School's out, and it's time to get down, get sunburned and get lucky
In his brief career, Eddie Cochran made a lasting imprint on rock with songs like "Summertime Blues." Born in Oklahoma, he was raised in Minnesota until 1949, when he moved with his family to Bell Gardens, California. By then Eddie Cochran had taught himself to play blues guitar. He and guitarist Hank Cochran (no relation) began recording as the Cochran Brothers in 1955.
The following year Eddie and Hank split up, and Cochran began writing songs with Jerry Capeheart, whom he'd met while buying guitar strings at a local music shop. While the two were recording background music for a low-budget film, the producer, Boris Petroff, enlisted him to sing his song "Twenty Flight Rock" in another movie he was making: The Girl Can't Help It, with Jayne Mansfield. Liberty Records signed him soon after.
His first hit was 1957's "Sittin' in the Balcony" (#18). A year later Cochran and Capehart's good-humored anthem of teen boredom, "Summertime Blues," made the Top 10. It has since revisited the charts in versions by the Who and Blue Cheer. Two more hits, "C'mon Everybody" (#35, 1958) and "Somethin' Else" (#58, 1959), established him as a star, especially in En¬gland.
Cochran toured steadily, backed by the Kelly Four (bassist Connie Smith, who was later replaced by Dave Schrieber; drummer Gene Ridgio; and a series of pianists and saxophonists). He was an exceptionally talented guitarist, an energetic stage performer, and an early master of studio overdubbing; he played and sang all the parts on both "C'mon Everybody" and "Summertime Blues." Cochran was 21 when he died on April 17, 1960, in an auto accident en route to the London airport. His hit single at the time was "Three Steps to Heaven," which went to #1 in the U.K. Injured in the crash were Gene Vincent and Cochran's fiancée, Sharon Sheeley, cowriter of "Somethin' Else" and composer of Rick Nelson's 1958 #1 smash "Poor Little Fool." Cochran and Nelson both entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 1987.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).