The story

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

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When anyone says "Rock `n Roll pioneers," only a few musicians qualify as being influential in establishing the genre, circa mid 1950s. Chuck Berry is one. Elvis Presley is another. But in the brief span between July 1957, when his first successful single, "Peggy Sue," was released, until his tragic death in February 1959, Buddy Holly left an impression as deep as if he had been in the business for decades. His enthusiastic and energetic "rockabilly hiccup," boy-loves-girl style put his indelible stamp on the music destined to be America`s — indeed, much of the world`s — favorite.Such artists as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who attended a Buddy Holly and the Crickets concert during Holly`s tour of Great Britain in 1958; the Rolling Stones, who used Holly`s "Not Fade Away" for their fist big hit; the Byrds, Turtles, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, and Don McLean credit Holly for influencing their music.The early yearsBuddy was born in Lubbock, Texas, in September 1936, as "Charles Hardin Holley. He decided to keep the new name.Buddy hailed from a musical family, having three older siblings who played guitar, piano, violin, banjo, mandolin, and steel guitar — which he didn`t like after a few lessons. He played a violin; the strings had been greased to suppress the screeching.At the age of 13, Buddy joined with childhood friend, Bob Montgomery, to form their first band, "Buddy & Bob." They wrote some rough-edged tunes, influenced in part by country-western music, and called them "Western Bop."A shakeout of sorts occurred as the group matured in the mid 1950s. Montgomery wanted to stay with mainstream western, while Holly liked what Elvis and Bill Haley were doing with their upbeat styles.The road to stardomThe years 1956 and 1957 were pivotal to Holly`s success. An upright bass and rhythm guitar, coupled with Holly`s lead guitar, the famed Fender Stratocaster, completed the ensemble, now dubbed the "Crickets."Following some unsuccessful demos for Decca, they entrenched themselves in Norman Petty`s studio in Clovis, New Mexico. With a fierce dedication to their music, the band worked feverishly to tighten up the tunes they thought had the most promise.The first result of that effort was "That`ll Be the Day." The title came directly from a John Wayne movie, The Searchers, in which Wayne had muttered, "That`ll be the day!" That was quickly followed by "Peggy Sue," which was actually released before "That`ll Be the Day," and "Oh, Boy."Anecdotally, "Peggy Sue" was originally titled "Cindy Lou," but it was changed to help drummer Allison pursue his high-school flame, Peggy Sue Gerron.Appearances on the Grand Ole Opry show with country-western greats Ray Price, Red Sovine, Cash, and Perkins, as well as Dick Clark`s American Bandstand, elevated the Crickets` public personae. They rode the wave of popularity like a champion surfer hangin` 10.At one point, they were booked into the Apollo Theater, a predominately African-American venue, in New York City. The band had successfully bridged the racial gap with their style — some of which was borrowed from one of their own — Chuck Berry.Holly`s band continued to write their own singles, as opposed to Presley and others in the business who merely sang songs that were written for them. In the fall of 1957, they released "Maybe Baby." "Rave On" and "Well, All Right" followed in the the first two months of 1958. "It`s So Easy" and "Love`s Made a Fool of You," continued the hit parade in the spring and summer.In August, Holly took a short break to marry Maria Elena Santiago, and in short order, they were expecting. Holly wrote "True Love Ways" for his bride, and she claimed that it was her favorite of all his hits.The big breakupIn the autumn of `58, the group began to fall apart. It was also about that time that "Peggy Sue Got Married" was released, along with other, less-touted tunes: "That Makes it Tough," and "Crying, Waiting, Hoping."Holly decided his artistic style was cramped by the group and producer Petty, so he split to make his own way. He quickly joined the "Winter Dance Party" tour of the upper Midwest. His new group consisted of a young Waylon Jennings on bass, Tommy Allsup on lead guitar, and Carl Bunch on drums.Holly combined on the tour with such other talent as Ritchie Valens, J.P. the "Big Bopper"; Dion, and others.Aside from his established hits, Holly introduced "Gotta Travel On," "Everyday," and "Heartbeat." He arranged for a group rendition of Berry`s "Brown-eyed Handsome Man," and for his encore, did "Not Fade Away," "Bo Didley," and "Rave On." An unidentified historian adds that Holly also performed "Whole Lotta Shakin` Goin` On," and "Be Bop A Lula."Winter bluesThe Winter Dance Party`s concert in Duluth, Minnesota on January 31, 1959, was attended by Robert Zimmerman, who later launched his music career as Bob Dylan.Zimmerman was treated to a concert that included the Big Bopper, who sang his standard "Chantilly Lace;" Valens chimed in with "Come On, Let`s Go," "Donna," and "To Know Him is to Love Him." Dion sang "Teenager in Love" and "The Wanderer," before Valens closed with a lively tune called "La Bamba."Following the concert, reality hit. A second bus had the same problem.On the afternoon of February 2, Holly chartered an airplane, a Bonanza Beechcraft, to get them to Fargo a little early for their next performance, so they could rest and catch up on their laundry. Also aboard was Valens, who had won a coin flip with Allsup for the final seat, along with pilot Roger Peterson.They took off into a blinding snowstorm, Peterson hoping to climb above the clouds. There were no survivors.Buddy Holly rememberedIn his song, "American Pie," Don McClain eulogized Holly and the others on that plane by referring to February 3, 1959, as "The Day the Music Died."As for Allsup, he started a bar called the "Heads Up Saloon," to pay tribute to Valens who had called "heads" on that fateful coin flip.Halls of fameBuddy Holly was among the first to be inducted into the Rock `n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1986. He also was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Burns, Tennessee, about 30 miles west of Memphis.

Buddy Holly discography

Holly recorded prolifically before his untimely death in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. He released three albums in his lifetime. Coral Records was able to release archival new albums and singles for 10 years after his death, but their technical quality was mixed, some being studio recordings and others home recordings.

Holly's records were promoted after his death and had a loyal following, especially in Europe. The demand for unissued recordings by Holly was so great that his producer, Norman Petty, resorted to overdubbing whatever he could find: alternate takes of studio recordings, originally rejected masters, "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and the other five 1959 tracks (adding new surf-guitar arrangements), and even Holly's amateur demos from 1954 (in which the low-fidelity vocals are often muffled behind added orchestrations). The last new Holly album was Giant (featuring the single "Love Is Strange"), issued in 1969. Between the 1959–1960 overdubs produced by Jack Hansen (with vocal backings imitating the Crickets' sound), the 1960s overdubs produced by Petty, various alternate takes, and Holly's undubbed originals, multiple versions of the same songs are available. There are also many different versions of Holly's Greatest Hits as well as covers and compilation albums of his songs performed by various artists. Many singles and albums of his material have been released posthumously, beginning with "Peggy Sue Got Married" in July 1959 and the successful 6-disc collectors box set Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings, 50 years later in 2009.

Buddy Holly

Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), better known as Buddy Holly, was an American singer, songwriter, and a pioneer of Rock and Roll. The change of spelling of Holley to Holly came about because of an error in a contract he was asked to sign, listing him as Buddy Holly. That spelling was then adopted for his professional career.

Holley was born in Lubbock, Texas. The Holleys were a musical family and as a young boy Holley learned to play the violin, piano and guitar. In the fall of 1949 he met Bob Montgomery at Hutchison Jr. High School. They shared a common interest in music, and soon teamed up to perform as the duo ‘Buddy and Bob’. Initially influenced by bluegrass music, they sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows. Holley’s big break came when they opened for Bill Haley and his Comets at a local rock show organized by Eddie Crandall who was also the manager for Marty Robbins. As a result of this performance, Holley was offered a contract with Decca Records to work alone. However, early success as a solo artist eluded him.

Back in Lubbock, Holley formed his own band, ‘The Crickets’, and began making records at Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Among the songs they recorded was ‘That'll Be The Day’, which takes its title from a phrase that John Wayne’s character uses repeatedly in the movie, The Searchers. Petty had music industry contacts, and believing that ‘That'll Be The Day’ would be a hit single, he contacted publishers and labels. Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed Buddy Holly and The Crickets. This put Buddy in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time. Before ‘That'll Be The Day’ had its nationwide release and became a smash hit, Holley played lead guitar on the hit-single ‘Starlight’, recorded in April 1957, featuring Jack Huddle.

