THE BIG V JAMBOREE

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS
RITCHIE VALENS
RITCHIE VALENS

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RITCHIE VALENSThe first record in the Valens Memorial Series

RITCHIE VALENS

RITCHIE VALENS

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RITCHIE VALENSThe EP in the same Memorial Series

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RITCHIE VALENSThe Canadian issue of
Del-Fi 4111

RITCHIE VALENSA UK single from 1962, the flip being 'La Bamba'

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RITCHIE VALENSThe rare French EP

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RITCHIE VALENSThe true first pressing of Ritchie's first LP, DFLP 1201

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ROTCHIE VALENS The original US issue of DFLP 1225, and below, its
British counterpart

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RITCHIE VALENSThe Rhino vinyl box set

RITCHIE VALENS Rhino reissue of DFLP 1206

RITCHIE VALENSRhino reissue of DFLP 1214

RITCHIE VALENSThe box set booklet

RITCHIE VALENS

TOMMY STEELETommy Steele's version of Ritchie's first hit

RITCHIE VALENSRitchie was honored with a stamp in the 80's

RITCHIE VALENS
Listen to a little bit of 'Come On, Let's Go' (demo)

CONTACT ME
Contact me.

It took more than two decades after his tragic death to fully appreciate the richness and the influence of Ritchie Valens' music. When he left us on February 3, 1959, he was enjoying tremendous success with his double-sided single coupling 'Donna' and 'La Bamba'. A myriad versions of those two songs would follow, ultimately relegating Ritchie to the rank of a two-hit wonder. In 1981, Rhino Records reissued his three original albums in a very nice box set, 'The History Of Ritchie Valens' (RNBC 2798). The records were housed in thick cardboard jackets and a booklet was included, featuring, for the first time anywhere, a detailed essay by Jim Dawson. From that point, a renewed interest in his music started. And then, along came the fabulous Los Lobos who cited Ritchie as one of their idols and were featured in the 'La Bamba' movie which was screened in 1987. That same year saw the publication of Beverly Mendheim's fascinating book, 'The First Latino Rocker' (Bilingual Press), which remains the ultimate read about the subject to this day. A bunch of reissues, this time on CD - in particular from Ace Records in England - completed the picture and allowed us to recognize the true stature of Ritchie Valens' musical legacy.


There was a time, around 1970, when the only LP I had by Ritchie was a compilation on the MGM label in their Golden Archive Series. It was in mono, the sound was really good and I absolutely loved every track. It was hard to believe that the singer was only seventeen when those songs were recorded, especially as the sort of photo triptych which was on the front cover made him look older than that.
This album, which was almost identical in content to a previous, long-deleted greatest hits LP on Del-Fi, had no liner notes on the back. Hardly surprising since, in the early 70's, there was just about no serious info about his life and career, so the day the music died was only synonymous with Buddy Holly's death. As stated above, it was not until the 80's that we would treated to substantial articles in music magazines, and booklets such as those by Alan Clark, the legendary archivist of rock'n'roll.

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Richard Steve Valenzuela was born on May 13, 1941, in Los Angeles but was raised in both Pacoima and San Fernando. He was naturally exposed to Mexican sounds very early, and soon took a liking for the guitar thanks to some of his relatives, notably one of his uncles. It was while attending Pacoima Junior High School that he joined a group named The Silhouettes (no relation to the doo-wop group who sang 'Get A Job' on Ember). They were constantly playing dates at local parties and theaters, that's how Ritchie was spotted one day by a graphist, Doug Macchia, who worked for a certain Bob Keane (whose name was spelled Keene at that time) who was starting his own Del-Fi label. Keane was a musician and was first involved with the Keen label which revealed Sam Cooke in particular. One of his first signings was Dick Dale but that didn't last long. After hearing a tape that Macchia had made of Ritchie playing at the American Legion Hall in San Fernando, Keane decided to audition him - although Keane, whose recollections are not always the most reliable, said to B. Mendheim that he discovered Ritchie playing 'at a theater on Saturday morning'. One thing's for sure, the audition took place in May 1958 in Keane's basement studio in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, up in the Hollywood Hills near Echo Park. Both Macchia and Bill Jones (a saxophone player with The Silhouettes) were present that day and their recollections are not identical, but it seems that two other members of the group came along with Ritchie, namely drummer Conrad 'Nino' Jones and Frankie Gallardo, the piano player. Interestingly, Macchia told B. Mendheim that they stayed 'there, probably four to six hours' and recalled that the first song Ritchie did, all alone with his guitar, was 'That's My Little Suzie' which, oddly enough, appeared five years later in that demo form on a budget compilation album on Guest Star (G 1469) under the name 'Rock Little Donna' (!). Other songs demoed by Ritchie on that day are not known for sure, although some of his best-known tunes are mentioned by various people, and that's where the difficulty to piece together Ritchie's sessionography begins. More demo sessions were held until mid-January 1959 at Bob Keane's studio which was equipped with top quality recording gear, and some of these demos were later overdubbed at Gold Star studios while others were plainly used on his posthumous LPs. And God knows how many of those tapes were discarded - or lost - by Keane. It is sad to think that neither Keane nor Gold Star kept logs of all those sessions - another proof, if one was ever needed, of how the music industry people dealt with rock'nroll...

