FIRST of a two-part series marking the 53rd anniversary of the death of American rock and roll singer Buddy Holly (September 1936-February 1959).
HE grew up on the dusty, windswept forlorn plains of the Western Texas panhandle.
About as far away imaginable from upbeat musics centers or downbeat metropolitan cultural cores.
The setting was pure country conservative and he would remain that way his entire short lived life.
Born in 1936, not just in the thick of the Bible belt but in the buckle of the belt, as the locals liked to joke, his parents christened him Charles Hardin but in the good old town ‘the city of churches’ Lubbock, Texas, his friends just called him Buddy.
Ironically he lived just six blocks from my Aunt Mary, although she had never heard of him until his death.
The surrounding countryside wasn’t any friendlier, it wasn’t just desert sand, lonesome, arid and bone dry to look at but even harder to swallow, as Lubbock was also religiously dry; you’d have to drive for over 100 miles to get a cold beer.
Buddy had no contact with the black sound of the day either, in fact Lubbock was one of the racially unintegrated cities of the south. Life in Lubbock was either black or white.
For duty one went to church and for fun one listened to the radio.
The City was bombarded by crosswinds of radio waves that blew in from such unconceivable energized hubs as Nashville, Shreveport and Dallas.
If you weren’t in the pews you’d be out listenin´ to the sweet sounds of the Grand Ole Opry, the Louisiana Hayride and the Big D Jamboree.
But Buddy’s sound was his own. It was new, rebellious, had an inventive beat and rhymed with the times: Rock-a-Billy had almost been born.
His best friends formed a backup group called the Crickets and from their very first recording Buddy Holly & the Crickets were an instant success.
Just about every 10 years somebody re-records one of Buddy’s songs and he comes sweeping back into the charts to remind us of his unique style and our sudden loss.
His untimely death is still honored in that uncanny tune that was top of the charts in America for some 16 weeks back in ´71-´72 but many remember the melody and most of all the words.
Don Maclean´s homespun ditty couldn’t have been more aptly named; ‘American Pie’ for that was Buddy, (even though his name was never mentioned):
A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
Some wonder if he wouldn’t be as popular today if he hadn’t died, while others say that the Holly image has remained constant and will continue to attract the juvenile buyer because his ‘young sound’” stays the same.
Paul McCartney once said: “At least the first 40 songs we [The Beatles] wrote were Buddy Holly-influenced.”
Lennon drew a personal lesson from Holly, he wrote to a fan: “He made it O.K. to wear glasses – I was Buddy Holly”.
The first recording Lennon and McCartney ever made, in their pre- eatles days as the Quarrymen, was a version of ‘That´Ll Be The Day’.
The name of the Beatles was coined by John Lennon in 1959 – the example of the Crickets had brought other insect names to mind. A 1974 Newsweek feature quoted Bob Dylan as saying: “he music of the late 50´s and early 60´s, when music was at the root level, for me, is meaningful music.
The singers and musicians I grew up with transcend nostalgia…Buddy Holly and Johnny Ace are just as valid to me today as then.” In those few years between 1956 and his death Holly played with everybody and went everywhere.
His music reads like the Who’s Who of early Rock ´n Roll. Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, The Drifters, The Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Hayley and The Comets, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darren, Deon and The Belmonts, The Coasters, Richie Valens and lastly
The Big Bopper. Rock was young in those days and the only way to make it grow was to roll it to the masses. A bus tour was arranged in the winter of ´58 – ´59; it played in such memorable places as Kenosha, Wisconsin; Mankato, Minnesota; Fort Dodge, Iowa; Green Bay, Wisconsin but all the books will tell you that it ended in Mason City, Iowa where I grew up.
Close, but no cigar. His last venue was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, just nine miles down the road. On the way the concert bus broke down twice. It was so cold in fact that fires were actually created in the bus to keep the performers warm.
They arrived at 6pm in Clear Lake to do the performance that was to start at 8 pm.
With no sleep, a quick decision was made by Buddy to rent an airplane from the Mason City Airport and fly that night to Mankato to try to get some sleep and rest before the next day’s show.