Holly’s music was sophisticated for its day, including the use of instruments considered novel for rock & roll, such as the celesta (heard on ‘Everyday’). Holly was an influential lead and rhythm guitarist, notably on songs such as ‘Peggy Sue’ and ‘Not Fade Away’. While Holly could pump out ‘boy-loves-girl’ songs with the best of his contemporaries, other songs featured more sophisticated lyrics and more complex harmonies and melodies than had been previously shown in the genre. Many of his songs feature a unique vocal ‘hiccup’ technique, a clipped ‘uh’ sound used to emphasize certain words in any given song, especially the rockers. For example, the start of the raucous number ‘Rave On’: “We-UH-ell, the little things you say and do, make me want to be with you-UH-ou. ”

Holly also managed to bridge some of the racial divide that punctuated rock, notably winning over an all-black audience when accidentally booked for New York’s Apollo Theatre.

After the release of several highly successful songs, in March of 1958, he and the Crickets toured the United Kingdom. In the audience were teenagers named John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who later cited Holly as a primary influence (the band’s name, The Beatles, was later chosen partly in homage to Holly’s Crickets). The Beatles did a cover version of ‘Words Of Love’ that was an almost perfect reproduction of Holly’s version. The Rolling Stones did a cover of ‘Not Fade Away’. The group, The Hollies were named in homage.

Holly’s personal style, more controlled and cerebral than Elvis’s and more youthful and innovative than the country & western stars of his day, would have an influence on youth culture on both sides of the Atlantic for decades to come, reflected particularly in the New Wave movement in artists such as Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw, and earlier in folk rock bands like The Byrds and The Turtles.

He married Maria Elena Santiago on August 15, 1958.

In 1959, Holly split with the Crickets and began a solo tour with other notable performers including Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, ‘The Big Bopper’. One audience member at the tour stop in Duluth, Minnesota, was a young Bobby Zimmerman who would later be known as Bob Dylan.

Following the February 2nd performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the performers and their road crew drew straws to decide who would fly in the airplane, and who would ride in the unheated tour bus. The winners were Holly, Valens and Richardson. The four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off into a blinding snow storm and crashed into Albert Juhl’s cornfield several miles after takeoff at 1.05am. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson, and pilot Roger Peterson, leaving Holly’s pregnant bride, Maria Elena Holly, a widow (she would miscarry soon after). Funeral services were held at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, and Buddy Holly was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.

Holly’s headstone carries the correct spelling of his name, Buddy Holley. It also features a carving of his favourite guitar. Downtown Lubbock has a ‘Walk of Fame’ with plaques to various area artists such as Mac Davis and Waylon Jennings, with a life-size statue of a guitar playing Buddy as its centrepiece. The tragic plane crash inspired singer Don McLean’s popular 1971 ballad ‘American Pie’, and immortalized February 3rd as “The Day The Music Died”. Contrary to popular myth, ‘American Pie’ was not the name of the ill-fated airplane.

The Surf Ballroom, a popular and old-fashioned dance hall that dates to the height of the Big Band Era, continues to put on shows, notably an annual Buddy Holly tribute on the anniversary of his last performances.

Chartered Flight Crash

Within minutes of takeoff from the Mason City Airport in Iowa at around 1:00 AM CST, February 3, 1959, the chartered Beech-Craft Bonanza airplane No. N3794N containing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson crashed into the Iowa countryside, killing all three in addition to pilot Roger Peterson. Peterson, not having been informed of worsening weather conditions, decided to fly "on instruments" meaning without visual confirmation of the horizon which led to the crash.

Buddy Holly's funeral was held at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, TX, on February 8, 1959, drawing over a thousand mourners. Holly's widow did not attend. On the same day, Ritchie Valens was buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery. The tragedy was later immortalized as "The Day The Music Died" by Don McLean in his famous song "American Pie."

Holly's band, The Crickets, later memorialized the day in 2016 with a farewell and final concert called "The Crickets and Buddies," where almost every living member of the band Holly helped form played tribute to the vocal legend's passing.

What did the official investigation find and what are the conspiracy theories?

A coroner’s inquest found that Holly had been thrown out of the aircraft on impact and died almost instantly of a severe brain injury.

The official investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Board concluded the pilot was not experienced enough for night flying.

Numerous conspiracy theories have sought to explain why the plane.

One popular one was the suggestion that a shot from Holly’s handgun killed the pilot.

In 2007 Peterson’s son had his father’s body exhumed to see if Holly’s gun had gone off bu accident.

But an autopsy confirmed he died as a result of massive internal injuries.

Another theory was that a key part of the plane had been missing when it took off.

Not Fade Away: The Legend and Legacy of Buddy Holly

The unlikely rock and roll star was the first in a long line of fabled Strat players.

Among early rock and rollers, Buddy Holly was an anomaly.

Tall, bespectacled, with a gawkiness he never lived to outgrow, he was no Elvis Presley, at least in terms of dangerous sex appeal. But Holly was a true rock and roll star, the first cool geek, opening the door for generations of glasses-wearing rockers like John Lennon, Roy Orbison, Elton John, Elvis Costello and Rivers Cuomo.

He was also a trailblazing innovator whose remarkably short career—he spent just 18 months at the top—left a legacy that endures to this day.

While Elvis and other stars of the era had their hits penned by professional tunesmiths, Holly wrote his own material. With his band the Crickets, he pioneered the two guitar, bass, drums and vocals format for rock bands that would be adopted by the British beat groups and is still in use today.

He was also the first high-profile rock and roller to adopt the Fender Stratocaster as his guitar of choice.

Holly got his first Strat in 1955, at Adair Music in his hometown of Lubbock, TX after his older brother Larry loaned him the money. At the time, Strats were more popular with country musicians which may have been part of what attracted Holly to the guitar, as his fingerpicking and twangy lead style owed a debt to his country-and-western musical roots.

With his band the Crickets, Holly pioneered a distinct guitar style that deftly merged rhythm with lead, and at times, seemed to parrot his hiccupping vocals.

He used techniques like sweep picking—using a downward pick stroke to push through three strings and an upstroke for the fourth note—and would muffle his strings or toggle his pickups to create the exciting dynamics that made his records leap out of the speakers.

If there was one thing that really distinguished Holly’s playing, it was his unconventional strumming technique. He used down strokes exclusively, keeping his wrist locked to achieve the furious, driving rhythm heard on early Crickets recordings. While he was a capable soloist, he often spurned the incendiary lead style deployed by the likes of Chuck Berry in favor of rhythmic, chord-based solos like the one on “Peggy Sue.”

With his Stratocaster plugged into Magnatone Custom 280 and later a Fender Bassman, Holly’s guitar sound was stripped down and simple. But it was louder than most at the time, with the Strat’s full sound lending itself to the chunky rhythms that drove Holly’s recordings.

Along with his thick-framed black glasses, the Stratocaster was also an enormous component of Holly’s image, particularly in England, where few (if any) Fender Strats had been seen before.

As Frank Allen, guitarist of the Searchers told the Independent, “While we were skiffling away trying to find a fourth chord, Buddy was giving us the opening bars of ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ with unbelievable expertise and on an instrument that was the equivalent of a bullet-finned ’59 Cadillac. He looked gangly and geekish with those glasses but that guitar made him unbelievably cool.”

While he was a major star at home, Holly resonated with English audiences in a way few of his contemporaries, perhaps not even Elvis, managed to do. It’s telling that the Beatles adopted their moniker because they wanted an insect name like the Crickets, and that the Stones’ first top 10 hit was a cover of Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”

“Listen to the songs on the first three Beatles albums,” said John Mellencamp to Rolling Stone. “Take their voices off and it’s Buddy Holly.”

Holly’s untimely death in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper—known colloquially as "The Day the Music Died"— was a tragedy on a great many levels. Mainly the loss to his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, who was so stricken she couldn’t attend her husband’s funeral.

But putting personal tragedy aside, it’s tantalizing to imagine what Buddy Holly might have achieved had he survived into the ‘60s. Rock and roll’s first real singer/songwriter/guitarist, Holly was living in Greenwich Village at the time of his death, exploring recording techniques and had spoken to his wife about opening a studio in London.

Holly was always an unlikely figure for a ‘50s rock star. But the ‘60s would seemingly have suited him. His guitar chops, songwriting ability and curiosity about the recording process suggest he would’ve weathered the turn of the decade better than many his early rock and roll contemporaries did. He would also have looked cool with Dylan hair and Lennon specs.