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However, a major event occurred in 1992 when Ace Records in England released an intriguing CD by Ritchie Valens entitled 'The Lost Tapes' (CDCHD 319). Not counting a commercial for his fateful forthcoming tour and the contemporary news report of the plane crash from February 3, 1959, the disc offered 39 tracks - mostly demos from Keane's studio, plus a good helping of Gold Star studio outtakes -, the vast majority being of course unissued with a number of them marked as stereo ! So, I'll concentrate on that helluva disc's contents, track after track, the one thing that Rob Finnis should have done in more detailed fashion in his liner notes rather than relegating much of the info to the back of the CD tray - and in very small print, to boot. What's more, there are no special credits on the disc : we have no clues as to how Ace got hold of those incredible tapes, nor do we have any sight of them. That kind of thing would never have occured at Bear Family. However, some information can be found in another astonishing book, 'The Day The Music Died' by Larry Lehmer (Schirmer Books, 1997), a must-read that I'll review later on this very site. The tapes leased to Ace by Bob Keane had languished for more than thirty years in his basement when he found them ; they are said to include the results of the May '58 audition plus those of Ritchie's first album session at Gold Star. It should be noted that Keene chose top black session musicians to back up Ritchie, notably René Hall (guitar and/or danelectro bass), Irving Ashby (rhythm guitar), Red Callender or Buddy Clarke on upright bass, and Earl Palmer on drums. The only exception was Carol Kaye who sometimes showed up either on acoustic guitar or danelectro bass.

1- We Belong Together Listed as an original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Let's do away with one thing : it is not exactly true stereo, and this will be the same for all the following demos. Keane had an Ampex 2-track portable recorder with top quality microphones. He simply crossed the channels of the Ampex to get the kind of echo he wanted on Ritchie's voice and guitar, which was very clever because it gave a very distinctive and airy sound to the songs. However, sometimes Ritchie was accompanied by other musicians, like here and a real binaural effect was created with Ritchie's voice and the drums on one side, and his guitar on the other. The Marvin & Johnny hit was redone at Gold Star at a slightly slower tempo and with a full backing of drums, stand-up bass and 6-string Danelectro bass. B. Mendheim says that Carol Kaye plays an acoustic rhythm guitar but I can't discern it. One of Valens' greatest performances. It first appeared on Del-Fi DFLP 1201, then on Del-Fi 4117.

2- Blues With Drum Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. It would seem that the majority of those 'original demos' were part of the May '58 audition session. This one is a slow blues displaying Ritchie's usual chord progressions over a basic drums backing played with brushes - possibly by Nino. He can be heard whistling briefly at one point. Keane used to say that Ritchie 'was just completely unschooled and unknowledgeable. He knew about three or four chords and everything he wrote was based on these chords'. Maybe so, but he sure knew how to get the most out of them.

3- Ritchie's Blues Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Only Ritchie and his guitar. Another slow blues but very melodic. It's often the case with Ritchie who seemed to be a happy guy : the tone in his blues is more melodic than dramatic. Ritchie's use of the tremolo is well in evidence, it became a fixture in his playing. But this demo is also noteworthy because near the end, Ritchie uses a pencil instead of a pick. Bob Keane later added both bass and drums (bongoes and brushes) to this instrumental and issued it in mono on Ritchie's second posthumous album, 'Ritchie' (DFLP 1206).

