Who was Buddy Holly? An introduction

[I hope everyone who visits Why Buddy Matters enjoys both my original posts as well as the fascinating articles I find and share. But I realized that some people might not know “the Buddy Holly story” other than from that execrable 1978 movie. From Linsdey Coye’s excellent Beatles blog, this is a snappy and informative introduction to our Man from Lubbock. I have made copy edits and corrected some small errors.]

By Lindsey Coye, as originally published on Sunday, September 7, 2014

Today we’ve developed what has become a known trend of “Hipster” glasses, but where did the Hipster glasses come from?  [Perhaps it began with] Charles Hardin Holley, or as others may know him, Buddy Holly, to thank for the “new” trend. Not only do we have Buddy to credit with what’s been adapted as Hipster glasses but we have to thank him for music, for early foundations of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Whether it’s from his popular “That’ll Be The Daywith the Crickets [sic] or as a solo artist with another well-known track, “Peggy Sue,” and many other classics that define the 1950s and would go on to influence hundreds of other musicians, from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan …  I’d like to dedicate this post to to the late-great rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and an influence to all, Buddy Holly, who was born 78 years ago today.

Image result for buddy holly's parents

A tailor by trade, Lawrence Odell (“L.O.”) Holley welcomed, with wife Ella Pauline, their fourth and final child in their home in Lubbock, Texas on September 7, 1936, naming him Charles Hardin Holley. The Holleys resided in Texas, where Charles became known as “Buddy” early on by his peers and family. At a very young age Buddy had became interested in music after learning how to play the fiddle, violin and piano by his older brothers, Larry and Travis, which later lead to winning first place in a talent contest at age five singing “Have You Ever Gone Sailing (Down the River of Memories)?” When he was 11, his parents bought him a steel guitar after Buddy made it clear the violin didn’t interest him. I could tell you all about his musical beginnings, but Travis and Larry Holley will probably do a much better job. This video is from The Real Buddy Holly Storygo to time 5:30 for an interview with Buddy’s older brothers:

When Buddy was thirteen years old, he borrowed a friend’s wire recorder and laid down the track for “My Two-Timin’ Woman” by Hank Snow. Three years later, while attending and singing in the choir at Hutchinson Junior High School, Buddy met Bob Montgomery, who was highly influenced by music himself, the two later recorded themselves singing “Take These Shackles From My Heart” and “I’ll Just Pretend” and “Footprints in the Snow” [and a good deal more — SH].

 Image result for buddy and bob

Buddy Holly, Larry Welborn, and Bob Montgomery

In  September 1953, Lubbock began broadcasting all-country music on KDAV radio, featuring a talent scout and disc jockey, Hipockets Duncan, who would give local acts a chance to perform live on the station’s Sunday Party. Buddy teamed with Bob Montgomery to form the duo as “Buddy and Bob.” 

When Buddy was 18, the duo began playing bluegrass-style setlist at school talent shows, local clubs, and even landed a weekly position on The Sunday Party. The two added Larry Welborn, a school friend who played the bass, and entered the Lubbock High School talent show performing Bob’s song “Flower of My Heart,” which won them the contest and became the Senior Class of 1954’s song. The Buddy and Bob duo would go on to perform on February 13, 1955, opening for Elvis Presley, who lent Holly his Martin guitar  for the show&mdash the group would open for Elvis twice more that year at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Texas.

”When Elvis came along, Buddy fell in love with Elvis and we began to change. The next day we became Elvis clones.” — Sonny Curtis, friend and later member of the Crickets.

On October 14, 1955, Buddy and Bob, along with bassist Larry Welborn, opened for Bill Haley and His Comets at the Fair Park Auditorium. It was there where Eddie Crandall mentioned he’d be interested in starting a  career for Buddy. At the beginning of summer in 1955, Buddy Holly graduated high school.

The following February (1956) Decca Records signed the group, misspelling Buddy’s name, dropping the ‘e’ in Holley; thus Buddy Holley became known as Buddy Holly. By this time, Larry Welborn, along with Sonny Curtis, had joined the band, calling themselves The Three TunesThe group traveled to Nashville, where they recorded three sessions with producer Owen Bradley of Decca. During these sessions Buddy would record an early version of his biggest hit, “That’ll Be The Day”, a song written by Holly and Jerry Allison after a line from the 1956 film The Searchers.  However, Decca released only two singles from these sessions (both credited to Holly); “Blue Days, Black Nights and “Modern Don Juan,” to little chart success. [Likely due to Decca’s almost complete lack of promotion. — SH.] 

Decca dropped Holly on January 22,  1957, stipulating that he could not record or release any of the songs recorded during the three sessions with any other company within the following five years. The Three Tunes didn’t work out in the end, leading to Holly forming the Crickets with Niki Sullivan, Joe B. Mauldin, and Jerry Allison.  


The Crickets

Norman Petty came on the scene after the Decca drop and became the bands manager, who allowed the group to play in his studio in Clovis, New Mexico. New opportunities for his music career took off from there as they were offered, and accepted, a deal with Brunswick Records on March 19, 1957. During this time, Buddy had also signed as a solo artist with Coral Records. The band  had yet to make the charts and had decided under Brunswick Records to go against Decca’s five-year contract, and released “That’ll Be The Day” on May 27, 1957. In hopes of getting away with the newly recorded single release, the group searched for a new band name, when Jerry Allison searched through an encyclopedia under the “insect” category [such band names were popular at that time — SH], originally thinking of calling themselves The Beetles, but as time grew closer to the release they went with The Crickets. [The order and exact nature of these events are a bit mixed up here, but the Billboard link below provides more information. — SH.]

