Ritchie Valens — La Bamba

Ritchie Valens’ short career in Pop music lasted less than nine months, but during that time, the young Mexican American singer/songwriter managed to record some of the greatest and most influential songs of the 1950’s, and collected two million-seller songs. His life of only seventeen years was cut short in a tragic airplane crash on February 3, 1959

His first single, the self-penned tune «Come On Let’s Go», sold 750,000 copies and endeared Ritchie to the hearts of teenagers all over the USA .

Shortly after this, he wrote, «Donna», a song for his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. The song was recorded as a single and rapidly climbed the 1958 hit charts. It became his biggest all-time hit and his first million-seller. The flip side of the release was, «La Bamba», a traditional Spanish song, with a rock n’ roll beat added to it. «La Bamba» also charted and became another million-seller.

The La Bamba guitar tab reveals the creative union of a traditional Spanish folk melody with a rock ’n’ roll rhythm underneath. The combination produces a pop song with a vibrant pulse, the necessary ingredients for a hit song. La Bamba guitar licks - derivations from Spanish folk motifs - permeate throughout the song, and capture the essence of late Fifties era rock n’ roll music. The La Bamba guitar solo is considered classic in the rock and pop repertoire.

Ritchie showed considerable talent at an early age. When he was twelve years old, he had already written several songs, mostly inspired by Mexican music. He became a feature at school assemblies, singing and playing the guitar. When Ritchie was seventeen, he was spotted by Bob Keane, president of Del Fi Records in Hollywood, and offered recording contract. Bob Keane also became his manager. This meeting is skillfully dramatized in the 1987 film, La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valenzuela. His name was later changed to Valens.


In 1958, Keane took Ritchie to Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, CA, with a full band backing him. The first songs recorded at Gold Star, at a single studio session one afternoon in July 1958 were \Come On, Let’s Go», an original (credited to Valens/Kuhn, Keane’s real name), and «Framed.» Pressed and released within days of the recording session taking place, the record was a huge success. Valens’ next record, a double A-side, which was the final record to be released in his lifetime, had the songs «Donna» ( a real girlfriend), coupled with «La Bamba.»

Ritchie Valens’ guitar music will always stand out as a one-of-a-kind sound, and a sound that continues to enrich music fans everywhere.

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