4- Come On, Let's Go Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. There's only Ritchie and his guitar, and it could well derive from the audition tape as it's clear that the song is not yet finished, both in the lyrics and the melody. The middle eight reminds me of the one in 'Come Go With Me', the famous and wonderful Del Vikings hit, but would be vastly changed afterwards. Ritchie takes a short solo but sticks to a simple rhythm accompaniment throughout the whole take which ends with a fade. B. Mendheim couldn't know, when she wrote her book, that Bob Keane had used this particular demo, as written by Rob Finnis, 'to pass [it] off as a live recording by splicing it onto the concert tapes of the 'Live At Pacoima Jr High' LP'. Was it because the sound of the real live rendition was too poor, nobody knows. It appeared in mono and it sure sounded very different from the commercial recording. Now, there's much confusion about the origin of the hit version which was the top side of his first single, Del-Fi 4106. In the Rhino booklet, Bill Jones remembers driving Ritchie to Gold Star and that only 'Come On, Let's Go' was cut after some twenty takes or so. In Mendheim's book, the same Bill Jones states that the session took place in Keane's basement studio ! I personally agree with both Keane and Finnis that the final version was recorded at Gold Star studios. Rob says it took place in July 1958 with Rene Hall (lead guitar), Buddy Clarke (double bass) and Earl Palmer (drums). Ritchie only played rhythm, leaving the solo to Rene Hall who, in my opinion, created one of the most exciting rock'n'roll guitar breaks of the 50's, moreover one that strongly inspired Ritchie for his subsequent own leads. Bob Keane has said that it took some forty-plus takes and a lot of editing to get the job done because Ritchie 'was so out of time'. At 1'26, there's indeed a very noticeable edit. It is nevertheless a really stunning recording debut. Among the various covers of the song, I'll pick out Tommy Steele's (Decca F-11072, UK). By 1958, he had almost abandoned rock'n'roll but his version is surprisingly good. The flip of Ritchie's single, 'Framed', was taped at another recording session. No demo has surfaced yet.

5- In A Turkish Town Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Ritchie and his guitar. Here we can hear the beautiful and complex 'In A Turkish Town' as he had apparently 'dreamed it'. The song is just about complete but the later modifications in the middle eight (the stops after 'from the stars up above', and then after the guitar break) would prove very effective. See tracks 27 & 28.

6- Dooby Dooby Wah Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. What a marvelous track ! Ritchie and his guitar on a song that shows once again how deeply influenced by doo wop he was. The demo only lacks the sharp guitar break that would grace the final master (see tracks 25 & 26). Bob Keane added his name to the credits on Ritchie's first album but frankly, and B. Mendheim had well sensed it, it was Ritchie's composition.

7- Bluebirds Over The Mountain Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Ritchie and his guitar. One of his favorite songs, first done by Ersel Hickey (Epic 5-9263). Redone at Gold Star for inclusion in his first LP (see tracks 33 to 36).

8- That's My Little Suzie Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Ritchie and his guitar. So, is it really the very first thing that Ritchie did at Bob Keane's in May '58 ? If so, the song was already well advanced although it missed the opening riff and at times, the song borrows lines from 'Come On, Let's Go'. Ritchie really knows how to accompany himself on the guitar (Harmony Stratotone or Gibson ?), easily switching from rhythm to solos during which he clearly displays a big Chuck Berry influence. Later cut at Gold Star for commercial release (see tracks 37 & 38).

9- Let's Rock And Roll From Bob Keane's studio. Mono. Another typical Valens rocker, largely created spontaneously. However, B. Mendheim is right in saying that the vocal slide upward at the very beginning is unusual with Ritchie ; there could be a little Gene Vincent influence here. This song was part of the fragments which made up the second side of the 'In Concert At Pacoima Jr High' LP in 1960. At least, Bob Keane didn't add overdubs, letting us appreciate Ritchie's creativity in the making.

