Rock n Roll, the U.K, 1958.
“I was there mate, so I know what I’m talking about.” “Oh really?”
Eddie Cochran and the Summertime Blues
The long, hot summer in the U.K. of 1958 was awash with rock n roll music that blew your socks off: Buddy Holly’s Rave On, Duane Eddy’s Rebel Rouser, Jerry Lee’s High School Confidential… and Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues. Oops!! The latter not even quite right.
Not at all right, it seems. (1)
Le Patron did not – as he wrongly remembered – obsessively play during that Essex summer the London Label Summertime Blues on the portable plug in record player in his bedroom, windows open, whilst his Dad mowed the grass outside, his sister dusted her Wade figurines, and his Mum cooked the sunday lunch. Oh no. He would have lost serious money if he had put a bet on that.
Being there doesn’t mean you remember right. According to the UK hit parades of 1958, Summertime Blues reached its highest position in the British Top Twenty – at Number 18 – on 13th November, 1958. Forget summer. The nights were dark. And the Number One that damp week in November was It’s All in The Game by the rarely remembered Tommy Edwards.
Le Patron is writing about Eddie Cochran as Eddie Cochran died in St.Martin’s Hospital, Bath, Somerset, and so did Le Patron’s Dad, and in a manner of speaking, they both shared the same house too, in Essex in 1958. But first…. The Summer of ’58.
The Summer of ’58
In Rock n Roll legend – as far as the U.K. goes – the summer of 1958 is seen as the final splendid showering of rock n roll. All the American greats were in the U.K. Top Twenty, mostly on the London label (RCA, Coral & Brunswick aside). Buddy Holly got to No 5 in August 1958 with Rave On; Jerry Lee’s explosive High School Confidential made No.12; the staggering Rebel Rouser made No.19 for Duane Eddy in September 1958, and Elvis was there with the Platinum Hard Headed Woman.
Just to take the week in August when Buddy Holly got to No 5 with Rave On: the Everly’s were sitting at the Top with the double A sided All I Have To Is Dream/Claudette, with Elvis snapping at their heels with Hard Headed Woman. The Crickets Think It Over had entered the bottom 20 and was rising, and Little Richard’s Ooh My Soul was in the bottom 20 too. So yes, it was a hot, exciting summer. The Patron played again and again the opening lines of Rave On: “Well-ahella-ahella, the little things you say and do”; Jerry Lee’s blistering High School Confidential which ripped in with “Come on honey, get on your dancing shoes, before the juke box blows a fuse” Or the opening, stunning, mesmerising twangs of Rebel Rouser. Where was that sound coming from?!
It was a far cry from the BBC Light Programme’s Sunday lunch time record requests show Two Way Family Favourites. The closest you might get to the source on that programme was Guy Mitchell, maybe a ballad from the Everly’s, or the poppy Lollipop by the Mudlarks (an English cover of the Chordettes U.S. original). But there was never ever going to be anything that would blow the valves out of their radiogram sockets.
In a small town in Essex in the summer of 1958 listening to Jack Jackson’s Decca show on Luxembourg was the first stop for listening to this electrifying sound from across the Atlantic. (The AFN – (American Forces Network) – signal from Germany was even weaker than Luxembourg’s)
The second way to hear it was to stand in the record booth at the local shop where you could listen before you bought or did not buy a new release. And thirdly, dropping a coin in the slot of a juke box.
So that was the summer of ’58. According to the mythology, it was the Indian Summer of that 1956 – 1958 explosion of American Rock n Roll. Even Le Patron accepted the myth. It didn’t need Don MacLean’s American Pie (1971) to talk about the day the music died (February, 1959 and Buddy’s plane crash). The myth had already been established somewhere around 1964, when Mods and Rockers fought it out on the beaches of England’s South Coast.