Although his career was short, as the first major artist to play a Fender Strat, Holly had a massive influence on future guitar gods like George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Even today, the Texas rocker’s influence persists and is unlikely to fade away any time soon.





Elvis Presley & Buddy Holly …Contrasts and Comparisons

“Buddy Holly could have been a country singer, or pop crooner, could have and probably would have fitted his talent to whatever music was happening when he came along. It happened to be rock ’n ’roll. But it only fully became rock ’n’ roll the day Buddy Holly started singing it.” — Paul Williams in his book, “Rock ’n’ Roll: The 100 Best Singles”

Paul Williams may have been over stating things a bit, but Buddy Holly certainly earned his currently accepted status as one of rock ’n’ roll’s founding fathers in the late fifties. In 1986, Buddy and Elvis Presley were both named charter members of the newly established Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The two men had many other things in common. Both were born in the deep south and raised in poverty. Early contact with country music and rhythm and blues stimulated their youthful, creative musical spirits. There were obvious differences, as well. Buddy looked like the typical boy next door, while Elvis’s smoldering looks oozed sexiness. Holly was an accomplished guitar player and songwriter Elvis was neither. On stage, Presley’s voice and energy were boundless, while Buddy depended more on instrumentation and his unique “hiccup” vocal style.

Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. Buddy Holly was born a year and a half later on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. Coincidentally, the currently accepted definitive biographies of both men were published a year apart—Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis in 1994 and Ellis Amburn’s Buddy Holly: A Biography in 1995. Most of the following references to Holly’s life and career come from the Amburn volume.

• Family backgrounds were important

Growing up in the late and post-Depression years, both Buddy and Elvis were “mama’s boys,” due to weak father figures. According to Amburn, “The situation would have far-reaching consequences for Buddy, who would make the mistake of relying on stronger personalities who were not always trustworthy.” Elvis had the same weakness, but fortunately for him the man in whom he put his trust, Colonel Parker, brought Elvis incredible fame and wealth, while Buddy’s manager held him back and stole a fortune from him.

An advantage that the young Buddy had that Elvis lacked was a trusted sibling. The youngest of four children, Buddy found in his eldest brother, Larry, a confidant he would cling to for the rest of his life.

When his other brother, Travis, came home from the war in 1945, he taught Buddy how play the guitar. Around the same time, about 900 miles to the east, Elvis Presley received a guitar for his eleventh birthday and began learning how to play it with help from his uncle and church pastor. A natural affinity for the instrument allowed Buddy’s guitar playing to progress at a rate that amazed his family.

Hank Williams, Sr., was Buddy’s first musical idol. According to Amburn, though, when Buddy first heard Fats Domino sing on the radio, he saw his future. “It was as if the heavens had opened,” Amburn explained. “But it was more than just the music. From that moment on, Buddy identified closely with blacks.” Meanwhile, an adolescent Elvis was experiencing a similar epiphany in Memphis, to where his family had moved in 1948.

Although a year younger, Buddy Holly got started in professional music before Elvis. Around 1951, when Buddy was 15 years old, he started jamming with another Lubbock musician, Jack Neal. The two put together a country and western act and played live entertainment Saturday morning for youngsters at Lubbock movie theaters. In September 1953, “The Buddy and Jack Show” made its debut on KDAV radio. On November 10 that year, a station DJ recorded an acetate of the duo singing and playing. It was just a few months after Elvis had walked into Sam Phillips’s Memphis Recording Service to make an acetate of “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”

• Buddy the tortoise, Elvis the hare

As rock ’n’ roll became more prominent on the radio during Buddy’s senior year in high school, he and Jack began playing the new music at sock hops, store openings, and community shows. Meanwhile, things were happening much faster for Elvis in Memphis. By the time Buddy graduated from high school in 1955, Elvis already had four singles out on Sun Records and had worked the concert circuit across the south for a year and a half.

Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly (far right) in Lubbock, June 3, 1955

Everything changed for Buddy when Elvis came to Lubbock five different times in 1955. “What is certain beyond any doubt,” Amburn declared, “is that when Elvis Presley hit Lubbock in 1955, he transformed all the C&W pickers in Buddy’s circle into rockers. ‘Without Elvis,’ Buddy once said, ‘none of us could have made it.’ Though rock ’n’ roll had burst on the world of West Texas the previous year with Bill Haley’s ‘Shake, Rattle, and Roll,’ it was Elvis who whispered freedom into the ears of embattled Baptist boys like Buddy and unleashed a new generation of rockabillies.”

“Elvis changed Buddy,” singer Waylon Jennings, then another young West Texas musician, later told Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick. “It was the beginning of kids really starting to think for themselves, figuring things out, realizing things that they would never even have thought of before.”

Buddy’s brother Larry remembers when Elvis was late for one of his early 1955 appearances at Lubbock’s Fair Park Coliseum. “In Elvis’ absence, Buddy and his front band blew the roof off the coliseum, playing until Elvis came on,” Amburn reported. “Many people in the audience preferred Buddy to Elvis, Larry proudly recalled, although Buddy was still a beginner.”

On October 15, 1955, Elvis appeared at two venues in Lubbock. After finishing up at the coliseum, he gave another show at the Cotton Club, the city’s major dance hall. “We opened for Elvis,” recalled Sonny Curtis. “Bales of cotton were stacked around the stage to protect him from the audience. The most beautiful girls in Lubbock were trying to climb the bales to get at him. That’s what impressed us as much as his music. We’d been hillbillies but after the Cotton Club we were rockers like Elvis.”

• Buddy Holly knew Elvis “quite well”

The extent of Buddy’s personal relationship with Elvis in 1955 is unclear. “Buddy and Elvis got along pretty good,” Larry claimed. “When Elvis came to town, Buddy found him a girl. She was not anyone you’d find on this side of town.” As for Buddy, during his Australian tour in 1958, he told a DJ that he’d once known Elvis “quite well.”

Back in Lubbock in 1955, though, Elvis was clearly Buddy Holly’s idol. Buddy even made a leather guitar case for his J-45 that matched the one Elvis used to carry his Martin D-28. “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” Elvis’s Sun record that topped Billboard’s C&W chart in late 1955, was Buddy’s favorite Presley song. Late in the year, Buddy and his band performed on "The Big D Jamboree," Dallas’s Saturday night country and western radio show. Sid King, another musician on the show that night, described Buddy as “virtually a carbon copy of Elvis.”

According to Amburn, in 1955 there was another Lubbock visitor who would play an important role in the careers of both Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Colonel Tom Parker came to town looking for a talent to manage. Amburn says that both Elvis and Buddy “intrigued” the Colonel, who decided to focus on Elvis. He thought enough of Buddy, though, to recommend him to Nashville talent agent Eddie Crandall.

That led to Buddy’s first big break in show business. When he and his band opened for Bill Haley and the Comets at Fair Park Coliseum in October 1955, Crandall was there to see Buddy. On December 2, Buddy signed an exclusive management contract with Crandall. That was less than two weeks after Elvis left Sun Records and signed a contract to record for RCA. Soon Crandall got Buddy a record deal with Decca.

As 1956 dawned, it looked like both singers’s dreams of fame and fortune were about to come true. Both Elvis and Buddy had January dates in Nashville for their first recording sessions for their new labels. While 1956 would turn out to be a spectacular breakout year for Elvis, for Buddy it was a year of failure and exploitation that would test his resolve to make it as a professional entertainer. In RCA’s Nashville studio on January 10, Elvis recorded “Heartbreak Hotel,” which would reach the top of Billboard’s pop chart in May, launching Presley’s fabulous run through the end of the decade. Meanwhile, Buddy’s Nashville Decca session on January 26 was a disaster that led to nowhere.

• Decca a little bit country, RCA a little bit rock ’n’ roll

The result was that instead of viewing Buddy as a potential new rockabilly star, Decca tried to force him into the existing country music model. The result was predictable. After Buddy’s first single, “Blue Days, Black Nights” and “Love Me” was released on April 16, it sold only 19,000 copies. “It’s a wonder the world ever again heard of Buddy Holly,” Amburn noted. Buddy’s second release for Decca also failed miserably, and at year’s end the label declined to renew his contract. As 1957 dawned, Buddy was penniless, his career no further along than it had been 12 months before.

