It’s 60 years to the day since pioneering Rock ‘n’ Roll star Eddie Cochran died. I won’t go into a biography of Eddie here as there are plenty of places you can get that info, but it is worth running through the events that led to his sad end in a small Wiltshire town.
Cochran had been touring the UK, co-headlining a tour of theatres and ball rooms which had begun on the 21st of January with fellow American Star Gene Vincent. He’d been struggling throughout the tour with homesickness, and halfway through had flown his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley over to keep him company. For the California based star the British weather through January, February and March can’t have been much fun either. And that’s before we come to the food, Burgers and cokes at the drive through giving way to Spam fritters and a bottle of vimto from the Chip Shop. From the Golden state to what a state.
Still, he battled on through the tour stopping not just at Wembley and big city venues, but also provincial backwaters such as Dundee, Worcester and Taunton. Days without a show usually meant Radio performances and personal appearances to drive ticket sales. Finally, the tour rolled into the final stop; The Hippodrome, Bristol, a concert venue still in use today.
After that night’s gig, the plan was for Gene, Eddie & girlfriend Sharon to travel through the night to London Airport (now Heathrow), and fly straight back to the US on a dawn flight. They would be at home for three weeks – during which Eddie had some studio time booked – before coming back to the UK for the second leg of the tour. As it would be too late to take a train, a Bristol taxi was arranged to take them back to London.
As soon as they came off the Hippodrome stage that night, they took their first steps on the long transatlantic journey home to their loved ones by jumping into the waiting Ford Consul taxi. After a stop at the Royal Hotel to collect their cases, they embarked on the 100 mile dash to the airport, which in those pre motorway days was expected to take them around three hours along the A4. In the back sat Eddie, Gene and Sharon. Tour manager Pat Tomkins sat in the front, next to 19 year old taxi driver George Martin.
Around 30 miles into their journey, as the clock approached midnight, the car was passing through Chippenham in Wiltshire. It passed beneath a railway bridge, from where it should have followed the curve of the road, and travelled up Rowley Hill. For reasons never conclusively established – though excess speed was an undoubted factor – the driver lost control of the car as it rounded the left hand bend. The rear tyres lost traction and the car, at speed, slewed around to face the way it had just come, before going backwards into an iron lamppost. At the point of impact, Cochran was thrown up into the roof of the car, before being catapulted out onto the road through a door that had burst open.
On hearing a loud bang, local residents came out of their houses to find the wrecked car, the five occupants laid in the road with varying injuries, and guitars, clothing and publicity photos scattered around the scene. The driver & tour manager were not seriously injured. Sharon Sheeley suffered shock and bruising, whilst Gene Vincent had broken his collarbone. Eddie was unconscious with serious head injuries. An ambulance was summoned, and he was taken to hospital in nearby Bath.
Eddie Cochran never regained consciousness and was declared dead at 16.10 the following day, the 17th of April 1960. He was 21 years old.
Back in 2016 I landed a job which involved me going to my new employers head office in Chippenham for a couple of days training. This gave me a great opportunity to visit the site of Eddie’s accident and see the small memorial stone (Since replaced with something a bit grander). The pic below was taken by a bemused passer by at 07.50am on a freezing late November morning, 10 minutes before I was due to start my new job just down the road. It’s always important to get your priorities right.
Eddie Cochran. 1938 to 1960. R.I.P.