But like Le Patron’s dodgy memory, the myth is wrong too. This is the myth: in 1959 Buddy Holly was dead, Elvis was in the Army, Little Richard had found God, and Jerry Lee never recovered from being found out, in May, 1958, that he had married his 13 year old first cousin once removed. And – according to the myth – after that came three or four years of Bobby this, and Bobby that, singing bland bubblegum pop. Rock n roll was dead. (Even Bob Dylan believed this. Years later, commenting on that 1959 – 1962 period he saw it as a successful conspiracy of the WASP majority to suppress the wild, racial elements of rock n roll). Oh really?
Firstly, even if Little Richard hadn’t found God, his recorded music had already gone off the boil. Baby Face, which followed Ooh My Soul in the summer of 1958 was as dire as Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (The Beatles) 1961 My Bonny. Likewise Jerry Lee’s singles by 1959 weren’t as strong, apart from Loving Up a Storm. Incidentally, although Jerry Lee’s May 1958 UK tour was cancelled on the back of the press moral indignation, and the Methodist Rank Organisation pulling the plug on bookings in their theatres, his High School Confidential successfully climbed the Top Twenty to No.12. And Col. Parker successfully issued back catalogue material that always saw Elvis in the Top Ten, whilst he was in the U.S. army.
Brenda Lee, the Everly’s, Roy Orbision, Elvis (out of the army in March, 1960), Ricky Nelson, Duane Eddy continued to record material in the 1959 – 1962 period that were massive hits at the time and are now part of rock history: Let’s Jump the Broomstick; Cathy’s Clown; Running Scared; It’s Now or Never; Hello Mary Lou; Peter Gunn….(2).
And interesting new things were happening in that 1959 – 1962 period. Music was evolving, as it always does. A giant like Ray Charles was breaking into the UK Top Twenty, and like Elvis he took white and black music and melded aspects of it: I Can’t Stop Loving You, Your Cheating Heart, from white American Country music and Georgia on My Mind from the white American Song Book, and succeeded with the black Hit the Road Jack and What’d I Say? Buddy Holly was one of several performers who were impressed and inspired by Ray Charles, and his 1958 Early in the Morning was influenced by the Ray Charles approach. In 1961 Jerry Lee made a rare re-appearance into the UK Top Twenty with his version of Ray’s What’d I Say?
Sam Cooke too was breaking into the U.K Top Ten during 1959 – 1962: Wonderful World, Chain Gang, Cupid, Twisting the Night Away and Another Saturday Night. His cool persona, with the Apollo Harlem showtime routine, was breaking the ground for Stax and Tamla Motown to follow. Bob Dylan would have revised his opinion that WASPS killed off the music because of the racial elements, if he had seen Sam Cooke performing Twisting the Night Away to an audience who look as if they’ve been bussed in from a white businessmen’s convention, Sam getting the sober suited execs. to clap as he does some neat moves, singing “Dancing with the chick in slacks… dancing up and back”. (3. The link to this performance is footnoted below)
So what’s the beef? And what was wrong with Bobby Vee? He cut some good stuff, including with the Crickets. And Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet?
O.K. R.I.P the Summer of ’58. Here comes winter.
W i n t e r t i m e B l u e s
When Eddie Cochran joined Gene Vincent on the January-April 1960 UK tour he was no ‘has-been”. His C’mon Everybody had reached No.6 in March 1959, and Something Else got to No.22 in late October, 1959. Gene Vincent, however, hadn’t been in the UK Top Twenty since October 1956,with Blue Jean Bop. At the Bradford concert the thin-skinned Gene got a bit shirty.
BADGERED ROCK STAR QUITS THE STAGE
More than 2000 teenagers at a rock’n’roll concert at the Gaumont, Bradford on Saturday night were astonished when the American star of the show, Gene Vincent, stopped in the middle of a song and walked off stage. His accompanying group faltered to a ragged halt, and harassed compere Billy Raymond hurried from the wings to the microphone to lead a finale in which all members of the company, including a solemn-faced Vincent, took part.
