Wednesday, 30 May 2012


I've been doing a little writing -- you know, proper writing -- on the side when I can find the time, but -- as I had to confess to those who were curious enough to enquire about the ghost story I mentioned at Christmas -- I am very easily sidetracked into "research". I think this is a common pitfall of writing:  it turns into reading.

Anyway, I though I'd share this "well I never!" fact with you.

You probably know that Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent were both injured in a car crash towards the end of a famous UK tour in 1960, and that Eddie died as a consequence next day in Bath Hospital.  For some reason the idea of two of the greats of the rock'n'roll era lying at or about midnight on the verge of the A4 near Chippenham has always struck me as worthy of a story, a movie even.  Though in some ways John Byrne's magnificent 1987 TV drama Tutti Frutti has already been there, done that*. 

So, naturally, when I decided that now might be the time, rather than writing, I started reading.  You know, get the facts straight, find some useful local colour -- anything other than actually write something.  In the process, I discovered something that may tickle all you coincidence hounds.

Hearing the accident, and seeing what had happened, a nearby resident dialled 999 for the police and an ambulance.  They discovered Cochran, Vincent and Sharon Sheeley ( Eddie's girlfriend and a songwriter -- she co-wrote "Somethin' Else") lying seriously injured at the roadside, along with a Gretsch guitar** and a load of publicity photos that had been ejected from the car's boot.  The taxi driver and the tour manager were uninjured.

So, it turns out that one of the first people on the scene of the accident was a young Wiltshire Constabulary police cadet named Dave Harman.  The Gretsch was impounded by the police, and young Harman started quietly having a go on it over several evenings.  Well, you would, wouldn't you?  Anyway, Dave Harman subsequently changed his name to Dave Dee and by 1962 was a professional musician.  Yes, that Dave Dee.***

So you might say that British schlock rock was born on the same evening and on the very same roadside where the Real Thing lay dying.  And even made off with its guitar.

But perhaps a little more research is needed before I try to turn it into a story...  Perhaps I should call it "The Legend of Xanadu"?

Addendum:  I discover in, ah, Wikipedia that is is claimed (let us put it no stronger than that) that, earlier in the tour, the self-same guitar had been carried to the car for Cochran by a young fan later to become Marc Bolan of T. Rex, who would also, of course, die in a car crash.  Suddenly the history of British pop all makes sense!!  I wonder where that guitar is now?

Addendum 2:  Apparently it's idling away its time in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, when it could be out spreading its pop magic.  Serial no. 16942, should it ever come up at auction.

* Now -- finally!  -- available on DVD

** a modified 1955 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins G-brand Western model, apparently

*** For the benefit of non-British readers (and, indeed, younger British readers): the beat combo known as  "Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch" were inescapable in the late 1960s, with a string of Top Ten singles, each more appallingly catchy than the last.  In many ways, they were the definition of commercial pop, as well as pioneers of "glam rock" and "euro pop", and their many, many appearances on TV's Top of the Pops were notable for their good-natured idiocy.


Dave Leeke said...

I've heard some of these stories, too. I have a feeling the Dave Dee one is true but as for Bolan? I think that a lot of his life was a bit of a fantasy. He probably told everyone that.

Nice to see that his ex-chauffeur and mother of his (hilariously badly named) son Rolan is still doing well with Imelda May having some success with "Tainted Love". I'm not sure how much of the bopping imp's money she got but having written TL, she's assured a bit of a pension.

Mike C. said...


I like the idea that Eddie's guitar may have wreaked revenge on the inhabitants of the island that killed him so prematurely by dooming us to listen to T. Rex and DDDBM&T eternally... Thank God it's safely locked in a cabinet in Ohio now...


Kent Wiley said...

Perhaps The Hat needs to go on a sabbatical again this summer, in pursuit of ghosts?

Mike C. said...


Definitely a sabbatical again this year (assuming by The Hat you mean me, and not my headgear).

It seems that every summer gets busier. This will be The Summer Without A Holiday, for various reasons. Sigh. In the end, what's the point of being a wage slave if you can't fit in some time off?


Kent Wiley said...

Hmmph. I never did see the point of being a wage slave. But I never did figure out any way around it, either.

Mike C. said...

If I'm honest, Kent, I think I wouldn't feel right not having a job, and I'm not one of those with the self-discipline to sustain "living off one's wits".

Besides, regular wages are great!

"I'm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender"
(Jackson Browne, The Pretender)