the words and the chords to 20 Flight Rock.
Whenever a prodigious, young talent is snuffed out, one is left with the thought of unfulfilled potential. If he had lived to see technology catch up with his ability, what would Cochran have done with a 1965 Stratocaster and an effects consol driven through a Marshall stack? Eddie had it all; talent, looks, youth and attitude. We will never know if he would have taken the self-destructive route of Hendrix or, like Elvis, head for Vegas in a white jump suit. Perhaps he should be best remembered for a single line that summed up post-war teen rebellion:
“I`d like to help you, son, but you`re too young to vote.”