In his dressing room later, the 25-year-old singer from Norfolk, Virginia, explained his startling exit. “Four guys at the back had been heckling throughout the act. I didn’t particularly mind during my fast numbers, but when they tried to ruin Over The Rainbow I could just not take it any more. It is one of the best things that I do and it has been going down well all over the country. I will never play at this place again”
– (Yorkshire Post)
As the tour progressed it was clear the real star of the show was Eddie Cochran. When the tour management suggested he should go top of the bill he declined, as he had a soft spot for Gene. Eddie, it is reported was homesick on the UK tour, ringing his Mum every day, and although he’d experienced cold winters, he wasn’t used to the lack of central heating in 1960s Britain, and that got to him.
When he and Gene finished their last concert in April at the Bristol Hippodrome he hired a car to take him, his girlfriend and Gene through the dark night to London Airport for the flight back to the States. The car crashed near Chippenham, and Eddie died of his injuries two days later at St. Martin’s Hospital in Bath, Somerset on 16 April, 1960.
Gene, and Eddie’s girlfriend Sharon Sheeley, survived. Eddie was 21.
So it seems Le Patron was listening to Summertime Blues sometime in October, 1958, (not the summer), whilst outside his Dad , after the first frost of autumn, dug over the vegetable patch. Mum cooked the meal in the kitchen and his sister listened to the newly introduced Saturday Club, a lame BBC attempt to “get with it”, hosted by Brian Mathews.
Many years later Le Patron’s Dad no longer worked in a garden. In the early 1990s he died in a dementia ward of the same hospital Eddie died. By then St.Martin’s had no “Casualty” (A&E, Accident and Emergency, as it is now called).
A day or so later Le Patron and his Mum went to register the death at the local Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Whilst his Mum was talking to the receptionist, Le Patron noticed a framed Death Certificate, proudly displayed on an otherwise bare wall. It was the Death certificate of Eddie Cochran. Le Patron looked closer and saw that in the column “Occupation” Eddie was listed as “Entertainer”. It was all so long ago, that Summer of ’58.
Play It Again, Eddie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWbXCz9UZYo
- It is surprisingly difficult to find the date for the UK release of Summertime Blues. An Eddie Cochran fan site says September, 1958, but doesn’t say when in September. There is also a variation in the highest position it got in the UK Top Twenty. One source lists it as low as 21. All sources indicate the highest position at around 13 – 18 November, 1958. It is surprisingly that if it was released at the end of September it should take 6 weeks to get to no.18 in the bottom half of the Top Twenty.
- The bizarre mythology that 1959 – 1962 was a sort of musical vacuum (before the rise of the Beatles, and the British Groups invasion of the States), filled by bubblegum pop, doesn’t stand up to examination. Here are some, but not all, of the releases by the big U.S. names during 1959 – 1962: Duane Eddy: Peter Gunn, Forty Miles of Bad Road, Some Kind of Earthquake, Because They’re Young, Dance with the Guitar Man. Brenda Lee: Let’s Jump the Broomstick, Sweet Nothings, I’m Sorry, Emotions, Dum Dum, Fool No 1. Roy Orbison: Only the Lonely, Blue Angel, Running Scared, Crying, In Dreams, Pretty Woman (1963). Elvis: A Fool Such as I, Little Sister, A Mess of Blues, Big Hunk of Love, Stuck on You, It’s Now or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight, Good Luck Charm, Return To Sender, She’s Not You, Devil in Disguise. The Everly’s: Till I Kissed You, Let It Be Me, Cathy’s Clown, When Will I Be Loved, Walk Right Back, Crying in the Rain. Ricky Nelson: Travellin’ Man, It’s Late, Hello Mary Lou, Young World, Teenage Idol, It’s Up To You.
- Here is the link to the fabulous TV performance of Sam Cooke doing his 1962 hit in 1963. Twist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yIMt-aZjCo