Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 89
The song became his highest-charting hit
during his lifetime, reaching #8 on the
Billboard pop charts.
Throughout '58 and '59, Cochran played
package tours across the U.S. and Canada,
often headlining shows with Vincent. In
January, 1960, the two arrived in Great
Britain for a run of package shows that
would prove a screaming success, their
music and style leaving an indelible mark.
But, then, just before midnight on April
16, 1960, Vincent, Cochran, and Cochran's
fiancée, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, were
riding in a taxi after a show when it crashed
into a lamppost. Cochran was thrown
through the windshield and suffered severe
head injuries. Taken to a hospital in Bath,
he died the following day. Sheeley and
Atkins, of course, and thus with country
music. Atkins had not yet have made
Nashville the country-music capitol of
America, but he was widely admired by
fellow pickers. Legend has it Atkins started
COCHRAN'S GRETSCH 6120
on ukulele then traded a pistol and chores
on the family's Tennessee farm to his elder
brother, Lowell, for a guitar. Inspired by
Django Reinhardt and Les Paul, he soon
became one of the most influential players
of all time.
Cochran was a fan of Atkins, a.k.a. the
Country Gentleman. In fact, one of his
own early bands was Eddie Garland and
Cochran's image was tied to his guitar.
He may have bought the 6120 in homage
to one his guitar-player idols, Chet Atkins,
but he recognized its potential as a rockand-roll instrument. Cochran bought his
- a first-year/'55 model with serial number
16942 - from Bell Gardens Music Center.
At the time, it was closely associated with
Poster from Seattle, 1957, and poster and
ticket stub from Cochran's last tour, in 1960.
his Country Gentlemen (yes, Eddie was
Eddie). And he later played Atkins' 1954
hit "The Birth Of The Blues" as an audition for a gig.
To create the 6120, Gretsch duded up its
basic Streamliner guitar to look "country"
as befitting Atkins' rep - though Atkins
would later state he never liked the countrified stylings.
A Wild West "G" was branded into
the body's bass bout. The headstock was
inlaid with the steer-head graphic, while
the fretmarker motifs were pure cowboyand-cactus kitsch. Gold-plated hardware
including a gold, fixed-arm Bigsby vibrato
tailpiece highlighted the orange stain. A
pickguard with a gold-painted bottom and
Mr. Guitar's signature finished the look.
The original '55 6120 sang through two
DeArmond Dynasonic single-coils (in his
autobiography Chet Atkins: Me and My
Guitars, he admitted to never liking the
Dynasonics: "They were too heavy on bass
response, and they hummed terribly.")
Cochran at first retained the Dynasonics;
several early photos of him show the guitar