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Eddie Cochran, 1938-1960

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Eddie Cochran. When people from elsewhere think of Minnesota’s music they probably think of Bob Dylan and Prince, maybe also Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and The Replacements. But Eddie Cochran was a Minnesotan too, born in Albert Lea in 1938, where he spent the first fourteen years of his life before moving to California.

Cochran released his first solo single in July 1956 and died less than four years later: he was killed in a car crash on his first tour to Britain. But he packed a lot into his tragically short career. In December 1956, he appeared in The Girl Can’t Help It, one of the best rock n’ roll films of the era, singing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’.

In 1958, he recorded two classics, ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’.

Both songs became standards, and were covered by bands such as The Who and Led Zeppelin.

In his classic history of early rock n’ roll, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, British rock critic Nik Cohn explained what The Who and Zeppelin saw in him:

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Anyone who can compress the atmosphere of a whole period into six songs, who can crystallize the way that any generation worked, must have something very unusual going for him. Pete Townshend of the Who is the only person who has caught the sixties in the same way and he has had to work his ass off to do it. Cochran did it almost instinctively. For that alone, I’d rate him very high indeed. 

He was the first major American rocker to do a full, unaborted tour here and his impact was tremendous. He was the starting point from which British pop really bean to get better. 

He was a mover and writer and voice. He played his own things on guitar, he was really a musician. He sang songs that weren’t just crap but did somehow get across a real basic attitude. All of that was new. No poncing about, no dressing-up or one-shot gimmicking: he was something solid happening. So Billy Fury saw him and woke up. Or the Beatles saw him, or the Stones, or the Who, or the Move. That’s how things got started. And at that point, after the style of James Dean, Cochran got killed. 

Quite a legacy. Eddie Cochran certainly deserves a place in Minnesota’s hall of musical fame.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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