The one positive thing Buddy took from his failed year at Decca was some experience with songwriting. For his January 1956 Nashville session, the label asked Buddy to show up with four original songs. One of the songs Buddy wrote and recorded for Decca, “That’ll Be the Day,” came off poorly and was never released by the label.

In January 1957, without a manager, a band, or a recording contract, Buddy returned to Lubbock and considered quitting the music business. Deciding to give it one more try, he formed another band and drove ninety miles northwest of Lubbock to record at Norman Petty’s recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico. There, on February 24, 1957, Holly’s life changed when he recorded a rocking version of “That’ll Be the Day.”

Petty took the acetate to Nashville and got Buddy a one-record contract on the Brunswick label. Amburn called Brunswick, “a kind of trash-basket label in which Decca dumped its undesirables.” “That’ll Be the Day” by the Crickets, the name of Buddy’s new band, was released nationally on May 27, 1957. It spent 22 weeks on Billboard’s Top 100 pop chart, peaking at #3. It reached that same number on Cash Box magazine’s list of “Best Selling Singles.” Buddy Holly had finally hit the big time.

• Buddy Holly's career took off in ’57

He had a lot of catching up to do, however. By the time “That’ll Be the Day” became Buddy’s first hit record, Elvis already had five #1 singles and eight gold records. Holly had two more of his own compositions lined up to follow his first hit—“Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy,” both recorded at Clovis in July 1957. Both charted in the top 10 late in the year.

Suddenly, Buddy Holly was in great demand. With the Crickets, he appeared three times on American Bandstand and twice on The Ed Sullivan Show . At Christmas time in 1957 Buddy co-starred with Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Everly Brothers on Holiday of Stars Twelve Days of Christmas Show in Times Square. As the new year began, Buddy Holly found himself Decca’s top recording artist.

Like Elvis had in 1956, Buddy Holly spent much of 1957 and 1958 on the road. Unlike Elvis, though, who headlined his own tours, tightly controlled by Colonel Parker, Buddy’s only option was to join the great rock ’n’ roll package tours, organized by promoters like Alan Freed and Dick Clark. “Planned and mounted like military campaigns, these all-star caravans swept across the country in buses,” Amburn explained, “playing as many as 70 cities in 80 nights.” Buddy toured the nation and Canada with other rock stars, such as Frankie Lymon, Gene Vincent, Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, The Everly Brothers, Connie Francis, The Drifters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Knox, and Danny and the Juniors.

Although Buddy never met Elvis again after their 1955 encounters in Lubbock, their paths almost crossed again in Vancouver, B.C., in the fall of 1957, when both were out on tour. Elvis was there on August 31 for his controversial show at Empire Stadium. Buddy came through eight weeks later with a package tour booked into the Georgia Auditorium. Hall of Fame DJ Red Robinson interviewed both stars prior to their shows. Buddy expressed a longing for a break in the grueling rock ’n’ roll grind. “Enervated from singing his guts out in nightly rock shows,” Amburn explained, “he longed for a radical change in musical trends, confessing that he’d rather sing songs that didn’t require him to scream and shout.”

Elvis and Buddy both recorded their rock ’n’ roll versions of some R&B classics, including “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Ready Teddy,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” and “Rip It Up.” Although Elvis never recorded a Buddy Holly song, Buddy recorded one of Elvis's from the soundtrack of his 1957 film, Jailhouse Rock. According to Waylon Jennings, Buddy’s version of “(You’re So Square) I Don’t Care” is the best example of the “Buddy Holly sound.”

The package tour format allowed Buddy to perform overseas, something Elvis often expressed a desire to do but never did. In January 1958, Buddy, along with Anka and Jerry Lee, flew out of New York for a tour in Australia. They stopped in Hawaii along the way, where Buddy performed a free show for military personnel at Schofield Barracks, the same venue where two months earlier Elvis had given his final concert of the 1950s. While in Australia, a DJ asked Buddy if Elvis was his favorite singer. “I guess he’s one of them,” Buddy responded. Soon after returning from Australia, Buddy and the Crickets left for England, arriving on March 1, 1958, for a twenty-five-day British tour.

• Rock ’n’ roll’s first wave played itself out

While Buddy was still in abroad, cracks were beginning to appear in his career and in rock ’n’ roll music in general. Buddy’s record sales began to decline. His single releases of “Maybe Baby” and “Rave On,” both considered early rock classics today, stalled at #18 and #37 respectively on the Top 100. “It’s So Easy,” another Holly classic, didn’t chart at all in 1958. Neither of Buddy’s albums reached the Top 40 on Billboard’s album chart. When Alan Freed’s forty-four-day “Big Beat” package tour, which included Buddy, ended with a riot in Boston, it galvanized the societal enemies of rock ’n’ roll to mount an all out war against it. Elvis was taken away by the army, and Jerry Lee Lewis’s career never recovered after it was revealed he had married his 14-year-old cousin.

The only good news for Buddy Holly in the latter half of 1958 was his marriage to Maria Elena Santiago in August. That fall, however, Buddy and his wife left Lubbock and moved to New York City. Buddy had fired his manager, but it was too late. Much of the money he had earned through record royalties and touring was gone, spent or tied up by the man Buddy had trusted to handle his financial affairs. (Reading Ellis Amburn’s account of how Norman Petty mismanaged Buddy Holly’s career should make all Elvis fans say, “Thank God for Colonel Parker.”)

In early 1959, Buddy Holly, with a pregnant wife and living off the generosity of his wife’s aunt, did something he didn’t want to do—he signed on for still another all-star package tour. The “Winter Dance Party” was to be a twenty-four-day meander across the upper mid-West in a converted school bus in the dead of winter. His death at age 22 in an Iowa cornfield plane crash on February 3, 1959, abruptly ended the brief yet brilliant career of Buddy Holly.

According to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen in their book, Elvis: Day by Day , Elvis learned of Holly’s death at his army posting in Germany on February 5. The authors state that Colonel Parker’s assistant, Tom Diskin, sent a telegram of condolences to Holly’s family on Elvis’s behalf.

• Death brought fame to Buddy Holly

Recognition as one of rock ’n’ roll’s pioneers, denied him in life, came to Buddy in many forms in death. In addition to being charter members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both Holly’s and Presley’s images appeared on U.S. Postal stamps in 1993. Buddy had five entries—“That’ll Be the Day,” “Not Fade Away,” “Rave On,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Everyday”—on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. (Elvis had 11 on the list.) “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” are on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of songs that shaped rock ’n’ roll.

No Graceland exists for Buddy Holly pilgrims. His birthplace in Lubbock was demolished years ago, and in the 1990s, his family sold off their Buddy Holly keepsakes and memorabilia. In Lubbock there is the Buddy Holly Center, inside of which is The Buddy Holly Gallery, a permanent display featuring, according to the center’s web site, “Artifacts owned by the City of Lubbock, as well as other items that are on loan.” Included in the display are “Buddy Holly’s Fender Stratocaster, a songbook used by Holly and the Crickets, clothing, photographs, recording contracts, tour itineraries, Holly’s glasses, homework assignments, and report cards.”

Like Elvis’s fans, the Buddy Holly faithful honor their rock idol by gathering each year on the anniversary of his death. Starting in February 1979, on the twentieth anniversary of his death, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where Buddy gave his final show on February 2, 1959, has hosted an annual Buddy Holly tribute weekend. The 2013 event is being expanded to four days to accommodate the ever-increasing number of rock ’n’ roll fans who attend. It’s not quite the same as the candle-light vigil at Graceland during Elvis Week, but those who are moved to do so can trek through the snow to a nearby cornfield where a marker memorializes the lonely spot where “the music died” back in 1959. —ਊlan Hanson | © October 2012

Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today

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Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today

1 /4 Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today

Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today


Oh boy: Why Buddy Holly still matters today


On Valentine's Day in 1959, just 11 days after the air crash that killed her son, Ella Holley wrote to the families of the other performers who had died, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. They are beautifully composed letters, expressing her bewilderment and grief, and they reveal her conviction that they will be reunited in Heaven.

However, what makes the correspondence extraordinary is that she wrote a similar letter to the widow of the pilot, Roger Peterson. She did not cast any blame, although the accident occurred largely owing to his inexperience, and she said: "We are crushed by this terrible tragedy and the loss of our son, and we know you are suffering the same. We have never known before the grief and suffering from the death of a loved one but we do know now, and our hearts go out to you because we know what you are going through. We will keep you in our prayers."

