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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. Many music history resources such as TakeLessons resources list these two greats. 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 years
Buddy was born in Lubbock, Texas, in September 1936, as "Charles Hardin Holley. Due to a misspelling on his first contract with Decca Records, it was written as Holly. 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. Buddy and his two brothers entered a talent contest when he was about 10 years old. 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 stardom
The years 1956 and 1957 were pivotal to Holly`s success. He traveled paths less taken by adding a drummer, Jerry Allison, to the group. That was a departure from the standard country-western way of doing things. 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. By that time, Niki Sullivan had joined the band as rhythm guitar player. 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. After the initial shock of both audience and performers when the curtain went up, Buddy and company soldiered on, and by the end of the gig were receiving enthusiastic applause. 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 breakup
In the autumn of `58, the group began to fall apart. One of their last appearances together was also Holly`s last show on American Bandstand. 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. Richardson, a.k.a. 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."
The 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. While they were performing, everyone was warm and toasty, but when it was time to ride the bus to their next location, there were some chilly individuals by morning because the bus heater was on the fritz. 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. Holly boarded the plane shortly after 1 a.m., February 3, along with Richardson, who, because he had the flu, took Jennings` seat. 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. Seven miles west of the airport in Mason City, Iowa, the airplane went down in a corn field near Clear Lake. There were no survivors.
Buddy Holly remembered
In 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 fame
Buddy 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 | Buddy Holly
... Discuss This Page! An entertaining, albeit brief, collection of recordings Holly made before the success of "That'll Be the Day" turned him into an overnight star. The emphasis here is mostly on straight-ahead, guitar-driven rockabilly ...
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Gary Busey, who played Buddy in The Buddy Holly Story, bought his guitar for $242,000. The Hard Rock Cafe bought Holly's trademark eyeglasses for $45,100. Bibliography: Ron Tyler, ed., The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 3 (Austin, Texas: TexaBuddy Holly Story, bought his guitar for $242,000. The Hard Rock Cafe bought Holly's trademark eyeglasses for $45,100. Bibliography: Ron Tyler, ed., The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 3 (Austin, Texas: Texas State ...