"He made it easy to wear glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly." (John Lennon)
Announcement of his death in the Mason City Globe-Gazette – February 3, 1959
"Four persons, three identified as nationally famous rock 'n' roll singers, died early Tuesday in a plane crash five miles north of Clear Lake. The three singers were Buddy Holly, 22, Texas, Ritchie Valens, 21, Los Angeles, and J.P. Richardson, 24, of Louisiana, known professionally as the "Big Bopper." The single-engine, four-place Beechcraft Bonanza left the Mason City Municipal airport shortly after 1 a.m. It crashed about seven miles northwest of the airport. The trip to Fargo was expected to take about 3 1/2 hours. When no word of the plane's arrival was heard, Jerry Dwyer, owner of the flying service, set out to look for the party. He was delayed several hours because of early morning fog.
Dwyer discovered the wreckage on the Albert Juhl farm at about 9:30 a.m. The wreckage was a jumbled mass which would not have been recognized as a plane. Along the skid path small bits of the plane and its contents were strewn. There was a man's shoe, a traveling bag and small pieces of the plane, including parts of the instrument panel. The bag was the largest piece except for the wing, the jumble against the fence and three bodies."
Biography – early years
"Buddy Holly gave you confidence. He was like the boy next door." (Paul McCartney)
Charles Hardin Holley was born on September 7, 1936 in Lubbock Texas. He was soon given the nickname Buddy by his parents – later on he would drop the "e" from his surname to make the name we recognise today. The Holleys moved to Lubbock in the early 1920s, the father finding work as a carpenter and a tailor to support his family during the years of the great depression. The family held a strong Baptist faith and attended church regularly. At home, the family was very musical – with the mother Ella playing piano accompaniment to the singing of her children. Buddy and his two brothers entered a talent contest when Buddy was only 5 years old – they walked away with the prize of five dollars. By the age of eight, Buddy was playing piano and violin; he continued with this for about nine months before switching to the steel guitar and finally deciding on the acoustic guitar.
During these early years therefore, music was a constant source of inspiration for the young Holly – he was particularly taken by the sound of blues and country which he often heard on the radio. His musical heros at this stage were Hank Williams, Jimmie Rogers, Bob Willis and Hank Thompson.
In 1949, Buddy met Bob Montgomery, a fellow seventh grade student at Hutchison Jr High. Bob also played guitar and sang country songs. They formed an alliance, calling themselves "Buddy and Bob", modelled themselves on the country harmony groups of the time and played at school concerts and at some local radio broadcasts. They remained together throughout their childhood years – their musical influences evolving all the time – an interest in bluegrass, rhythm and blues grew very strongly and they became very well known in the community of Lubbock – performing at local clubs and high school talent shows during 1950-52. Their style was still predominantly harmony duets with two guitars, but they were occasionally adding bass and drums.
During High School, they travelled further afield, appearing at youth clubs in New Mexico and Amarillo and at this stage they had even given their particular brand of music its own name – "Western and Bop". They frequently appeared on local radio stations by this point being much championed as the next big thing, to the extent that they were eventually given their own show on a Sunday.
By 1954, Buddy had begun to experiment with pure blues and bop music – he also started to pen his own songs, some of which – "Heartbeat" and "Love’s Made a Fool of You" would be recorded a few years later. The pair continued to perform and also started to make demo recordings which they sent to various record companies.
"We thought if you got a record contract, you were automatically rich. We had seen the country artists come through here in their Cadillacs with Tennessee license plates and we thought all you had to do was get on a record and you had it made." (Bob Montgomery)
However, their break did not come in the way they had anticipated. On October 14 1955, they were a support act to the headliners Bill Haley and the Comets at the Fair Park Auditorium. A talent scout spotted the duo and some demos were sent to Paul Cohen, head of Decca Records. A contract was immediately offered to the young Buddy, but not to Bob. Holly was reluctant to sign, but was persuaded to take his big break by his friend.
The Big Time
"Yeah... Buddy Holly... check m' out... bad motherfucker. (Keith Richards)
During 1956, Holly recorded three sessions in Nashville using a variety of different session musicians and subsequently released one single "Blue Days Black Nights"/"Love Me" which was critically acclaimed but not a commercial success. According to many, this was because the backing group had not suitably matched Buddy’s tight vocals.
A follow up single "Modern Don Juan"/"You Are My One Desire" had a similar reception and relationships between Holly and Cohen began to suffer as a consequence. His contract was not renewed and he returned home leaving behind a number of unreleased recordings including "Rock Around with Ollie Vee", "Ting-A-Ling", "Baby, Won't You Come Out Tonight" and "That'll Be The Day". He continued to record tracks in his garage at home and to cut demos at a studio in New Mexico owned by Norman Petty – an independent producer. The label Roulette Records showed some interest in Holly’s songs but were not keen to have the artist and his backing group (now officially called "The Crickets") perform them.
