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Apropos of nothing

There are damned few blogs whose comment section I bother to check out much, but the tall but brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning example of a placental mammal Diogenes Sarcastica‘s would be one of those. Commenter Dan Patterson’s most apropos mention of “The Steps to Heaven” put me in mind of an old Eddie Cochran gem I felt worth putting up here, just to share the wealth a little.

Eddie wrote, recorded, and performed one hell of a lot of great tunes before his tragic death in Bath, Somerset at the too-tender age of 21, no doubt—“Twenty Flight Rock,” “Summertime Blues,” “C’mon Everybody,” to name but a few—but this one has always been my absolute favorite of them all.

Update! Okay, okay, have just a bit more Eddie Cochran lore, from the above-linked Wikipedia article.

Cochran was one of the first rock-and-roll artists to write his own songs and overdub tracks. He is also credited with being one of the first to use an unwound third string to “bend” notes up a whole tone—an innovation (imparted to UK guitarist Joe Brown, who secured much session work as a result) that has since become an essential part of the standard rock guitar vocabulary. Artists such as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, UFO, Van Halen, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, T. Rex, Cliff Richard, the Who, Stray Cats, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, the White Stripes, the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, Rush, Simple Minds, George Thorogood, Guitar Wolf, Paul McCartney, Alan Jackson, Terry Manning, the Move, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Hallyday and U2 have covered his songs.

It was because Paul McCartney knew the chords and words to “Twenty Flight Rock” that he became a member of the Beatles. John Lennon was so impressed that he invited McCartney to play with his band, the Quarrymen. Jimi Hendrix performed “Summertime Blues” early in his career, and Pete Townshend of the Who was heavily influenced by Cochran’s guitar style (“Summertime Blues” was a staple of live performances by the Who for most of their career, until the death of bassist and vocalist John Entwistle in 2002, and is featured on their album Live at Leeds). San Francisco Sound band Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues” was their only hit and signature song, and has been described as the first heavy metal song. Terry Manning recorded a live version of “Somethin’ Else” at a concert inside Elvis Presley’s first house in Memphis.

The glam rock artist Marc Bolan had his main Gibson Les Paul guitar refinished in a transparent orange to resemble the Gretsch 6120 played by Cochran, who was his music hero. He was also an influence on the guitar player Brian Setzer, of Stray Cats, who plays a 6120 almost like that of Cochran, whom he portrayed in the film La Bamba.

Never anywhere near as renowned or revered in the US as he was (and remains) in Jollye Olde—it was the same with nearly all of the great old rockabilly icons, excepting Elvis Presley, who ironically enough never performed overseas—Cochran’s continuing influence on rock & roll really can’t be overstated.

In fact, it was thanks to Eddie Cochran that I myself abandoned punk rock to dive into the rockabilly pool myself, a genre so incredibly deep as to be for all intents and purposes bottomless. At my cousin and BP’s drummer Mark’s place one hot summer afternoon, we were listening to his collection of Sid Vicious’s post-Pistols 45RPM releases, almost every one of which was an Eddie Cochran cover, none of which we’d ever heard the originals before.

We started looking at the labels and, seeing the songwriter credit to one “E. Cochran,” found our curiosity well and truly piqued—who WAS this mysterious E Cochran chap anyway, and how is it that Sid had come to cover so much of his stuff? Mark always having been the record-collector geek to end all record-collector geeks, he consulted his indie-label catalogs, looked up this E. Cochran dude, and placed a telephone order for several of the original 45s Sid had glommed onto.

When the vinyl arrived a cpl-three weeks later, we adjourned to Mark’s place again, put them on the turntable, and were forthwith blown right the fuck away. From that day forward, we were ex-punks and fledgling rockabilly greasers. So it was that eventually, from this joyous discovery, the Belmont Playboys were born.

As hinted at in the Wiki article, Gene Vincent was (re-)crippled in the same taxicab crash that sent Eddie Cochran to Rock And Roll Heaven and never really recovered from his injuries. Certainly, he was never the same afterwards, either in body or in spirit, enduring constant pain and walking with a pronounced limp for the rest of his days; the crash with Cochran exacerbated severe injuries to his legs sustained in a motorcycle accident in 1955.

Craddock (Vincent Eugene, a/k/a Gene Vincent—M) dropped out of school in 1952, at the age of seventeen, and enlisted in the United States Navy. As he was under the age of enlistment, his parents signed the forms allowing him to enter. He completed boot camp and joined the fleet as a crewman aboard the fleet oiler USS Chukawan, with a two-week training period in the repair ship USS Amphion, before returning to the Chukawan. He never saw combat but completed a Korean War deployment. He sailed home from Korean waters aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin but was not part of the ship’s company.