10 & 11- Donna Original demos from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Bob Keane has said all kind of dubious things over the years about Ritchie's music, and the way he managed the Pacoima Kid's musical legacy over the decades leaves a lot to be desired. When Rob Finnis writes that he 'was no more exploitative than any other one-man op flying by the seat of his pants', well, we all know what it means. Another in that all-too-common category was Norman Petty... That said, yes, he did help Ritchie a lot to finish his songs and proved to be a capable producer in the studio. 'Donna' is a perfect example ; the two takes presented here amply show how the song progressed. However, the haunting bridge ('well, Donna, now that you're gone, I don't know...') is still missing, and there's a guitar solo in its place. Another take from Bob's studio, a hair slower and complete with the bridge, was ultimately used for the version we all know, with the addition of a rhythm guitar, bass, drums, more echo and guitar fills plus harmony vocal by Ritchie himself (despite Keane claiming that he overdubbed the latter). It was released with 'La Bamba' on the other side as Del-Fi 4110 in mid-November 1958. The first press was on the usual blue and black label with circles, but there was also a green label pressing shown at left. That classic rock-a-ballad was covered many times but two covers from England are particularly successful : Marty Wilde (Philips PB 902, 1959 - pictured below is the original French EP of the same year) who had a No. 4 hit with it while Ritchie's original, which went to No. 2 in the US, only reached the Top 20 there, and Rockin' Lord Lee & The Outlaws (RockStar RSR-SP 3005, 1987, produced by Big Jim Sullivan).

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12- Blues Instrumental Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Ritchie and his guitar. More blues in his very own style. His gradual mastery of the guitar as those demos went by is simply astounding for a seventeen-year-old boy.

13 & 14- Cry, Cry, Cry Original demos from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Ritchie and his guitar. Here again, and despite Keane's claim that he wrote it 'from scratch' (and thus, added his name to the credits), it seems that the song is already well conceived in Ritchie's mind, even the classic opening riff is about in place. The two demos here don't seem to come from the same sessions, the first perhaps stemming from the audition. There would be other attempts at the song (see tracks 21 & 22).

15- Malaguena Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. This is amazing ! Ritchie and his guitar (a Fender, this time) trying his hand at that Spanish tune, assisted by a pianist (most certainly his old buddy, Frankie Gallardo, as Ritchie says 'Start, Frank !' at the beginning). Chet Atkins had cut 'Malaguena' as early as 1957 on his wonderful 'Finger Style Guitar' LP (RCA LPM 1383) but Ritchie's rendition is vastly different ; it is necessary here to read the study that B. Mendheim has made about the song to understand why it is so different. A subsequent, piano-less take would grace the 'In Concert At Pacoima Jr High' LP, following a spoken introduction by Keane who reveals that Ritchie would have probably added words at a later date. That classic instrumental would become Roy Clark's signature tune in the 60's instead.

16- Blues-Slow Original demo from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. Again, Ritchie on Fender Stratocaster, accompanied by Frank on piano. There's a blues structure to the tune but it's well adorned with the usual melodic playing from Ritchie - a bit reminiscent, to my ears, of Johnny Meeks's sound with Gene Vincent's Blue Caps. This time, Frank is much more present on the 88 keys.

17- Stay Beside Me Original demo from Bob Keane's studio. Mono. Ritchie sings and plays guitar while, as Rob Finnis writes, 'Bob Keane fiddles with the tape delay on his Ampex'. Later recorded at Gold Star with a clever use of its patented echo chamber on Ritchie's voice - although one could wonder if it was not a different demo from this one which was later overdubbed at the studio. Now, here's a song which has left nobody indifferent : some hate it (Martin Hawkins calls it an 'insipid ballad' in UK mag, 'History Of Rock' [No. 10], B. Mendheim herself says that 'it is far from being Valens' best') but happily, some love it - and I'm not the only one. René Hall (who plays the superb sustaining guitar chords) and Carole Kaye (who plays rhythm) both find it beautiful. I also agree with Jim Dawson who finds here 'a reflection of the Everly Brothers' style'. They sure could have sung the hell out of it but Ritchie's soft, even delicate singing fits the song perfectly. Just like he could alternate hard and soft strumming on his guitar, he was also able to handle a sweet song with the sensitivity required. The soul of the song resides in the innocence of Ritchie's singing. It was issued as Del-Fi 4128 with 'We Belong Togerther' as the flip, and chosen to start Ritchie's second album (DFLP 1206).

