Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cochran had U. P. pen pal

Rock star Eddie Cochran corresonded with a
fan from the Upper Peninsula early in his career.


Rock 'n' roll pioneer Eddie Cochran, famous for "Summertime Blues," corresponded with an Upper Peninsula fan early in his career.

Cochran exchanged letters with Sue M. Hill who lived at 1830 Wilkinson Ave. in Marquette.

The rock 'n' roll singer and guitarist was enjoying his first hit, "Sittin' in the Balcony," at the time. Cochran was just 18 years old and his pen pal probably also a teenager when the two mailed each other.

Hill's letter, written in pencil on lined stationery, was part of a cache of Cochran ephemera from a lien sale recently sold at auction.

The surviving letter Hill sent-- carrying a three-cent stamp-- was post-marked May 11, 1957. The envelope was addressed simply to Eddie Cochran in care of Liberty Records, Hollywood, Calif.

Cochran was newly signed to Liberty Records, founded in 1955 by Simon Waronker. Liberty boasted songstress Julie London, but Cochran was the label's biggest early rock 'n' roll artist.

Although Liberty and Cochran were new to the record business, both realized fans were fundamental to success."I am very much interested in all my fans," Cochran stated.

Consequently, the rocker told fans he was looking for school photos or snapshots of themselves to be included in a scrapbook he was keeping.

"I was very pleased with the letter you sent me. Enclosed is the picture you asked for," Cochran's young U. P. fan wrote. "I think it's a very good idea to keep a scrapbook of all your fans," she added.

Wanting to keep the correspondence going, the Marquette resident also asked Cochran to send her his biography.

Cochran was born in Albert Lea, Minn. on Oct. 2, 1938, as Edward Ray Cochran. His parents had moved north from Oklahoma. In the early 1950s, his family moved to Bell Gardens, Cal. where Cochran began playing guitar and doing session work.

He met producer Jerry Capehart and soon after they began composing songs together.

Cochran's first national exposure came in late 1956 when he made a cameo appearance in the motion picture "The Girl Can't Help It," starring Jayne Mansfield and Edmund O'Brien.

In his scene, the two stars watch as Cochran performs "Twenty Flight Rock" on television. (Paul McCartney played this song for John Lennon in 1957, earning an invitation to join the Quarrymen, later to become the Beatles.)

Cochran's second film debuted on March 10, 1957. In "Untamed Youth" he played "Cotton Picker" for Mamie van Doren.

Sue Hill was enthused about Cochran's budding Hollywood career. "When the movie that you are in comes here, I'll be sure to go see it," she wrote to Cochran.

"Sittin' In the Balcony," Cochran's breakthrough single, entered the national charts on March 23, 1957.

Although Cochran wrote many songs, his first hit was composed by J. D. Loudermilk, then known as Johnny Dee. Loudermilk's own version of the song was released about the same time, but stalled at No. 38.

After spending 13 weeks on the chart, Cochran's take dropped off on June 22, 1957, peaking at No. 18. While Cochran topped Loudermilk with his own song, Loudermilk proved himself later by writing "Tobacco Road," "Indian Reservation" and "Waterloo."

During June, Cochran played his hit during stops in Philadelphia, Newark and Chicago.

Letter-writer Sue Hill was certainly partial to Cochran's version of "Sittin' in the Balcony."

She added a P. S. to her note: "Are you still on that "Dark Lonely Street?" The postscript referred to the flip side of Cochran's first hit, proving the U. P. teenager was more than a casual fan.

Cochran continued to correspond with fans during the next few years although the task became more difficult because he was often on the road.

During the summer of 1957, Cochran toured St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Washington D. C., Boston and Chicago.

His album, "Singin' to My Baby" was also released, but "One Kiss" and "Drive In Show" received little notice as a follow-up singles.

Fans were treated to an article and pictures in the October issue of "Dig" magazine, while "Song Hits" featured one of Cochran's songs.

Cochran toured Australia with fellow rockabilly artist Gene Vincent and Little Richard, becoming the first American rock 'n' roll stars to perform extensively in that country. Fans recognized Vincent for "Be-Bop-A-Lula," while Little Richard made a name for himself with "Long Tall Sally" and "Jenny, Jenny."

Back home, Cochran made a series of one-night stands in the U. S. and Canada, including dates in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Texas.

"I just made a new record called 'Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie.' It will be played on American Bandstand in a few days," Cochran wrote to Kaye Crouch of Lexington, Kentucky." Despite the exposure, the song barely cracked the Top 100 singles in the spring of 1958.

Cochran's next single, co-written with Capehart, would bring him rock 'n' roll immortality. "Summertime Blues" reached No. 8 and spent four months on the hit parade, becoming the perfect summer hit during 1958.

"C'mon Everybody," released that November, became another Top 40 entry.

In the spring of 1959, "Teenage Heaven," which adapted the melody to "Home on the Range," charted for just one week. The song was featured in "Go, Johnny, Go," Cochran's third movie.

For his next single, Cochran recorded "Somethin' Else," composed by his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley, who also wrote "Poor Little Fool" for Ricky Nelson. Cochran's track topped out at No. 58.

In January, 1960 Cochran traveled to London for another tour with Gene Vincent. While Cochran and Vincent enjoyed modest success in America, British teenagers were wild for the pair. Their 1960 tour was stunningly successful.

Sheeley, now his fiancee, flew to Britain to see a few shows and accompany Cochran back to California for a recording session set for April 17.

After a show in Bristol, Cochran, Sheeley and Vincent rented a taxi to Heathrow Airport for the flight home. Tragically, the car crashed. Vincent and Sheeley survived, but Cochran died the following day. He was 21 years old.

Cochran's fans were devastated. Some re-read their letters from Cochran, sadly reflecting that he often closed with the words "Don't forget me."

"Three Steps to Heaven," which Cochran taped during his final recording session, topped the British charts after his death.

The song did not chart in the U. S.

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