Fifty years on, this letter indicates how Buddy Holly had been raised and how his parents had shaped his personality. It is often said that rock'n'roll was the music of rebellion, a response to the dull, conventional lifestyle of the previous generation. There is none of that in the Buddy Holly story: his parents supported him all the way and he, in turn, loved them.

In the 1930s, Lawrence and Ella Holley had settled in Lubbock, Texas. When their fourth and final child, Charles Hardin, arrived on 7 September 1936, Lawrence was earning $12 a week as a tailor. Their house was a couple of rooms with no electricity or telephone. Ella considered Charles Hardin Holley a big name for a little boy and nicknamed him Buddy, the perfect, friendly name for him.

Lubbock, on the buckle of the Bible Belt, is in the Texas Panhandle, a huge and isolated region with vast, featureless plains. It is in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to see once you get there, and so flat that you wonder what driving instructors do for a hill start. At the time, it was dry, although there were drinking clubs outside the city limits. Joe Ely, who established himself as a singer/songwriter in the late 1970s, recalls: "Lubbock's a big city in the middle of a cotton field. There are a lot of people living there but it's like a small town because it's so spread out. The main things are just cotton and boredom. I spent most of my time in high school thinking how to get out. Lubbock is a musically creative area, and maybe that's because there's nothing else to do."

When Buddy and his first girlfriend, Echo McGuire, were at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, the preacher said: "What would you do if you had $10?" and Buddy muttered: "If I had $10, I wouldn't be here."

If Buddy had stayed, he would have been in the family tiling business with his brothers, Larry and Travis. They showed him the rudiments of the guitar, and a home recording of "My Two-Timin' Woman", from 1949, shows that he was already proficient, although his voice had yet to break.

Buddy performed bluegrass on the radio station KDAV, usually with his friend Bob Montgomery. Several recordings have survived and they resemble an adolescent Flatt and Scruggs. They played the roller rink and on station promotions, opening for Elvis Presley in 1955. Sonny Curtis comments: "It was Buddy and Bob's group, and I played fiddle. We played country music, but when Elvis came along, Buddy fell in love with Elvis and we began to change. The next day we became Elvis clones." Larry lent Buddy the money for a Fender Stratocaster.

Buddy's repertoire expanded as he listened to black R&B played on the Stan's Record Rack radio show from Shreveport, Louisiana, and he was badgering musicians and their managers for an opportunity to record. He was signed to Decca's Nashville division and recorded three sessions, produced by Owen Bradley, during 1956. He wasn't happy with the results, probably because he had little input and wasn't generally allowed to play guitar, and Decca did little promotion, but the results are appealing. "Blue Days – Black Nights" was an engaging single Sonny Curtis's "Rock Around With Ollie Vee" benefits from an inspired rockabilly performance and "Midnight Shift" (a song about a prostitute!) is the first of several eccentric vocals. Listen to how Holly drawls "car" and "far" you can hear Bob Dylan doing the same thing 10 years later.

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On 17 June 1956, Lubbock's newspaper, the Avalanche-Journal, started a series on the evils of rock'n'roll. They showed the dancers at the Bamboo Club when Holly was performing, and blacked out their eyes. The youngsters were dancing the "dirty bop". The newspaper said: "The guitarist hoarsely shouted the unintelligible words 'Hound Dog'." It said of the audience: "They are white teenagers from throughout the city, rich and poor, from good homes and bad." Mrs Holley wrote to the newspaper defend the teenagers, but her letter was not printed.

Also in June 1956, The Searchers, a western directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, opened in Lubbock. Holly's new drummer, Jerry Allison, was there. "Buddy and I went to see The Searchers and for a couple of days afterwards, we were mocking the way John Wayne said, 'That'll be the day.' Then we wrote the song. The first time we recorded it was in Nashville for Decca Records. It was the summer of 1956 and I had just gotten out of school. The producer said, 'That's the worst song I've ever heard in my life.' That hurt my feelings 'cause it was the first song I'd written!"

The country star Webb Pierce had advised Buddy to "sing high if you want a hit". That was terrible advice, but it does explain why Buddy sang "That'll Be the Day" as high as he could. He sounded uncomfortable and he was to record it much better later on. Still, Owen Bradley should have recognised the song's potential.

By 1957, Holly wanted to escape from his Decca contract. He knew about Norman Petty's studio 90 miles away in Clovis, New Mexico, as the 40-year-old Petty had produced a current million-seller, "Party Doll" by Buddy Knox. With the confidence of youth, Holly told Petty: "If you can get Buddy Knox a hit, you can get me one."

As their manager and producer, Petty is often portrayed as a villain, adding his name, for example, to the songwriting credits for "That'll Be the Day". But he appreciated Holly's talent and was no worse than other managers of the day.

Sonny West is philosophical about sharing his credit for "Oh Boy!" and "Rave On" with Norman Petty: "Norman gave me no choice. It was take that or get out. After I'd heard Buddy's version of 'Oh Boy!', there was no way I could turn it down. Norman had the power and he did that to so many guys. He took a half or a third of almost every song he could, plus the publishing rights. I wish things had been different but they're not and I can't change it." Unlike the Nashville producers, Petty didn't record by the clock, allowing each track to take as long as it took, a perfect environment for an experimental musician like Holly.

In a curious move, Petty signed Holly and his group, The Crickets, to a Decca subsidiary, Brunswick Records. "That'll Be the Day" topped both the British and American charts, incidentally topping the US chart when Holly only had 500 days left to live.

Frank Allen of the 1960s band The Searchers loved the record: "To be a star, you obviously need a desirable amount of talent, but the most important factor is individuality – and Buddy was distinctive and unmistakeable, both visually and aurally. While we were skiffling away, trying to find a fourth chord, Buddy was giving us the opening bars of 'That'll Be the Day' with unbelievable expertise and on an instrument that was the equivalent of a bullet-finned '59 Cadillac. He looked gangly and geekish with those glasses but that guitar made him unbelievably cool, and he knew how to play it. It was the revenge of the nerd. His records are almost without exception terrific. He got everything right."

Most top acts released four singles and an album a year, but Petty realised that Holly was productive and arranged for solo records, still backed by The Crickets, on Coral, another Decca subsidiary. Holly's hit-making career only lasted 18 months, but his output was double that of comparable musicians. It's unfortunate that Holly lost Sonny Curtis (who had joined Slim Whitman's band) and Bob Montgomery (who was studying), but The Crickets consisted of Allison, the double-bass player Joe B Mauldin and, for most of 1957, the guitarist Niki Sullivan, who wasn't up V C to the job. When Sullivan couldn't match his guitar on "Words of Love", Holly double-tracked his part.

Buddy Holly's first hit under his own name would have been "Cindy Lou", a nod to his young niece, but Allison persuaded him to rewrite it to impress the girl he wanted to marry, Peggy Sue Gerron. The "pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue" section retains its nursery-rhyme origin, as does the way Holly keeps singing her name differently.

I asked two leading songwriters why Holly's song doesn't tell me much about "Peggy Sue". Sir Tim Rice says: "Well, in 1957, few pop songs dug deep into emotional psychology and anyway, records were only two minutes long! However, the other aspects of the record, notably the different vocal timbres and gimmicks that Buddy adopted, that are almost comic at one point, were considered more important features to convey her character. Peggy Sue comes over as quirky and slightly unattainable, plus we discover that she is pretty. The singer is overwhelmed and reduced to showing off."

Gary Osborne, lyricist for The War of the Worlds, agrees: "'Peggy Sue' is the most basic and simple of love songs and when 'basic and simple' works, it really works. The treatment is also beautifully stripped down. It sounds like three guys driving along the highway in a big old American car with the driver singing and his mate in the passenger seat playing guitar, while the drummer is sitting behind them, keeping time on the back of the driver's seat. A classic!"

Bruce Welch of The Shadows is taken with Holly's guitar playing: "Buddy plays the bass pickup for most of the song and then it's switched to the treble and back again for verse. If you listen to the record on cans, you can hear Niki Sullivan turn the switch for him. It wouldn't have been any problem for Buddy to do it himself, and he must have done it himself in concert. There would be that fraction of a second delay but you wouldn't notice it."

