April 17

This Day in History

Music

Apr 17, 1960:

Eddie Cochran dies, and Gene Vincent is injured, in a UK car accident

Eddie Cochran, the man behind "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody," was killed on this day in 1960 when the taxi carrying him from a show in Bristol, England, crashed en route to the airport in London, where he was to catch a flight back home to the United States. A raw and exciting rocker with a cocky, rebellious image, Eddie Cochran was very different from the polished and packaged idols being heavily marketed to American teenagers in the years between the rise of Elvis Presley and the arrival of the Beatles. And while he may have faded from popular memory in the years since his tragic and early death, his biggest hits have not.

Cochran was on a triumphant concert tour of Britain in the spring of 1960—a tour that had been extended 10 weeks beyond its scheduled run due to intense demand for tickets. In America, a tamer brand of pop was in fashion, exemplified by the likes of Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka and Bobby Darin. In England, however, harder-edged rhythm-and-blues artists and rock-and-rollers like Eddie Cochran and his tour-mate Gene Vincent (of "Be Bop a Lula" fame) were far more popular. Theirs was the kind of music that the future members of the British Invasion were listening to in the late 50s and early 60s. It was "Be Bop A Lula," in fact, that John Lennon was playing at the 1967 garden party where he first met Paul McCartney, and it was Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock" that Paul taught John to play that same afternoon, shortly after being invited to join Lennon's Quarrymen. At least one Beatle, George Harrison, saw Eddie Cochran in Liverpool during his final tour, and both his guitar-playing and his stage persona made a strong impression. "He was standing at the microphone and as he started to talk he put his two hands through his hair, pushing it back," Harrison later recalled. "And a girl, one lone voice, screamed out, 'Oh, Eddie!' and he coolly murmured into the mike, 'Hi honey.' I thought, 'Yes! That's it—rock and roll!"

Gene Vincent was traveling alongside Eddie Cochran in the cab to London after what would prove to be Cochran's final performance. Tour manager Patrick Thompkins and Eddie's fiancée, songwriter Sharon Seeley (she wrote Ricky Nelson's #1 hit "Poor Little Fool") were also in the Ford Consul that was later estimated to have been traveling in excess of 60 mph through a dark and winding section of the two-lane A4 in the village of Chippenham. Gene Vincent would break a leg and walk with a limp for the rest of his life, but beyond that, the only serious injuries among the passengers were Eddie Cochran's. Having been thrown from the vehicle when it smashed into a light post, Cochran sustained a serious head injury. He died at hospital in Bath in the early hours of April 17, 1960.

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