Eddie Cochran's untimely death shook the world - but where would his talent have taken him had he lived?
Adrian McKenna has co-authored our brand new 'Eddie Cochran: A Fast Moving Beat Show - The Story of the Final, Fatal UK Tour' book. The title truly confirms the incredible talent that was Eddie Cochran as he mesmerised UK audiences in the spring of 1960. But what if he hadn't tragically died just hours after the last date in Bristol? Adrian McKenna attempts to answer one of rock'n'roll's most enduring questions:
'If' is one of the smallest words, yet its transformative potential is almost infinite.
When he died in 1960, 21-year-old Eddie Cochran was already a veteran of the music business. One of the most lavishly talented and adaptable performers of his era, he had morphed and remodelled himself in his career from one half of a country duo into a pioneer rock 'n' roller, to a sharp-suited night club act, as a session guitar player and music arranger making serious headway in the art and craft of record production. He was only beginning to realise his full potential, which leads us to the inevitable question- what if?
He had two potential locations for continuing his career in the immediate aftermath of a successful UK tour. The tour was truly a major breakthrough in his UK profile. However, his final single, a cover of Ray Charles' 'Hallelujah I Love Her So' which peaked at #22 in the charts, probably wasn't quite the right musical direction for the way he was being presented. His UK image was leather cowboy; the stage shows were wild and yet his final recording session at Gold Star in Los Angeles yielded softer pop material for an American market that had no idea where it was headed. The UK approach was pretty obvious- gritty material with sharp teeth was the necessary direction. A vigorous recording of a different Ray Charles number, 'What'd I Say' which was incredibly well received in live performance, was probably the way to go initially.
Eddie Cochran (top) backstage at Sheffield Gaumont with Vince Eager (middle), Gene Vincent (right) and fan
As a bona-fide American star, he could well have transitioned into films. He already had experience making three rock 'n' roll exploitation films in America and had proved himself well able to take visual direction from Jack Good on the UK 'Boy Meets Girls' TV show, so appearances in Elvis-Lite features along the lines of Billy Fury's black and white 'Play It Cool' or full-colour Cliff Richard 'let's-do-the-show-right-here' holiday nonsense may well have been on the cards.
Until Merseybeat arrived in 1963, he probably would have stayed buoyant as a marketable rock/pop star in Britain. He was so adaptable, he may not even have sunk when the Beat-boom arrived. And if he was a producer at Decca (not at all unlikely given the label's connections with Jack Good) when the four lads from Liverpool famously auditioned and were turned away, then they might have been signed by the label after all. The band would have certainly recognised their new producer as someone very exciting to work with.
In the US a parallel career may well have unfolded. 1959 had been a difficult year for Eddie as a Hitmaker, but he was very fortunate in having a record deal with Liberty Records. Label boss Simon Waronker seemed to have a lot of faith in him and was prepared to play a long game in cultivating his talent. Eddie was also uniquely able to withstand a drought as he was increasingly being utilised at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles as a reliable and skilled session guitar player. The studio would soon become a vital location for the new sounds of the 1960s when producer Phil Spector sculpted his Wall Of Sound teen-operas in the studios, making full use of every available session player making complex productions lavishly drenched in the studio's haunting live reverberation. Among those session players was Glen Campbell, who had been picked up by Cochran's manager Jerry Capehart after Eddie's death and had pretty much slotted in exactly where Eddie had left off at Gold Star. Glen played on what are now regarded as essential sessions for Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, The Monkees, Gene Clark and innumerable others before becoming a major singing star in his own right as the decade drew to a close. It's not an impossible stretch of imagination to see that Eddie might well have had a similar career trajectory as Campbell, diligently and patiently working his ticket on sessions, cultivating his craft and contacts, to get a second bite of the fat cherry of headline recording artist success by 1968 when he would have still been only thirty years old.
It seems unimaginable that Eddie Cochran wouldn't have continued to expand his powers and have a major role to play in the music of the decades that followed, whether in front of the spotlight or in the more shadowed areas of music production.
If..., if..., if...
*Click on the link below to view Adrian McKenna's new 'Eddie Cochran: A Fast Moving Beat Show - The Story of the Final, Fatal UK Tour'