The song moved up the charts with adverts of “Best Sellers in Stores” and was number one on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks [and was a No. 1 Billboard chart hit in the US — SH]. The Crickets released their first album, The “Chirping” Crickets, on November 27, 1957, followed by Buddy’s solo debut album, Buddy Holly, in February 1958. The Crickets went on to land a spot on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on January 26, 1958 [Their first appearance on the show was in December 1957 — SH], along with many other tours and television appearances. Their little-used bass guitarist, Niki Sullivan, quit the band within a year or so to resume his education.

In June 1958, Buddy flew to New York, where he would later move, leaving behind Allison and Mauldin in Texas. During his stay, he met Maria Elena Santiago, the receptionist at the New York publisher Peer-Southern Music. Buddy asked her out to dinner at P.J. Clarke’s restaurant and proposed to her on their first date:


Maria and Buddy

“While we were having dinner, he got up and came back with his hands behind his back. He brought out a red rose and said, ‘This is for you. Would you marry me?’ Within the beautiful red rose, there was a ring. I melted.” — Maria Holly

The two married in Lubbock on 15 August, 1958 and honeymooned in Acapulco. Maria became part of the tours, from doing laundry to setting up the equipment.

“I’d never had a boyfriend in my life. I’d never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight. It was like we were made for each other. He came into my life when I needed him, and I came into his.” — Maria Holly


Waylon Jennings and Holly during the Winter Dance Party tour

The couple resided in the Brevoort Apartments at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village where he recorded  a series of acoustic tracks, known as “the Apartment Tapes.” Without the Crickets, Buddy  spent his time thinking about future plans, such as working with Ray Charles and possibly going into film acting as his influence Elvis had done. It was then he had found out that Petty had been paying Holly and his band’s royalties to his own company. 

After Holly’s close friends Don and Phil Everly suggested he hire Harold Orenstein as his lawyer, but even with help from Orenstein, Petty refused to cave and withheld the money. With bills to pay, Buddy was forced to go back to touring  this time he’d be performing the three-week Winter Dance Party tour across the Midwest with Dion and the Belmonts, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens [and others — SH], forming a new lineup of Crickets with Tommy Allsup, Waylon Jennings, and Carl Bunch.

The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Holly

The February of 1959 was frigid, causing many trips where the tour bus broke down and stuck in thirty degrees below zero, with no heat but burning newspapers. Unfortunately, Carl Bunch had developed frostbite and was taken to the hospital.  The tour however did go one with performances in Clear Lake, Iowa at the Surf Ballroom where Buddy, Tommy, and Waylon performed as backup musicians. That night Holly had called in a small airplane and twenty-one year old pilot Roger Peterson to take him and two others to their next gig in Moorhead, Minesota when the air began to blow from a severe snow storm coming through. Valens won a coin toss against Tommy Allsup, and The Big Bopper gained his seat after Waylon Jennings gave it up due to Richardson contracting influenza. 

The Beechcraft Bonanza V-Tail took off at Mason City Airport at around 12:30 am  February 3, 1959 after Peterson was given the clearing from the control tower. Traveling at 170 mph, Peterson [apparently — SH] flew directly into the storm and lost his bearings. By the next morning the plane was found destroyed in a cornfield, the three musicians bodies lying a few yards away from the wreckage along with [found the following spring] Buddy’s glasses. Due to the storm, the bodies of all passengers lay in the snow and wind for ten hours until being discovered. Historian Harry Hepcat discribes the situation:

“… February indeed made us shiver, but it was more than cold of February that third day of the month in 1959. It was the shiver of a greater, sometimes senseless, reality invading our sheltered, partying, teenaged life of the 50’s.” 

Buddy Holly had and is still influencing many musicians. He is remembered through friends and fellow musicians who have recorded Holly covers, from The BeatlesWords Of Love”, Crying, Waiting, Hoping”, That’ll Be The Day”, “Don’t Ever Change”, to the Rolling Stones “Not Fade Away”, to Denny Laine (with help from Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney) releasing a full album of Buddy Holly covers in Holly Days, and many others. His iconic glasses inspired many other musicians to begin to wear theirs, such as John Lennon, Roy Orbison, and Elton John. The popular 1960s group, The Hollies, had adapted their name from the artist. The Crickets led to the naming of the Beatles as well.

CBS television coordinator Vic Calandra had talked with John Lennon and Paul McCartney prior to the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan debut, when Lennon asked if Calandra was there in 1957 when Buddy played:

“They were huge fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and John asked me, ‘Buddy Holly—was this the stage he was on?’ I said, ‘Yeah, in fact, I held cue cards for them.’ And he said, ‘Oh, my God!’ It was quite an experience.” — Vic Calandra

McCartney even held annual Buddy Holly celebrations on the idol’s birthday, bought the rights to Buddy Holly’s song catalog, and produced a Buddy Holly documentary, The Real Buddy Holly Story.

Bruce Springsteen revealed in a Rolling Stone interview in 1978:

“I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest.”

Bob Dylan said in 1998 while accepting Album of The Year at The Grammys for Time Out Of Mind:

“And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth Nation Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him… and he was—I don’t know how or why—but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.“  

Keith Richards states that Buddy Holly had “an influence on everybody.” The Grateful Dead even made “Not Fade Away” their seventh–most-performed song, performing it 530 times during their career. But Buddy is probably most remembered through Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie,” coining the phrase “the day the music died” about February 3, 1959.

In Lubbock, a statue of Buddy Holly playing his iconic Fender guitar stands proudly along with street names and a center/museum named after him.  On what would have been Holly’s 75th birthday, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile …
[And it still does. — SH.]




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