UK rockabilly scene linchpin Darrel Higham salutes his hero and reveals his Top Five Eddie Cochran tracks
Rockabilly hero Darrel Higham has been a fan of Eddie Cochran for a very long time, with his music a clear influence on his work with acclaimed bands such as The Enforcers. He even played with Cochran’s last band, The Kelly Four, in the early 90s for six months. We caught up with Darrel to find out more about his life-long fandom.
What first turned you on to Eddie?
Flicking through my Mum and Dad’s record collection when I was about five, there was this album called Singin’ To My Baby which had belonged to my Aunt Kyra, my Dad’s sister. She’d written all over the back cover with love hearts and “Kyra loves Eddie” and all this typical fan-girl gush! I thought that if this Eddie Cochran chap had made such a huge impression on Kyra, it was best I take this seriously. What struck me first was the front cover with the three shadowy photos of Eddie – two headshots and then the photo of Eddie holding his Gretsch 6120. That guitar affected me profoundly… the most beautiful guitar I’d ever seen. I still get very nostalgic whenever I pull that LP out and see that cover.
You’ve also spoken highly of the album’s content…
It’s a rare record where the music matches the image the cover projects. The songs have copious amounts of echo added; haunting ballads with beautiful backing vocals by The Johnny Mann Chorus; cool rockers like Am I Blue, Twenty Flight Rock, Stockings And Shoes, Mean When I’m Mad (one of my all-time favourite Cochran tracks). I consider the whole album to be a masterpiece. It may be maligned by rock critics these days but considering this was Eddie’s debut and that he was only 18 years old, it deserves a much better reputation.
Eddie and Gene Vincent have a special place in UK hearts, yet Eddie’s rep seems to be higher. Why do you think this is?
We live in an age where artists must be – or feel they must be – very open and honest and engage personally with their fanbase. Gene sometimes came across as quite withdrawn, whereas Eddie was much more articulate and personable. That resonates today with music fans. Gene recorded many of the greatest rock’n’roll and rockabilly songs ever and his music will always be cherished. Eddie’s music was much more polished in comparison, but it’s his musicianship and songwriting that continually appeals to every new generation of music fan. Eddie wrote some of the most enduring rock’n’roll songs and created his own style within the genre that has never really gone out of fashion. He’s seen, correctly, as the ‘Grandfather of Punk’ and a huge number of stellar musicians that came out of the 60s have cited him as an influence. Gene will always be the ultimate rocker, I don’t think that can be contested. Eddie was a rocker but his appeal was perhaps always broader, even back during his lifetime.
The Chippenham site of Eddie’s fatal car accident in 1960 must have a special poignancy for you… Have you been involved with the memorial restoration/campaign for a statue?
Back when I was in my 20s – this would’ve been the early 90s – I owned a 1957 Ford Consul. One of the anniversaries of Eddie’s death back then fell on the actual day the car crashed in Chippenham, which was a Sunday, very late at night/early hours of Monday morning. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but I decided to jump in the Consul and drive from Bedford to Chippenham – a fair way to travel. I got there around midnight and parked up in a lay-by on the road where the crash happened. I sat there for about an hour and then drove back to Bedford! It seemed very important to me at the time, all part of growing up and trying to understand one’s own thoughts and how my life was changing back then. I didn’t tell anyone at the time that I’d done it. But I think Adam Gittings [of The Eddie Cochran Memorial Project] has done a great job in getting the memorial restored and Eddie’s fanbase deserve a huge pat on the back for their donations. It’s important there is a respectful memorial to this great artist.
What way do you think Eddie’s music would have gone had he lived?
I’m fairly convinced Eddie would’ve moved in whatever direction popular music was going. Si Waronker told me that, had Eddie lived, he would’ve been offered many of the songs that wound up as hits for Johnny Burnette and Bobby Vee – both Liberty artists. The label hit a purple patch after Eddie’s death. I think Liberty felt Eddie’s huge success in the UK would have had a knock-on effect in the US and it might well have done. We’ll never know for sure, but I’m certain whatever way Eddie would’ve gone, musically speaking, his music would have always had balls to it.
Eddie’s best-known songs are rhythm-driven, very syncopated, with no huge guitar solos. When you recorded your Cochran Connection albums for Rockstar, was it a surprise to discover the variety of styles he mastered?
I grew up obsessed by Eddie, but strangely, I’d never really tried to pick apart and analyse his guitar playing. When it came to recording those tribute CDs for Rockstar Records, I was shocked at how little I really knew about his technique. He down-tuned a lot during the period he was recording the Singin’ To My Baby LP – the top and bottom strings were tuned down to a D instead of the higher E, and the rest of the strings were also tuned down accordingly. This meant he had a much deeper sound. I had to work it all out before I could get the songs sounding even halfway authentic. I still believe he never recorded anything that truly showed how great a player he really was.
Which was most fun to record – Volume 1 or Volume 2?
The first CD covered his early work and I wanted that to be quite authentic. I had a lot of great guests involved, including The Jets and Anders Janes and Ricky Lee Brawn from The Stargazers, another band I loved. The album was recorded by Ricky on his vintage recording equipment, so it was all tape and analogue gear, and we had to record everything live.
The second CD was recorded by Boz Boorer at his studio in Hampstead in London, and it took a lot longer to do as I couldn’t make up my mind whether I wanted it to be a bit less authentic. I did mess with a few of the songs in the end, but not by much.
Why do you think the biography you wrote with Julie Mundy, Don’t Forget Me, still stands the test of time?
Julie and I wanted to showcase Eddie’s music and get across how influential he was, rather than spend time on his personal life. We felt his music was more important and thought that people probably didn’t know much about his legacy and his influence on the likes of The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Brian Setzer. We wanted to get that across and work out why his career was so patchy. I think we did a really good job of presenting his career in a very matter-of-fact way.
Interviewing Simon Waronker, who founded Liberty Records, was a real coup because he was able to recall, quite vividly, his first impressions of Eddie and why a lot of things in his career didn’t go as planned. It mainly boiled down to poor management, which is usually the case!
Top of the Rocks
Darrel Higham’s five essential Eddie Cochran tracks
JEANIE JEANIE JEANIE
“I’ve rediscovered this recently. Funnily enough, I play it nearly every week with my band, but had stopped listening to Eddie’s version maybe because of this. But it’s been getting played a lot recently and it’s fair to say it’s been moving me.”
MEAN WHEN I’M MAD
“‘Ya tantalise me, baby. Ya hypnotise me, baby. But don’t defy me, baby cos I’m mighty, mighty mean when I’m mad.’ You can’t knock a song with lyrics like that, can you?!”
DARK LONELY STREET
“Perhaps Eddie’s most underrated song? Great lyrics and chord structure. A bit miserable, yes – but magical as well. Don’t play it if you’re feeling a tad unhappy.”
“Eddie to Jerry Capehart: ‘Summer is lovely. Sun, holidays and beaches. So let’s write a song about how miserable it can be!’ Winner!
“Second greatest song ever recorded. Second greatest rock’n’roll song of all time. All the above is my own humble opinion. But as Mrs Slocombe used to say in Are You Being Served?: ‘I am unanimous in my opinion!’”
“The greatest rock’n’roll song ever recorded. The greatest rock’n’roll vocal performance ever. The greatest cymbal smashes and bass lines in rock’n’roll history. Instant air guitar and head banging. No other song comes close.”