02 December 2009

Tribute (In Memoriam): Bob Keane

Bob Keane, who founded independent label Del-Fi Records in the the 1950s and is best known for discovering the young Ritchie Valens (seen above with Keane), died last Saturday at the age of 87.

His first splash in the music business was releasing Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" on his Keen label. (Ironically, the song was the B-side to "Summertime.") In 1957 "You Send Me" spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B chart and three weeks as the top single on the pop chart.

As for the 17 year old who would later be inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Keane recalled: "I saw (Valens) at a little concert in a movie theater. There he was, a Latino kid doing just a few riffs and a couple of songs. But I was very impressed by his stage demeanor. The girls were going crazy, screaming."

Demos of Valens were recorded in Keane's home studio, eventually leading to a formal session at Gold Star Recording Studios in L.A. Memorable hits followed, including "Come On, Let's Go" (co-authored by Keane) and "Donna." But the biggest of all was "La Bamba," a Mexican folk song that Valens transformed with a rock and roll rhythm and became a hit in 1958. (Interestingly enough, after the premiere of the movie of the biographical movie based on Valens' life, Los Lobos' cover of the song shot to number one on the charts in seven countries, including the U.S. and the U.K.)

On February 3, 1959 while on tour, Valens perished in a plane crash that also famously claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. In 1994, Keane said: "I still miss him. He was like a son to me."

Bob Keane went on to found Mustang Records, and in the 1960s had notable chart successes with songs like the Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought The Law."



Listen to the original 45 version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba."

Watch Los Lobos cover "La Bamba" in a live performance from 1985, prior to their involvement with the movie soundtrack.

The incomparable Sam Cooke performs "You Send Me" on American Bandstand in 1958.

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