The Eddie Cochran Story






In October 1954, Cochran walked into the American Legion Club to watch a semi-pro band called Richard Kay and The Shamrock Valley Boys run through their repertoire of Hillbilly standards.  He coyly approached the members of the band between sets and asked to join them on stage for a few numbers. In such informal surroundings this was easily arranged and Eddie struck up a lasting friendship with Bob Bull, the band's rhythm guitarist. Bull Asked Eddie if he was related to a local singer named Hank Cochran who had recently gigged with the band. Eddie had never heard of the other Cochran and Bull suggested that the two should meet as Hank was trying to form a group.


Hank Cochran had come up the hard way which could explain why he had chosen to live his life out of the limelight. By the time he and Eddie met, he had turned professional and was working in clubs.  Hank offered Eddie a job as his accompanying guitarist, and in January 1955, Eddie left school for good.  He was only four months past his 16th birthday.

 Fraternal duos were very popular in the country music field at this time and as they shared the same surname and vaguely looked alike, the two Cochrans decided to pool their talents and go on the road as the Cochran Brothers, with Hank singing and playing rhythm guitar and Eddie on lead guitar and vocal harmony.  The group was augmented by an unknown bass player and Billy Watson on guitar and vocals.

 In the initial stages, the Cochrans lacked stagecraft.  Eddie had not previously given much thought to singing and their harmonies were ragged while the difference in height between the two detracted from the visual appeal.  Nevertheless, with practice their act came together and they began to make their presence felt on the West Coast country music circuit, which was much more receptive to newcomers that its’ cliquey Nashville counterpart.  In practice, this meant making the rounds of country music dance halls and Western Jamborees which provided regular entertainment for the local blue collar workers.

 The most prestigious event on the coast was Cliffe Stone’s “Hometown Jamboree” which was televised on KLAC every Sunday from the Legion Stadium in El Monte followed closely by “Town Hall Party” in Compton, 25 miles south of Los Angeles.  Both shows featured visiting headliners supported by local acts and promising newcomers.

 Cliffe Stone was a shareholder in the Americana Music Corporation, a booking agency run by Steve Stebbins, the leading country promoter on the West Coast and a powerhouse on the local scene.  Other well-known country singers such as Eddie Kirk, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Merle Travis also held shares in the agency which monopolized California’s country music circuit and snapped any promising newcomers.  The Cochran Brothers were added to its’ books in April 1955 at which point there was a dramatic improvement in their fortunes. They put in appearances in both “Town Hall Party” and “Hometown Jamboree” and also appeared on “Country Barn Dance” a more down market affair held in the 1000 capacity Jubilee Ballroom, just west of El Monte.

 Steve Stebbins arranged an immediate audition with EKKO Records, one of the dozens of tiny independents scattered across Los Angeles.  It was owned by Ed Bloodworth and two partners, and its’ ambitions outweighed its’ budget.  Unable to sign up big names, it settled for small-time local acts such as the Cochrans, Jess Willard, and Western Swing veterans from the previous decade.  EKKO’s A&R man, Charles “Red” Mathews was based in Memphis where the company had its main office, and would make periodic recording trips to California.  Assuming a managerial role as best he could, given that he was not locally based, Mathews based his faith in the Cochrans and rehearsed them thoroughly prior to recording.

 In May 1955, at Sunset Records in Hollywood, he produced 4 tracks by the duo in the plaintive hillbilly style popularized by Hank Williams and issued two of the titles, “Mr. Fiddle” and “Two Blue Singing Stars” as their debut single.  Vocally, Hank is stronger on these recordings and is ably supported by Eddie who also plays some nice country-style guitar.

 In the Autumn, Hank and Eddie were booked to appear on the “Big D Jamboree” in Dallas.  Broadcast locally on KRLD, the “Big D” ranked alongside Nashville’s “Opry” as a prestigious country music showcase and was held every weekend in the Dallas Sportatorium, a huge corrugated iron building that played host to wrestling contests on weekdays.

 Elvis Presley had stormed out of Memphis with an astounding fusion of country, R&B and pop and cut a swathe across the south with a stage act that had a galvanizing effect on audiences.  Hank and Eddie arrived in Dallas only days after Elvis had appeared on the “Big D”.

The pandemonium which accompanied Elvis’ personal appearances was a phenomenon in country music and the Cochrans listened in awe as a security told them that he had nearly been torn apart by fans as he attempted to protect Elvis.  Hank, who had heard some of Elvis’ sun records on the radio says that “He and Eddie knew right then that this new stuff was about to happen!” 

 The Cochrans traveled East through Texarkana and on to Memphis where EKKO had a small office on Union Avenue, not far from Sun.  The unscheduled trip left the Cochrans virtually penniless forcing Eddie to hock his amplifier to boost their finances; in fact, they were only able to make it back to LA by hitch hiking!

 Whenever he came home to Bell Gardens, Eddie would drop int the music center which was only a few blocks away.  It was a popular hangout for local musicians and owner Ben Keither often brought customers together.  Eddie was buying guitar strings there on a Saturday afternoon in October 1955 when Keither introduced him to the man who would become his mentor, manager and co-writer; Jerry Capehart.

 Capehart, who had no singing voice, mentioned that he was looking for somebody to demo his songs.  Eddie replied that he and Hank would be happy to oblige for a small fee.  He introduced Capehart to Hank and a few days later they laid down some songs in a small recording booth equipped with a disk cutting lathe.  Although nothing became of these dubs, Capehart adopted the Cochrans as his occasional backing band and offered to promote their career.  Capehart knew he’d never make it as a singer and worked toward establishing a relationship with the Cochrans as a means to an end.

 In October, EKKO had issued a second single “Guilty Conscience” which had not fared any better that the first, and with Red Mathews spending most of his time in Memphis, Capehart’s burgeoning entrepreneurial instincts began to come into play. Capehart had an infectious enthusiasm which made for convincing salesmanship.

 Compromised by his own limitations as a singer and the fact that the Cochrans were already under contract to EKKO, Capehart concluded that any deal was better than no deal and began casting his net.  In November 1955 he drove to the Watts district to confer with a black entrepreneur name John Dolphin who ran a thriving record shop in the heart of the black community.  Dolphin was notable for having a DJ named “Huggy Boy” broadcasting from a booth in the record shop window.  Dolphin operated two R&B labels from his shop and made his own masters in a small studio housed in the rear of the premises; he could cut a record in the morning, give Huggy Boy an acetate in the evening and having customers asking for pressings the following day.

 Capehart pitched Dolphin the idea of cutting some “Hillbilly” sounds and came away with the promise of a one record deal although he had to give away his sons to get it – Dolphins name routinely appeared as the writer of any songs released on his labels.  Backed by four black musicians with Hank and Eddie on guitars, Capehart recorded “Rollin and Walkin Stick Boogie” just before Christmas 1955.