18- Rhythm Song From Bob Keane's studio. Mono. A fast instrumental with full backing from drums, bass and perhaps a second guitar behind Ritchie's lead. It was issued on the 'In Concert At Pacoima Jr High' LP.

19- Guitar Instrumental From Bob Keane's studio. Mono. Ritchie and his guitar. Also from the 'In Concert At Pacoima Jr' LP. Bob rightly introduces this demo by saying that 'it shows the influence of the great talent, Bo Diddley' Ritchie had met, and played with Bo during the Alan Freed Christmas Show of 1958 in New-York. Bob goes on to say 'Ritchie had just returned from this engagement when he recorded the track you're about to hear'.

20- Rock Lil Darlin' From Bob Keane's studio. Mono. Ritchie and his guitar. Included as is on the 'In Concert At Pacoima Jr High' album. A nice little mid-paced rocker introduced as 'the beginning of a song about a boy who loves to dance' (incidentally, according to Donna Ludwig - the famous Donna -, Ritchie was a very good dancer).

21 & 22- Cry, Cry, Cry Demos from Bob Keane's studio in stereo. More attempts at this great rocker. This time, Ritchie is joined by a bass player and a drummer. There's a false start, and then a complete take.

23 & 24- Cry, Cry, Cry From master studio sessions (takes 2 & 3). Mono. The full genesis of the song since we're now inside the Gold Star studio listening to Ritchie, Bob and the session players put the finishing touches to the song which would be the second track on side one of the Pacoima Kid's second posthumous album, 'Ritchie' (DFLP 1206), in October 1959. Take 2 breaks down after Ritchie says 'I broke a string !'. Take 3 is complete and close to the released version.

25 & 26- Dooby Dooby Wah From master studio sessions (takes 1, 2, 4, 7 & 16). All mono. We're again at Gold Star to witness the genesis of that great rocker featuring Rene Hall (danelectro bass), Earl Palmer (drums), either Red Callender or Buddy Clarke (upright bass), perhaps a rhythm guitar and Ritchie who takes cutting guitar solos each time. Takes 1 to 7, presented here, are all false starts (one take is stopped and Bob says 'we miss René' !) but take 16 is complete and almost perfect. The master may have been take 17. 'Dooby' was first released, oddly enough, in England since it was on the back of 'Come On, Let's Go' there, Ritchie's first UK single and his only one on Pye International (7N 25000) ; afterwards, his records would be issued on London. In the US, the song was included in Ritchie's first LP (DFLP 1201) in February 1959.

27 & 28- In A Turkish Town From Bob Keane's studio (takes 13 & 14) in stereo. The song was redone and completed - with bass, drums and rhythm guitar in addition to Ritchie's lead guitar and vocal - in Bob's basement studio, as evidenced here. Take 13 lasts only thirty seconds and breaks down after Ritchie stops and says 'my fault', followed by a deep sigh. Take 14 is perfect. On the back of the CD, it reads : 'this was slightly slowed down, harmony vocal plus echo added and a repeat bar edited to produce the master issued on the 'Ritchie Valens' LP.' It was issued as the flip of 'That's My Little Suzie' shortly afterwards (March 23, 1959) but was simply described as having an oriental flavor ! It stands as one of Ritchie's masterpieces.

