Monday, December 22, 2014

Liberty Records: Summertime Blues

It’s the day after the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and here I am featuring a song about summer. But Eddie Cochran’s iconic record about summer break is appropriate, as it was a Top 10 hit for Liberty Records – our feature label during this month of December. Released initially as a “B” side, Liberty saw the potential of this song and flipped it to the “A” side in August 1958. This was a good move as “Summertime Blues” peaked at #8 in September – well after summer break ended.

Written by Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart, the song features Cochran on all of the guitars and vocals, Connie “Guybo” Smith on bass, and Earl Palmer on drums. It is believed that the handclaps were provided by Cochran and his fiancée Sharon Sheeley; however, there is no official documentation to confirm this hypothesis.

With the death of his friends Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), Cochran had a premonition of an early death. Unfortunately, this was the case as he met his untimely end at the age of 21. Cochran was the only one of the four occupants to have fatal injuries in a one-vehicle accident in England.

Travelling at a high rate of speed, the taxi in which he was a passenger slammed into a lamp post. Cochran was thrown from the taxi and died the next day in St. Martin’s Hospital in Bath. It is said he was protecting Shelley as the crash was imminent. Shelley was a prolific songwriter and later would be co-creator of the Shindig TV show.

As for Cochran, his guitar playing would influence several generations of musicians. He was best known sporting an orange Gretsch 6120 hollow-body electric guitar. Cochran was an innovator of sorts as he customized his instrument. Wanting a fatter sound than the stock DeArmond Dynasonic pickups, he replaced the neck pickup with a Gibson P-90 (as seen in the photo above).

While “Summertime Blues” doesn’t include any lead guitar parts, Cochran replaced the typical wound “G” string with an unwound version that made string bending easier. It is also reported that he tuned the guitar a step lower (DGCFAD) on occasion to facilitate the bending of the strings.

“Summertime Blues” has been covered numerous times, but most notably by Blue Cheer in 1968 (peaking at #14), The Who in 1970 (#27), and Alan Jackson in 1994. Jackson’s version charted at #104, but was a #1 country tune. None, however, has had the success of the original on Liberty.  Cochran’s original recording also appears on the soundtrack to “Caddyshack.”

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