BUDDY HOLLY (By John A. Alexander)
Born Charles Hardin Holley, September 7 1936, Lubbock, Texas.
People don't associate the name "Charles" with the heady world of rock and roll. Perhaps this is why Ella Holley decided to call him Buddy rather than use his christened name. Whether or not she had some special foresight we may never know, but it is now impossible to consider what the world of rock and roll would have been like had it not been for her son, Charles Hardin Holley. Born September 7, 1936 Buddy grew to be a tall chap, but his physical stature was nothing compared to his status as a true giant in the history of popular music. His hometown of Lubbock, situated well into the old bible belt of the southern USA in the great state of Texas, is rated as nothing special even by others from there. Indeed, there is a Mac Davis song with the line "I thought happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rear view mirror". For sure, the town owes a lot to its most famous son.
Like many other stars in the history of music Buddy showed talent from an early age; luckily for us he not only had talent but also drive and innovation. The heady mix of gospel, hillbilly, country and of course rhythm and blues were there for Buddy to work with and within his sadly short career it is easy to see elements of all three, plus that little bit of magic that Buddy, like a master chef, added to the basic ingredients of classic rock and roll. Buddy's first real move towards a musical career came in his time with Bob Montgomery as Buddy & Bob working on the local radio station KDAV in Lubbock. A local DJ, Hi-Pockets Duncan gave the duo their opening and was also their first manager.
In 1955 Buddy saw Elvis perform. This is one event that really spurred him on and shortly afterwards Decca, in their attempt to milk the rock and roll cash cow, gave Buddy a contract. With the help of session men the Decca recordings constitute some of the finest rockabilly ever, but Decca did not understand the new music - country was their forte - and they let Buddy go in 1957.
It was after the ill-fated short lived relationship with Decca that Buddy started his association with Norman Petty who had a small studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Both Elvis and Buddy had managers who are never likely to be listed as the most ethical of men. However at least Norman Petty gave Buddy an environment in which he could experiment with his music and really let his creative talents come to the fore. Buddy and the Crickets were able to work in the studio at their own pace without the restrictions of the unionised studios and associated pressures that they faced with Decca. The results were ground-breaking. Here was a band that wrote their own songs and the simple format of a couple of guitars, bass and drums laid the way for others such as the Beatles. I, for one, wish that some of the backing vocals from the Picks and the Roses had been omitted, but you cannot please everybody. The recordings made in Norman’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico are the reason why Buddy is held in such high regard by musicians and fans to this day.
The first single was "I'm Looking For Someone To Love" with "That'll Be The Day" as the B side. The B side was a re-recording of a track Buddy had recorded for Decca and the new version became his first hit and an all-time classic. Buddy Holly and The Crickets became big time artists with the success of “That'll Be The Day”. The US label Brunswick issued the single credited to the Crickets and shortly after Coral issued "Words Of Love" by Buddy Holly. This was due to an unusual arrangement by which the Crickets (complete with Buddy) were signed to one label and Buddy (yes, with the Crickets in all but name) were signed to another. However, the next big one was to be "Peggy Sue" on Coral under Buddy's name which was released while "That'll Be The Day" was still at number one. Although originally called Cindy Lou, the title was changed and Jerry Allison's girlfriend, Peggy Sue Gerron, was handed rock and roll immortality on a plate.
Buddy and the band toured extensively on the back of their success, and not just in the USA; Australia and Britain were also visited. When in England one of the venues they appeared at was the Philharmonic in Liverpool but poor John Lennon and Paul McCartney failed to get enough money for tickets and had to rely on friends to tell them all about it.
1957 was the pinnacle for Buddy (and possibly rock and roll as well) ; by the end of '58 Buddy had moved from Lubbock to New York, married Maria Elena and the rock and roll bubble was about to burst. Elvis was in the army, payola scandals and so on were all taking their toll. Buddy, strapped for cash, went on the Winter Dance Party Tour. One stop on the tour was Duluth where Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) did do better than John and Paul by managing to get a ticket to see the show. The best that can be said for the tour is that it was ill conceived, the number of dates and amount of travelling by road at the height of winter placed unimaginable strains on all involved. The strains (and for that matter stains, as he wanted to get some clean laundry) led Buddy to convince his protégé, Waylon Jennings, to give him a seat on a small plane that had been chartered as an alternative to the unreliable tour bus to get to the next venue in Fargo, North Dakota. The plane, a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza piloted by Roger Peterson, that also had The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens on board, crashed shortly after take-off in the early hours of February 3, 1959. All four on board were killed in the crash on the day that is now known as "The Day The Music Died". Ironically Buddy's hit at the time was "It Doesn't Matter Anymore".
For me, all of Buddy's recordings have merit (with the exception of "Wait Til The Sun Shines Nelly") whether it be rockabilly such as “Rock Around With Ollie Vee” or the superbly produced love song, “True Love Ways”. His magic has touched millions and inspired others such as McCartney, Lennon and Dylan to pursue their own musical careers. The Rolling Stones recorded "Not Fade Away" and had a hit with it. Graham Nash, Alan Clarke et al allegedly called their group (The Hollies) after Buddy and countless others have recorded one or more of his 40 songs. As proof of the timeless nature of his music Buddy last had an album in the UK charts in 1996 when the collection, “The Very Best Of Buddy Holly" reached number 24. Whatever his motives were, I thank Norman Petty for his work with the Fireballs and their work on some of Buddy's demos, in particular "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" which was a hit in the UK in 1963 and my introduction, at the age of 8, to the great man.
More info : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_Holly
The 6 LP/cassette set, "The Buddy Holly Story" which has never been legally available in CD form was shown to be incomplete by the 4 CD bootleg set from Vigotone "What You've Been-A Missin’” (Vigotone - Vigo 134-137) There is another bootleg, a 6 CD set called "The Buddy I Knew", which is as about as complete as can be, but it is hard to get.
If anybody wants a copy of the radio show I produced in 1979 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buddy's death which has truly exclusive interviews with Buddy's mum (Ella), his widow (Maria Elena) and manager (Norman Petty) then send me a private message.
John A. Alexander, July 2016
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