Equally important is Jerry Allison's drumming. It had been so loud that it leaked into other microphones, so Petty had placed his drums in the reception area. From there, he ran the mic wires through the echo chamber and got the in-and-out echo effect by manually raising and lowering the volume and amount of echo in time with the music. This gave "Peggy Sue" a unique sound, and Allison's drumming propels the song along in the same way that Al Jackson pushed Otis Redding to a remarkable performance with "Respect".

Bobby Vee, who has recorded with The Crickets, appreciates Allison's talent: "Anyone who has ever played rock'n'roll drums has been influenced by Jerry Allison. He is an incredible stylist and very innovative, and he still plays great. There were no rules then so he could do what he liked, slapping his knees on 'Everyday' or playing a cardboard box on 'Not Fade Away'. He has great wrists – he plays lead drums."

It is wrong to assume that Holly's simple songs imply simplicity. Dominic Pedler, the author of The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles, analyses the simplest of all, the B-side of "Peggy Sue", the whimsical "Everyday": "Among Buddy Holly's finest musical moments is the bridge to 'Everyday', which showcases his understanding of a classically derived, five-chord cycle which unfolds so irresistibly towards the song's musical and lyrical climax ('Do you ever long for true love from me?'). I don't know whether Holly had ever heard Marlene Dietrich's 'Falling In Love Again' but he manages a brilliant take on that concept in that bridge, descending in inevitable fifths but creating a clever effect that ends on that hanging imperfect cadence rather than a settled resolution on the tonic note as in the vast majority of cycles of fifths: for example, in 'Falling In Love Again', 'Can't help it' takes us to a feeling of closure."

As well as recording with The Crickets, Holly undertook session work, assisting small-time musicians who were recording at Petty's studio. He worked with the young folk singer Carolyn Hester. On their tour of Australia, he and Jerry Allison were taken with "Real Wild Child", performed by the local star Johnny O'Keefe. Allison recorded the song with a cool, laconic vocal, but Holly's enthusiastic background vocals stand out.

Through an agency mistake, The Crickets were teamed with R&B acts at black venues, including the Apollo in Harlem, but Holly's engaging personality won through. In March 1958, Holly had to adapt to playing a UK variety tour and was taught jokes by the compère, Des O'Connor. "I got £100 a week for being the compère and comic on the tour, which was big money," O'Connor says. "We were touring with the Ronnie Keene Orchestra, which had a lot of brass, and then out came The Crickets, just three of them, and I couldn't work out how they were making 10 times as much noise. It was so exciting and vibrant and I knew that something exciting was happening."

Many young British musicians were blinded by the light and came away wanting Fender Stratocasters, which had no marketing outlet in the UK. Brian Poole of The Tremeloes says: "Buddy Holly and The Crickets were the loudest thing we'd ever heard. It was a small band but they made such a crack when they came on and it was very, very exciting. We were doing Buddy Holly songs for the next five years. At one stage there was nothing in our act that wasn't a Buddy Holly song. We hadn't seen a Fender Strat before – this was like a flat plank, and now every guitar is like that. We were so much into Buddy Holly that I had hair and glasses exactly like him."

Alvin Stardust, who had a hit with "I Feel Like Buddy Holly" in 1984, met Holly on that tour. "I was 13 or 14 and I had gone on the bus to see Buddy Holly and The Crickets in Doncaster and I took my guitar on which I was trying to learn chords. I had never been to a music concert before and I managed to get backstage. The Crickets were all so polite and quiet. They asked me how many chords I knew and I said, 'I know three,' and Buddy said, 'You can play all my songs then.' They made me get it out and we were singing 'Peggy Sue' together, then Buddy signed it for me."

Back in Clovis, Holly befriended the guitarist Tommy Allsup, who played on his recordings of "Heartbeat" (the only Holly record to justify a "Tex-Mex" tag), "It's So Easy", "Love's Made a Fool of You" and "Wishing", the last two compositions being intended for The Everly Brothers. Their manager, the thorny Wesley Rose, wouldn't permit this as he couldn't have the publishing. Tommy Allsup: "Buddy was a good guitarist but he couldn't play the solo he wanted on 'It's So Easy', so that's called job security. He asked me to tour with him."

In New York, Buddy befriended Maria Elena Santiago, who lived with her aunt and worked for Southern Music, the company that administered Petty's catalogue in New York. She was five years older and he proposed on their first date. They were married in Lubbock on 15 August 1958, and shared a joint honeymoon in Acapulco with Jerry and Peggy Sue.

Buddy's final recording session in Clovis featured "Reminiscing", a sad song, but as so often with Holly, he doesn't sound cut up about it: his vocal acrobatics include a great "bayee-ayee-bee" and semi-yodelling. He was supported by the saxophonist King Curtis, who also recorded "When Sin Stops" with Waylon Jennings. This was intended as the first release on a label formed by Holly and Phil Everly. Holly was also keen to set up his own recording and publishing companies in Lubbock with the intention of working with Allsup and Montgomery.

Considering the quality of "Heartbeat" and "It's So Easy", it is surprising that his singles were not making the charts, but Decca had confidence in him and organised an orchestral session in New York in October 1958. It produced "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", "Raining In My Heart" (written by The Everly Brothers' writers, the Bryants), "Moondreams" (a delightful middle-of-the-road song from Norman Petty) and Holly's own tribute to Maria Elena, "True Love Ways".

Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" had been submitted on the day of the session, and Dick Jacobs only had time to score it for pizzicato strings, which was an innovation for popular music, although Tchaikovsky had been there first.

The singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith comments: "My mum had a great collection of 45s and I used to put them on when I was about five. I loved 'It Doesn't Matter Anymore' as I liked the way he'd go from a low voice to that hiccup. The music is at odds with the theme of the song as the guy is trying to get over his broken heart by saying that the person doesn't matter anymore, but maybe he's really saying that it matters a lot. I like that contradiction although I didn't understand the depth of the song when I was young."

Maria Elena, who had been privy to Petty's dealings, encouraged Buddy to break away. As The Crickets stayed with Petty, he had to work with new musicians. Maria Elena Holly says: "Buddy didn't have any money because his manager didn't want to let the money go. That's why he went on the Winter Dance Party."

It was a bad winter in New York and Buddy worked on new songs, now known as the Apartment Tapes. His father had suggested a follow-up to "Peggy Sue", so he recorded an answer song, "Peggy Sue Got Married". The secrecy in the lyric was Holly's comment on the fact that pop stars weren't supposed to get married. Isn't it odd, though, that Buddy Holly, recently married and setting up home, should write about love going wrong ("Learning the Game", "Crying, Waiting, Hoping") and the marriage of his best friend?

Gary Osborne says: "I love the way he confides in you in 'Peggy Sue Got Married' it's as though he's buttonholed you in a pub for a bit of gossip. If this was the direction his songwriting was heading, then his death was an even bigger loss than most people think. It's a marvellous tune, too."

Billy Bragg adds: "After Chuck Berry's initial burst of songs, there had been a bit of a relapse but Buddy Holly cut through that with his vision of what songs could be. 'True Love Ways' is incredible – just a two-and-a-half-minute song, but it is the work of a visionary. I'd love to have written 'Peggy Sue Got Married' as I am very fond of that song, and I also love 'Raining In My Heart', although I know he didn't write it."

Buddy and Maria Elena went to Lubbock for Christmas. He finalised the personnel for his new band on the Winter Dance Party (Tommy Allsup, Waylon Jennings, Carl Bunch) and left Lubbock on New Year's Eve. Maria Elena says: "I wanted to go on tour with Buddy, but I was pregnant and had morning sickness. Buddy wanted to make some money as he felt bad that my aunt was taking care of us. He had been to England and he wanted to take me there. He even thought of opening a studio in London. He said, 'You'll see how much talent there is in England.' He would have established studios in London, New York and Lubbock."

The Winter Dance Party was a badly run tour of the American Midwest, in below freezing conditions. On 2 February 1959, Buddy, sick of the broken-down coaches and wanting time to do his laundry, chartered a plane to take him from Clear Lake, Iowa to the next venue. It crashed, shortly after midnight and within minutes of leaving the ground, killing the three musicians (Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) on board as well as the pilot.