29, 30, 31 & 32- La Bamba From master studio sessions - band track (takes 1, 2, 5, 7 & 8). All mono. This is the song that Ritchie was reluctant to record and which became the one with which he is essentially remembered. At least, he lived long enough to see it provide him with a double-sided hit when coupled with 'Donna'. It is simply a timeless recording. What's more, it was cut live at Gold Star at the same session where 'Donna' was overdubbed. There's no demo tape of the song here, only some of the eight takes it took to hone the band track to perfection. It's mesmerizing to hear how, after a few false starts, one complete take (no. 5) and much discussion in the studio between Bob and the whole gang, things had quickly clicked into place by take 8 which is indeed the master backing track used on the released version (Del-Fi 4110). The usual musicians hired by Keane were present : René Hall (danelectro bass), Buddy Clarke or Red Callender (upright bass), Irving Ashby and perhaps Carole Kaye (rhythm guitar), Earl Palmer (drums) plus Ernie Freeman who is clearly heard playing the inverted piano riff which was mixed out for some reason. Now, there is some confusion about who played lead guitar. I am under the impression that Rob Finnis hadn't read B. Mendheim's book because he states that it's René Hall who plays the guitar solo. However, both René Hall and Bob Morales (Ritchie's half brother) told Mendheim that it was Ritchie who played lead guitar, and it should really have been him. The tapes do reveal that Ritchie did a guide vocal during the recording of the band track, a bit of which can still be heard at approximately 1'30 right after the guitar solo. Bob Keane said they then overdubbed Ear Palmer on wood blocks and Ritchie's definitive vocal, who for once used a hand-held mike. René Hall has said that Ritchie did contribute lots of ideas during sessions, humming what he would like the other players to do. Regarding 'La Bamba', Keane has confirmed that the original bass pattern came from Ritchie. But it's also fair to say that Bob Keane did a remarkable job to conduct the session. More than with any other of his songs, 'La Bamba' is the reason why Ritchie Valens is, in the words of Keane himself, 'immortal'.

33, 34, 35 & 36- Bluebirds Over The Mountain From master studio sessions (takes 1, 3 & 5). All mono. More delights here, allowing us to hear how Ritchie enjoyed recording with those great studio musicians, attentive to all advice given to him and happy to attempt another more satisfactory take. Take 1 is a false start, take 3 is complete and then there's a snippet of dialogue before take 5 during which we can discern a female voice, proving that Carol Kaye was at the session, playing the danelectro bass which remains so strongly associated with the 'Ritchie Valens sound'. Take 5 is complete and close to the final take to which a tambourine overdub was added by Earl Palmer before release on the first LP. Ritchie's version of the song was faithful to Hickey's original but more laid back, and just as enjoyable. It was certainly the inspiration for the Beach Boys' cover which appeared on their '20/20' album on Capitol ten years later, sung and co-produced by Bruce Johnston who was already part of the Hollywood rock'n'roll scene way back when Ritchie was still alive (he would even work and record for Bob Keane not long afterwards).

37 & 38- That's My Little Suzie From master studio sessions (takes 1 & 2). All mono. Take 1 is a false start but take 2 is complete, with the opening (and closing) riff which seems to have been lifted from The Everly Brothers' song, 'Claudette'. It should be noted here that a slightly different take had appeared on a previous Ace CD, 'The Del-Fi And Donna Story' (CDCHD 313), in 1991. The released version is a little more polished but retains Ritchie's powerful guitar break in the middle. Bob Keane, whose real name was Robert Kuhn, added his name to the credits for some reason but unfortunately, the single (Del-Fi 4114) was not a big hit. The song, however, first saw the light of day on Ritchie's first US album (Del-Fi DFLP 1201) and here's an interesting note for collectors : on the original first pressing (shown at left), the song was incorrectly named 'I Got A Gal Named Sue' on the back cover (though not on the label).

39- Ooh, My Head Fragment of early version. Mono. An incomplete take from the marathon six-hour Gold Star recording date held toward the end of November '58. A fast rocker, more than freely borrowed from 'Ooh, My Soul' by Little Richard, one of Ritchie's idols along with Larry Williams. Ritchie is totally at ease on those numbers and the way he jumps into the guitar break perfectly matches his energetic vocal. There's no danelectro bass here but Earl Palmer keeps a furious galloping beat on the drums. The commercial version of 'Ooh, My Head' was featured in the Hal Wallis movie, 'Go, Johnny, Go', shot at Hal Roach studios in Hollywood in early January 1959. It featured Alan Freed, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Jimmy Clanton and others, including Ritchie in a memorable sequence where he launches into 'Ooh, My Head' after being invited to do so by Chuck himself ! Ritchie lip-syncs to the song in a relaxed manner while holding...Eddie Cochran's Gretsch guitar for the occasion. He must have been in heaven ! He certainly shows much maturity for his age and we can only moan at the fact that, less than one month later, he would be gone forever. In the US, 'Ooh, My Head' was part of Valens' first album (DFLP 1201) before being selected for inclusion on 'His Greatest Hits-Volume 2' (DFLP 1247). In the UK, it was put out as a single in early '62 (see picture somewhere in the column at left) while it appeared on Ritchie's second German EP in May 1960. Both German EPs are pictured below.