Demos were sent to Peer-Southern, a New York-based publishing house who passed it on to Bob Thiele at Brunswick Records (a subsidiary of Decca); this time the response was favourable. The song "That’ll be the day" was released in June 1957, and by Septmeber it had become a world-wide hit. Audiences were desperate to see the band that had recorded this catchy tune, so during the autumn of 1957, the Crickets went on tour with other acts including Fats Domino and The Everly Brothers. The Crickets were now established - Jerry Allison (drums), Joe B. Mauldin (bass), and Niki Sullivan (rhythm guitar). They had also appointed Norman Petty as their manager.
The recording sessions that followed produced hit after hit. "Oh Boy!" was the follow up to "That’ll be the Day"; "Peggy Sue" was also recorded at this stage – interestingly, it had been initially titled Cindy Lou but the name had changed during an improvisational session. By December, 1957, both singles were high up in the charts.
In February the following year, Holly and the Crickets departed on tour with Paul Anka and Jerry Lee Lewis around Australia. In March they toured around the UK whilst, back at home, "Maybe Baby" and "Think it Over" were huge chart successes. A single released as a solo project for Holly "Rave On" was also doing well.
More hits followed – "Early in the Morning" and "It’s so easy" were two of many. Sullivan left the group at this point and Tommy Allsup was brought in as a replacement – he proved to be a good choice.
Buddy goes Solo
"It's destiny, Peggy Sue... everything's destiny." (Buddy Holly)
In 1958, during a trip to meet with his publishers, Holly met and soon fell in love with Maria Elena Santiago, who worked for the company. They married two weeks later in Lubbock. After the honeymoon, the couple moved to an apartment near Greenwich Village in New York. Marriage, although not changing Buddy to a great extent, did give him a greater sense of responsibility. For example, he became increasingly annoyed by the Crickets' rowdy behaviour, particularly their excessive drinking.
"Now guys, we're getting a little older; we got to take this more seriously. You guys drink too much. It's obnoxious and I hate it." (Buddy Holly)
The group agreed to toe the line, but this was not the only relationship that was suffering – their manager Petty had been unhappy about Holly's decision to marry – fearing that it would put their female fan base at risk. He suggested that Maria Elena be known as the group's secretary. This obviously upset Holly, and the relationship never returned to the close collaboration it had once been.
The group continued to record – the singles "Reminiscing" and "Come Back Baby" had the addition of King Curits on Tenor Sax ; "Moondreams" and "True Love Ways" were recorded with the Dick Jacobs Orchestra in New York, the first time the band had used strings as a backing track.
By mid-October 1958, Holly had decided that he wished to cut all ties with Petty. Allison and Mauldin however decided to continue working with their manager – leaving Holly free to pursue a solo career. Holly made it clear that he would always welcome the group back should they ever wish to rejoin him.
Holly returned to New York and continued to write and record. The results were hits such as "Raining in My Heart" and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore". He was full of grand plans for the future – a trip to England, a project to help young artists and an album of Ray Charles material.
In January, Holly headed out on a tour entitled "The Biggest Show of Stars of 1959". The show included other talents, including Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts. On Monday February 2, the show was due to perform at Clear Lake, Iowa – Holly chartered a small plane for himself and his two group members – Allsup and Jennings. They were hoping to arrive in time to get their suits laundered. Plans were changed at the last minute – Valens and the Big Bopper took the places of Allsup and Jennings.
Ironically, it is reported that on the very night of the crash, Holly's former band members, Allison and Mauldin had been trying to get in touch with him in the hope that they could get the group back together.
"The singers and musicians I grew up with transcend nostalgia. Buddy Holly and Johnny Ace are just as valid to me today as then." (Bob Dylan)
Buddy Holly has a lasting place in the history of rock and roll for many reasons – not least because he had such a major influence on the band of the 20th century – The Beatles (Paul McCartney owns the rights to all of Holly's songs). The Crickets are generally considered to be the first "self-contained" rock and roll band – in other words they recorded as a band and sounded the same live – the same line up – no added extras. Holly has also been credited for popularising the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.
A film "The Buddy Holly Story" was made in 1978 – with Gary Busey in the lead role. There has also been a musical / stage show made, again entitled "The Buddy Holly Story". The British band The Hollies were so named as a tribute to the great man; he has appeared in works of literature by authors such as Stephen King and in 1994 the band Weezer named a song after him. His most famous tribute however is probably in Don Mclean’s "American Pie" – where the singer refers to the death of Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper as "The Day the Music Died".
"Holly passed it on via the Beatles and via us. He's in everybody... this is not bad for a guy from Lubbock, right?" (Keith Richards)
Singles (United States Release)
Albums (United States Release)