On 7 February, Buddy Holly's funeral took place at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, Lubbock with the service conducted by Ben Johnson and more than 1,000 people present. Maria Elena was too upset to attend as she had also suffered a miscarriage. Buddy's favourite gospel record, "I'll Be Alright" by the Angelic Gospel Singers, was played. Very few of the congregation would have heard "True Love Ways" and wouldn't connect the two songs, but Holly had borrowed its opening notes.

As Buddy Holly was the first rock'n'roll star to die, various questions of ethics and taste were explored for the first time: should a record company continue his legacy, and what is the merit of tribute singles? Don McLean may have called Holly's death "the day the music died", but in effect his death ensured it was the day the music lived.

A week after his death, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" was released in the UK and went to No 1. This is the first instance of a record becoming a hit after an artist's death. In addition, the compilation, The Buddy Holly Story, was a huge success in Britain and America, remaining on the US charts for more than three years. With the release of unissued material, often with overdubbed backings, Holly had a steady stream of releases throughout the 1960s. Both "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Bo Diddley" were Top 10 singles during the British beat era.

There have been the chart-topping compilations Buddy Holly Lives (1978) and Words of Love (1993), but because of disputes between Maria Elena and the various owners of his recordings, there has not, until now, been a comprehensive CD box set. They had no choice on this: as of 1 January 2009, all recordings prior to 1959 have fallen into the public domain and reissue labels can issue packages without licence but hopefully with flair and merit.

Almost immediately after his death, there were artists who followed on from Holly – Adam Faith and Mike Berry in the UK: Bobby Vee and Tommy Roe in the US. Numerous artists have had hits with Holly's songs, including Linda Ronstadt, Leo Sayer, Mud and Cliff Richard, and he was one of Ian Dury's reasons to be cheerful. The actor Nick Berry reached No 2 with his version of the title song of the TV series Heartbeat. The Rolling Stones had their first Top 10 single with "Not Fade Away" in 1964, and the song has become a mainstay for rock jams. You can catch workouts on YouTube from Springsteen, Dylan (who saw Holly on his final tour), Status Quo and the Grateful Dead.

More significantly, Buddy Holly was a springboard for The Beatles' creativity – they chose an insect name as homage to The Crickets and Paul McCartney was to purchase his publishing rights. Philip Norman, a biographer of Holly and John Lennon, says: "John and Paul used to do a pastiche of Buddy Holly, but then everybody used to imitate Buddy that was the whole point. Buddy's voice invited you to imitate him and if you did that, you could see how the songs were put together."

The songwriter Tony Macaulay says: "Most people in the late Fifties were into Elvis Presley, but Holly was the nerd's hero. He wasn't very sexual or particularly good-looking but he had great warmth and he invented the two guitars, bass, drums line-up as we understand it now. He got more spotty, pre-pubescent boys writing songs and playing the guitar than anybody else, and I was one of them. His death had such an impact on young boys, more so I think than if Elvis Presley had died."

We can say that Buddy Holly created a series of firsts, although most of them need qualification – the first singer/songwriter of the rock'n'roll era the first to have the lead/rhythm/bass/drums line-up the first to use studio trickery such as double-tracking the first to have strings on a rock'n'roll record the first to use the Fender Stratocaster and the first rock'n'roll star to wear glasses. Not that retrogazing means much – by general acknowledgment, Bill Haley and his Comets made the first rock'n'roll record, certainly the first truly successful one – but what Haley did was totally surpassed by Elvis Presley a few months later.

Does it even matter that Buddy Holly was the first geek star? Bill Haley, Bo Diddley and Gene Vincent hardly traded on their looks, and in that department, it was really Elvis versus everybody else.

Although the bio-pic The Buddy Holly Story and the stage musical Buddy have their faults, they do show the joie de vivre of being Buddy Holly, and show that he was a maverick in the best sense – an independent-minded person who knew how to get others on his side.

Taking everything together, Buddy should be acknowledged as rock's first great all-rounder, the Ian Botham of rock'n'roll. He should be recognised for all his talents: singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, bandleader, arranger and producer. And he could perform ballads, country and rock'n'roll with a winning personality – he was good at everything. No other rock'n'roll star possessed all these attributes, although Eddie Cochran, who died in 1960, was coming up fast. Chuck Berry ticked most of the boxes but possessed no team spirit.

As Buddy Holly died young, we can only guess at what he would have achieved. If Brian Wilson had died when he was 22, we would not have known of his potential to make Pet Sounds. Buddy might have become a middle-of-the-road entertainer, and my guess is that he would have transformed country music along the lines of Willie Nelson, and would have collaborated with everyone he met.

As it is, his music is frozen in time. It is impossible to hear his recordings without thinking of his end, so they acquire an additional resonance. His legacy is certain to endure.

Spencer Leigh is the author of 'Everyday: Getting Closer to Buddy Holly', to be published by SAF in March. 'The Very Best of Buddy Holly and The Crickets' is released on Universal

The crash that changed music history

Buddy Holly woke up on Monday morning, 2 February 1959, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with his whole body aching. For the past fortnight, he had been sleeping either on the tour bus or in fleabag hotels as he played an appallingly organised tour of the American Midwest, travelling on treacherous roads in near-Arctic conditions. His run of hits was over – he hoped only temporarily – but he was free from his dishonest manager and he would be rebuilding his career in New York. The fans' reaction at each venue gave him encouragement, the only bright moments on this ungodly tour.

The touring party had had a succession of buses with broken heaters. It was impossible to socialise with the other musicians as their prime concern was keeping warm. The previous day, the drummer had been admitted to hospital with frostbite, and they had to work out who would replace him. Holly agreed to drum for 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, who was making his way up the charts with "La Bamba".

At around 9am, the tour bus – their sixth in 10 days – set off on a 350-mile journey from Green Lake to the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. It was gruelling and, with breakdowns, would take nine hours. By then, 21-year-old Roger Peterson had reported for work at Dwyer's Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa. During his short career, he had flown 700 hours, but he had failed an examination for flying by instruments alone. As no flights were scheduled, he spent the day welding.

The manager of the Surf Ballroom, Carroll Anderson, was keen to quash reports that rock'n'roll was equated with juvenile delinquency and he would admit adults to the dance for only 10 cents. When the bus arrived, Holly told Anderson that he wanted to charter a plane to take himself and his guitarists, Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings, to the next venue – the Armoury, Moorhead, Minnesota, some 500 miles away. Anderson called Jerry Dwyer who told him that the flight would cost $108. Peterson was told to report back for a flight at 12.30am to Fargo airport, North Dakota.

Buddy found time to call his new wife, Maria Elena, but he wasn't totally forthcoming. "It was the tour from hell," says Maria Elena. "Everybody got sick the buses were breaking down it was bad weather and very cold. Buddy called me in Clear Lake but he never told me about the plane. That was Buddy, though: he was always taking over."

At around 10.30pm, another tour member, the Big Bopper, who had flu, asked Waylon Jennings for his seat and, in compensation, he offered Waylon his new sleeping-bag. Waylon said: "If it's all right with Buddy, it's all right with me."

At 11.20pm, the other performers joined Holly on stage for the final songs of the evening, "La Bamba" and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man". Since his first hit, "That'll Be the Day", Buddy Holly had performed in 200 venues in 18 months.

After the show, the Big Bopper asked Buddy if he could take Waylon's place. "I hope your ol' bus freezes up again," joked Holly as Waylon chuckled back: "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes."

At midnight, Ritchie Valens, who was signing autographs, saw Allsup and pleaded for a seat on the plane. Reluctantly, Allsup tossed a coin. Ritchie Valens called "heads" and won, saying: "Gee, that's the first time I've won anything in my life." Allsup asked Holly to collect a registered letter from the post office in Moorhead, and gave Buddy his wallet for ID.

It was snowing, with 35mph gusts of wind, when they reached the airport. Peterson had not been told he might have to fly by instruments. Once airborne, Peterson was forced to depend on them and, in all probability, he misread the gyroscope, believing the plane was climbing when it was descending.

The crash, at about 170mph, was on to farmland. The right wing hit the ground and was ripped off. The plane bounced 50ft and skidded another 500ft before crashing into a fence. Peterson's body remained inside, while the fuselage split open and the others were thrown out. The Big Bopper's body was in an adjoining cornfield. Jerry Dwyer found the wreckage at 9am.

