“Summertime Blues” was written by Eddie Cochran and his good friend, songwriter, and future manager Jerry Capehart who had helped him get a record deal. Capehart explained the inspiration for this song :
There had been a lot of songs about summer, but none about the hardships of summer.
They wrote the song in 45 minutes. It was recorded on March 28, 1958 at Gold Star Recording Studios in Hollywood, California. With this song, Cochran was established as one of the most important influences on rock and roll in the 1950s, both lyrically and musically.
Eddie Cochran, only 19 years old when he recorded this, sang both the vocal and bass vocal (the “work-a-late” portions, Cochran’s tribute to the Kingfish character from the Amos and Andy television series), played all the guitar parts, and added the hand clapping with Sharon Sheeley, his girlfriend and future fiancée. She was a young (age 17) songwriter herself, having written Ricky Nelson’s #1 hit “Poor Little Fool”. She really wanted to help Eddie on his record, but had trouble getting the rhythm. Eddie helped her out by showing her how to clap. Connie ‘Guybo’ Smith played the electric bass and Earl Palmer drums.
Here he is on Town Hall Party television program shortly after he recorded the song. Town Hall Party was a country music radio and television show broadcast in Southern California.
Cochran was born October 3, 1938. His parents were from Oklahoma, and he always said in interviews that his parents had some roots in Oklahoma. He took music lessons in school but quit the band to play drums. Also, rather than taking piano lessons, he began learning guitar, playing country and other music he heard on the radio.
He quickly moved on to the popular Rockabilly style. Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, Boogie-woogie, jump blues, and electric blues.
In July 1956, Eddie Cochran’s first “solo artist” single was released by Crest Records. It featured “Skinny Jim”, now regarded as a rock-and-roll and rockabilly classic. In the spring of 1956, Boris Petroff asked Cochran if he would appear in the musical comedy film “The Girl Can’t Help It”. Cochran agreed and performed the song “Twenty Flight Rock” in the movie. In 1957 Cochran starred in his second film, “Untamed Youth”, and he had yet another hit, “Sittin’ in the Balcony”, one of the few songs he recorded that was written by other songwriters (in this case John D. Loudermilk).
Another aspect of Cochran’s short but brilliant career is his work as backup musician and producer. In a session for Gene Vincent in March 1958 he contributed his trademark bass voice, as heard on “Summertime Blues”. Gene Vincent was an American musician who pioneered the styles of rock and roll and rockabilly. His 1956 top ten hit with his Blue Caps, “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, is considered a significant early example of rockabilly. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Here he appears on the same Town Hall Party show.
It was “Be Bop A Lula,” in fact, that John Lennon was playing at the 1967 garden party where he first met Paul McCartney, and it was Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” that Paul taught John to play that same afternoon, shortly after being invited to join Lennon’s Quarrymen. At least one Beatle, George Harrison, saw Eddie Cochran in Liverpool during his final tour, and both his guitar-playing and his stage persona made a strong impression.
He was standing at the microphone and as he started to talk he put his two hands through his hair, pushing it back. And a girl, one lone voice, screamed out, ‘Oh, Eddie!’ and he coolly murmured into the mike, ‘Hi honey.’ I thought, ‘Yes! That’s it—rock and roll!’
In early 1959 two of Cochran’s friends, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, along with the Big Bopper, were killed in a plane crash while on tour. Cochran’s friends and family later said that he was badly shaken by their deaths, and he developed a morbid premonition that he also would die young. He was anxious to give up life on the road and spend his time in the studio making music, thereby reducing the chance of suffering a similar fatal accident while touring. Financial responsibilities, however, required that he continue to perform live, and that led to his acceptance of an offer to tour the United Kingdom with Gene Vincent in 1960.
Gene Vincent was traveling alongside Eddie Cochran in the cab to London after what would prove to be Cochran’s final performance. Also in the cab were tour manager Patrick Thompkins and Eddie’s fiancée Sharon Seeley. On Saturday, April 16, 1960, at about 11.50 p.m., while on tour in the United Kingdom, 21-year-old Cochran was involved in a traffic accident in a taxi travelling through Chippenham, Wiltshire, on the A4. The speeding taxi blew a tire, the driver lost control, and the vehicle crashed into a lamppost on Rowden Hill. Cochran, who was seated in the centre of the back seat, threw himself over his fiancée Sharon to shield her and was thrown out of the car when the door flew open. He was taken to St Martin’s Hospital, in Bath, where he died of severe head injuries at 4:10 p.m. the following day. She survived as did Gene Vincent, however he would break a leg and walk with a limp for the rest of his life, but beyond that, the only serious injuries among the passengers were Eddie Cochran’s.
The list of known artists that have covered “Summertime Blues”, and played it in concerts, is extremely long. Just some of them include Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, T. Rex, Cliff Richard, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the White Stripes, the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, Rush, Simple Minds, George Thorogood, Guitar Wolf, Paul McCartney, Alan Jackson, the Move, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Hallyday and U2.
Two notable, and well known, versions were by The Who (on their 1970 standout “Live At Leeds” album) and Blue Cheer (early pioneers of what would become the Metal genre) in 1968.
“Summertime Blues” is listed as number 74 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1987, Cochran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His pioneering contribution to the genre of rockabilly has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. On September 27, 2010, the mayor of Bell Gardens, California, declared October 3, 2010, to be “Eddie Cochran Day” to celebrate the famous musician who began his career when living in that city.