Craddock planned a career in the Navy and, in 1955, used his $612 re-enlistment bonus to buy a new Triumph motorcycle. On July 4, 1955, while he was in Norfolk, his left leg was shattered in an auto crash. He refused to allow the leg to be amputated, and the leg was saved, but the injury left him with a limp and pain. He wore a steel sheath as a leg brace for the rest of his life. Most accounts relate the accident as the fault of a drunk driver who struck him. Years later in some of his music biographies, there is no mention of an accident, but it was claimed that his injury was due to a wound incurred in combat in Korea. He spent time in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital and was medically discharged from the navy shortly thereafter.

Cochran ended up departing this vale of tears on April 17th, 1960, the day after the wreck—Easter Sunday, as it happens. As for Gene Vincent? Wellllll…

Moar coinkydink: the “clapper boy” at Vincent’s right shoulder above is an “early rockabilly pioneer” from High Point, NC, name of Paul Peek. Now, as fate would have it, the folks responsible for putting together a little annual whoopjamboreehoo called Bubbapalooza at the legendary Star Bar in ATL tracked Paul down to a semi-rural Holiday Inn not too far from the Alabama line, where Peek was working a steady solo guitar/singing gig in the hotel lounge—one of the most dreadful, depressing gigs there is, a test of endurance and sheer will that truly puts the “work” in the phrase “working musician.”

The Star Bar people implored Paul to show up at Star Bar for Bubba the next Saturday night, a suggestion Peek was dubious about, to say the very least. But throughout the intervening week the Star Bar folks kept after him: visiting the Holiday Inn to attend his nightly lounge ordeal; badgering him on the phone; plying him with endless rounds of beer and/or whiskey in hopes of persuading a drunken pledge of attendance out of him, etc. The Star Bar crew worked poor ol’ Paul as assiduously as an intractably smitten high-school senior does his virgin sophomore girlfriend on Prom night.

And lo and behold, on Saturday night who but Paul Peek should cross the Star Bar threshold and present himself at my usual haunt down at the end of the bar, just before the Playboys were to take the stage as the headline act. I was introduced to him and extended a warm invitation for him to join us onstage for a few Vincent tunes.

Paul Peek in the flesh cut a decidedly unimposing figure: mid-60s, probably; medium height and build; balding; modest and soft-spoken; painfully shy, peering awkwardly at me through Coke-bottle glasses. Whatever flash he may have had in his youth, there was nothing whatsoever of flash about the man standing beside me now. No garbardine, no suede creepers, no vintage 50s panel shirt or velvet smoking jacket. Just an average, quiet old guy who seemed to feel as if his mere presence here might be some kind of imposition.

I can’t recall whether Paul had brought a guitar of his own along or played one of mine—seems to me now he had his own battered acoustic box, but I could very easily be wrong. No matter. Assisted by the urging of the Star Bar staff, I finally coaxed him up with us early in the set. The place was elbow-to-elbow, I mean this house was packed. Paul grinned over at me, eyes wide behind those thick-ass goggles of his, as we launched into a Vincent chestnut—”Be Bop A Lula,” perhaps, I dunno.

As the band vamped the intro behind us, I waved Paul to the center-stage mic and introduced him to the appreciative audience. After having sworn up and down to me at the bar that “none of these young people will know who I am, they won’t care about seeing some old man up there,” the audience let rip with a thunderous ROAR on hearing his name that would’ve liquified the bowels of an entire pride of savage African lions, just from pure fright.

Paul ate it up, every bit of it; you could see the happy pride at this unexpected ovation written all over his beaming face. We finished the first song, then I asked him to sit in with us for a couple more numbers. During I guess the fourth song, Paul decided it was time to do a little showboating, dropping to one knee during my guitar solo. Thanks to his creaky old knees, two of us had to help him get back upright, whereupon the crowd roared its approval yet again.

Paul ended up playing half the damned set with us; barside with him after the show, he profusely thanked everyone within arm’s reach for his thrilling Bubbapalooza experience, signing autographs while he recounted amazing tales to me of life on the road backing the immortal Gene Vincent. That was the night I learned about Gene’s salty-rock-and-roll-dog motto from the man who’d lived it with him: “We blow into town. We drink all the whiskey. We screw all the women. We make a big racket. Then we leave. I mean, seriously, what’s not to like?”

I’ve never forgotten that glorious night, and I never will. I’m quite sure that Paul Peek never did either.

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