Back in Buddy's hometown of Lubbock, Larry Corbin read out the report from Associated Press on the 11 o'clock news, believing that the families had been notified. He subsequently went to Buddy's parents' home to apologise. The station had to fight to keep its licence after this error.

Buddy's brother, Travis, out on a tiling job, had a coffee break. The waitress said: "Shouldn't you go home as your brother's been killed?" He thought his other brother, Larry, had had an accident and dashed to his house. He then went to his parents' house. Larry had gone to tell Travis and then also went to his parents'.

At noon, the tour bus reached Moorhead – on time. Tommy Allsup went into Hotel Comstock while the others were sleeping, and the receptionist told him what had happened. He rang his mother and learnt that he had been presumed dead as his wallet had been found. The promoters talked the musicians into continuing the tour and the Armoury management reduced the fee as the main performers weren't there. "Real nice people," Waylon Jennings commented.

The next morning, a 13-year-old in New Rochelle, Don McLean, got up early to deliver newspapers before he went to school.

'Buddy was way ahead of the pack'

I can't remember being alive without hearing Buddy Holly. For me, it's not music, it's oxygen. My dad in Sheffield had all Holly's albums and I used to listen to them as a kid. "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" was one of the first songs I learnt to sing or play, at six years old, along with "Words of Love", "Everyday" and "That'll Be the Day".

For a young musician, all the Buddy Holly classics are a brilliant place to start. He played rhythmic chords in a lot of his solos, instead of over-flashy pyrotechnic guitar playing. There's no doubt that he was innovative and ahead of his time. The recording technique that he used – multitracking – had only just been invented by Les Paul. Most people in those days would just record live, using justone microphone.

My favourite track is "It Doesn't Matter Anymore". It is a very beautiful and sad song – but the chord structure is quite uplifting, and it has an amazing string section on it as well.

Right at the end of his life, Holly was moving away from simple rock'n'roll music to something far more complex, such as in the songs "Moondreams", "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" and "Raining In My Heart".

There's an attitude towards things that Buddy Holly had, along with a lot of other artists who influenced me, including Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Fats Domino. This was to keep things simple, and not to over-egg the pudding. There was no messing around with them, as they went straight for the jugular.

The thing about Buddy Holly that was unique was that, because of the original name of the band, The Crickets, and the way they sounded in the song 'That'll Be the Day", everybody thought they were black. He was the first white artist to play the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and nobody could believe the band was white. There was a lot of racial and cultural cross-fertilisation happening at this time, and Buddy Holly was way ahead of the pack.

Before him, artists didn't write their own songs, and he was a complete holistic entity. He produced his own music, he performed it and he also wrote it. He was a brilliant songwriter really simple, to the point, beautifully constructed two- or three-minute pop songs. That was a benchmark for bands such as The Beatles.

My kids enjoy the music as much as I do, and I am sure something in that music will appeal to the human race for ever, because its subject matter and delivery are so soulful. It's something we all need to help us along.

Gil Matthews

Gill Matthews is an Australian drummer, producer and collector of old Fender guitars. According to the documentary, he may have stumbled upon Buddy Holly’s legendary guitar.

The film, linked below, is called The ’54 and tells the history of one particular 1954 Fender Stratocaster Gil Matthews purchased two decades after the plane crash that claimed Buddy’s life. Experts cited in the film say there is a good chance that the guitar in Matthews’ possession is indeed Buddy Holly’s actual original 󈧺 Fender Stratocaster.

If this is true, then it is possibly one of the biggest finds in guitar history. You can watch the video below and see all the evidence presented during the film. I’m astonished! If this is real, then it is pretty insane that nobody picked up on this years ago. Wow!

Buddy Holly was the First White Act to Play the Apollo Theater in Harlem

Buddy Holly must have stood out when he first took the stage at the Apollo Theater on August 16, 1957. The theater guests, mostly African Americans, had come to the show that night expecting to enjoy the soulful sounds of Roy Hamilton, Shep and The Limelites, Clarence “Frogman” Henry and an R&B group called The Crickets.

So when a thin, baby-faced rock and roll Texan with thick glasses took the stage and started “hiccupping,” his way through the first song, the guests nearly booed him and his bandmates out of the theater.

Not only were Buddy Holly & The Crickets they the first all-white band ever to take the stage at the Apollo Theater, the guests were expecting to hear a completely different act that night.

According to the official Apollo Theater website, the booking agent had made a minor error. He had mistaken Buddy’s all-white rock ‘n’ roll band with the R&B group simply called “The Crickets.”

Buddy Holly & the Crickets in 1958 (top to bottom): Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly, and Joe B. Mauldin.

But as it turns out, this simple mistake would mark a historic moment for the Apollo Theater and for the new social phenomenon of rock ‘n’ roll music.

According to, The Apollo Theater was opened in 1913 on 125th Street in Harlem, New York City, by burlesque theater operators Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon.

The Apollo Theater at 253 West 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City is a music hall which is a noted venue for African-American performers.

Right away, the theater played an important role in popularizing jazz, bebop, R&B, blues, soul, swing, gospel, and blues. It quickly became a beacon of African American culture, where black musicians, dancers, and comedians, from amateur to professional, would have the chance to showcase their talents.

By 1937, the Apollo had made another significant impact in the black community. According to Frank Schiffman of the Smithsonian Institution, the Apollo Theater became the largest employer of black theatrical workers in the United States and the only theater in New York City to hire blacks into backstage positions.

Collage photos entitled At the Appolo. Photo by Jeremy.almquist CC BY-SA 4.0

Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dinah Washington made their first performance during the 1930s. During the forties, the Apollo welcomed musicians like Lionel Hampton, dancers like Teddy Hale, Babe Laurence and Bunny Briggs.

The “Amateur Night” contests at the Apollo also became a huge opportunity for unknown talent, as they awarded prizes to up-and-coming artists like Sarah Vaughan and Ruth Brown.

Apollo Theater, NYC. Photo by Karl Thomas Moore – Own work CC BY-SA 4.0

The theater also gained popularity with the USO (United Services Organizations) by reserving 35 daily tickets for soldiers. During the 1950s, it was bands like the Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan followed by Josephine Baker, who made her debut at the Apollo in 1951.

The theater featured comedy acts such as Harlem’s Son of Fun, and even a dramatic play with Sidney Poitier called The Detective Story.

In 1955, two years before Buddy Holly showed up (without being officially invited actually) Thurman Ruth’s Gospel Caravan debuted at the Apollo and Amateur Night contestants included Dionne Warwick, the Esquires, Joe Tex, and even the godfather of soul himself, James Brown.

Even the young rock star Mick Jagger got his chance to come on stage for the first time when James Brown invited him up during a performance of “Get On Up.” Ironically, Jagger tried to run out and had to be forced on stage.

Fans pay tribute to Aretha Franklin at Harlem’s Apollo Theater

In 1955, Willie Bryant hosted the first broadcast of “Showtime at the Apollo,” which was taped before the live studio audience. It featured performances by “Big” Joe Turner, Sarah Vaughan, Herb Jeffries, the Count Basie Orchestra, dancer Bill Bailey and comedian Nipsey Russell.

The Apollo was also one of the hottest spots for discovering new talent. Ella Fitzgerald debuted there (in response to a dare from her friends). She had planned to perform as a dancer, but changed her mind at the last minute and decided to sing instead. She won and would go on to join the Chick Webb Orchestra a year later.

Jimi Hendrix also won the amateur night contest on February 1964. That was the start of his stardom, and his first hit album “Are You Experienced” came only three years later.

But perhaps the most important role the Apollo Theater played is in the social evolution of the 20th Century. When Buddy Holly & The Crickets showed up unexpectedly, without being invited, the crowd was disappointed. But by the end of their second song, people were cheering and dancing in the isles.

Trading card of the Crickets, 1957: (back row, left to right) Buddy Holly, Jerry Alison, and Niki Sullivan (front) Joe Mauldin. Topps issued series cards featuring movie stars, television stars and recording stars.

This was an important event in music history because rock ‘n’ roll was more than just music. It was a social and cultural movement which bound the world of white musicians and black musicians together.

Buddy Holly’s show at The Apollo broke the “rules” which had kept these two worlds apart, and set a new standard for black and white musicians — a standard which would forever redefine popular music for all Americans.

Watch the video: True Love Ways Buddy Holly (July 2022).


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