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40- Ritchie Valens Commercial for the fateful GAC tour & Contemporary News Report Mono.
With 'Donna' playing in the background, Ritchie says : 'Hi, everybody ! This is Ritchie Valens. I will be on the Winter Dance Party coming your way very shortly. I will be having a ball singing for you, and I hope to see you all real soon. By the way, hope you've been hearing a lot of my latest Del-Fi release, 'La Bamba' and 'Donna'.
And then, the sad news of the plane crash are delivered. End of the CD, end of an incredible story.

The disc I've just analyzed is a treasure. Over the course of only nine months, he spent a considerable amount of time in the studios as this CD demonstrates, and produced a body of work that's just as valid and exciting as that of the other rock'n'roll pioneers of his time. Bob Keane's tapes remained in astonishing shape and the sound on the CD is crystal clear, adding greatly to the enjoyment.
Of course, had they existed, we would have loved to have more demos and Gold Star outtakes for some of other noteworthy tracks like the following :

* Rockin' All Night Although Ritchie's musical background is first and foremost rooted in R'n'B, vocal groups and black rock'n'roll, he also heard some rockabilly. 'Rockin' All Night' is a killer track done in that style. There's definitely some Vincent/Cochran overtones here with a nice use of echo. To me, there's no doubt, it was cut at Bob Keane's studio since Ritchie is the only musician, apart from a simple and distant doo-wop vocal backing. It was on the 'Ritchie' LP (DFLP 1206).

* Fast Freight Now, here's another remarkable track and one of my all-time favorite instrumentals. It was ahead of its time with that jazzy upright bass solo by Buddy Clarke in the middle. And, like most everybody has pointed out, the ending was 'something else' with all those notes scattered in all directions by the guitars and the danelectro, again so important to drive the song, the whole being bathed in a surrealistic echo. Bob Keane had a 'keen ear' (I had to do it somehow !) ; he had released it under the name 'Arvee Allens' on Del-Fi 4111 in December 1958 before including it on the 'Ritchie' LP. The Canadian issue on Apex, credited to his real name, is shown in the column at left..

* Big Baby Blues The flip of 'Fast Freight'. Another mighty good blues instro which might have influenced Eddie Cochran since Eddie cut a lot of blues numbers in the summer of 1959. Ritchie had definitely absorbed that idiom. Also on 'Ritchie'.

* Hurry Up Talking about Eddie Cochran, here's a demo that we would love to hear - the one Eddie made of that Sharon Sheeley song and gave Ritchie to record. Amazingly, although Eddie and Ritchie both recorded in L.A. and sometimes appeared on the same bill, they hadn't really met until the Alan Freed show in New-York in late '58. Valens certainly copied Eddie's demo very closely but I doubt that Eddie was able to modulate a whole step upward like Ritchie does near the end. Possibly cut at his last Gold Star session in January '59.

* From Beyond Evidently, the title alone is full of meaning for all of us, Ritchie's fans. It's a haunting instrumental recorded live at Pacoima Jr High on December 10, 1958, and included on the album of the same name. It shows another side of Ritchie's versatility, with a strong Duane Eddy flavor this time, but still, it's Ritchie's sound all the way, accompanied only by Don Philips on drums.

René Hall, the talented guitarist and arranger who played on most (if not all) of his Gold Star studio sessions and became good friends with him, was certain that, had he lived, he would have been one of the heavyweights of rock music. Purely as a guitar player, he said that Ritchie was not that 'technical' but rather 'creative'. Listening now to his output, with the addition of those stunning 'lost tapes', we can imagine that he was on the verge of mixing the two in a big way. In the end, Bob Keane's input must not be ignored. Talent alone is generally not sufficient to make a career, other parameters enter the equation and Ritchie was lucky to be spotted and managed by Keane. That combination led to one of the most brilliant, and ultimately shortest and saddest, sagas in the whole story of rock and roll.

© PAUL VIDAL * Privas, France * April 2024

RITCHIE VALENS

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all pages, all record scans and other photos are taken from the Big V Jamboree's collection.

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