Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 - February 3, 1959), known as Buddy Holly, was an American musician and singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crash, Holly is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll." His works and innovations inspired and influenced contemporary and later musicians, notably the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello, and exerted a profound influence on popular music. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Holly number 13 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
Life and career:
Early life and beginnings in music (1936-1955):
Charles Hardin Holley was born on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas, at 3:30 pm. The fourth child of Lawrence Odell "L.O" Holley and Ella Pauline Drake. His older siblings were Larry (born in 1925) Travis (born in 1927) and Patricia Lou (born in 1929). From his early childhood, he was nicknamed "Buddy" by his family and friends. During the Great Depression, the Holleys moved often within Lubbock; L.O changed jobs several times. The family were members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church.
The Holleys had interest in music, with all the family members except L.O able to play an instrument or sing. The older Holley brothers performed on local talent shows. On an occasion, Buddy joined them on the violin. Since he could not play it, his brother Larry greased the strings so it would not sound. The brothers won the contest. During the Second World War, Larry and Travis were called to service. Upon his return, Larry returned with a guitar he had bought from a shipmate while serving on the Pacific. At age eleven, Buddy took piano lessons, but left it after nine months. He decided to switch to guitar after he saw a classmate playing and singing on the school bus. His parents initially bought him a steel guitar, but he insisted that he wanted a guitar like his brother's. His parents bought the guitar from a pawn shop, while his brother Travis taught him to play.
During his early childhood he was influenced by the music of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Snow, Bob Wills and the Carter Family. At Roscoe Wilson Elementary he met and became friends with Bob Montgomery. Montgomery and Holley would play together, practicing with songs by the Louvin Brothers and Johnny and Jack. Both would hear the Grand Ole Opry on WSM , the Louisiana Hayride on KWKH and the Big D Jamboree. At the same time, Holley would play with other musicians he met in high school including Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison. In 1952, he participated in a talent contest on a local television show, with Jack Neal. The duo was billed as "Buddy and Jack". After Neal left, he was replaced by Montgomery, and they were billed as "Buddy and Bob". The two soon started performing on the Sunday Party show on KDAV in 1953, and around town.
By 1955, after he graduated from high school, Holley decided to pursue full-time a career in music. He was further encouraged after seeing Elvis Presley performing live in Lubbock, whose act was booked by Pappy Dave Stone of KDAV. In February he opened for Presley at the Fair Park Coliseum, in April at the Cotton Club and again in June at the Coliseum. By that time, he had incorporated Larry Welborne on the stand-up bass and Allison as his drummer, as his style shifted from country & western to rock and roll. In October, Stone booked Bill Haley & His Comets and placed Holley as the opening act to be seen by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall. Impressed, Crandall convinced Grand Ole Opry manager Jim Denny to seek a recording contract for Holley. Stone sent a demo tape, which Denny forwarded to Paul Cohen, who signed them to Decca Records in February 1956. In the contract, Decca misspelled his last name as "Holly", and from then on, he was known as "Buddy Holly".
Association with Norman Petty, the Crickets and success (1956-1957):
On January 26, 1956 Holly attended his first formal recording session, produced by Owen Bradley. He attended two more sessions in Nashville, but was increasingly frustrated by his lack of creative control, with the producer selecting the session musicians and arrangements. In April 1956 Decca released "Blue Days, Black Nights" with "Love Me" on the flipside. Denny included Holly on a tour as the opening act for Faron Young. During the tour, they were promoted as "Buddy Holly and the Two Tones", while later Decca called them "Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes". The label later released Holly's second single "Modern Don Juan" backed with "You Are My One Desire". Both singles failed to make an impression. On January 22, 1957, Decca informed Holly his contract would not be renewed, insisting, however, that he could not record the same songs for anyone else for five years.
Unhappy with the results and inspired by the success of Buddy Knox's "Party Doll" and Jimmy Bowen's "I'm Sticking to You", Holly decided to visit Norman Petty, who produced and promoted both records. Together with Allison, bassist Joe B. Mauldin and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, he went to Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico. The group recorded a demo of "That'll Be the Day", a song they previously tried in Nashville. Now playing on the lead guitar, Holly achieved the desired sound. Petty became his manager and sent the record to Brunswick Records, in New York City. Since Holly was still under contract with Decca and could not use his name, it was decided a band name was to be used. Allison proposed the name "Crickets", which he found in a dictionary. Brunswick signed the band on March 19, 1957. Impressed by the demo, the executives of the label decided to release it directly to record, without recording a new version. The song was released with "I'm Looking For Someone to Love" on the flipside, and the single was credited to the Crickets. Petty and Holly would later learn that Brunswick was a subsidiary of Decca, which legally cleared future recordings under the name of Holly. The recordings credited to the Crickets would be released on Brunswick, while the recordings under Holly's name were on another subsidiary, Coral Records. Therefore, the singer held a recording contract with both labels at the same time.
"That'll Be the Day" was released on May 27, 1957 with "Rock Around With Ollie Vee" on the B-side. Petty booked Holly and the Crickets for a tour with Irving Feld. Feld had noticed the band after the single appeared on the rhythm and blues chart. He booked them for appearances in Washington D.C, Baltimore and New York City. The band was booked at New York's Apollo Theater for August 16-22. During the opening performances the group did not impress the audience, but they were accepted after they included in the shows "Bo Diddley". By the end of their stint at the Apollo, "That'll Be the Day" was climbing the charts. Propelled by the success of the record, Petty started to prepare two album releases: a solo for Holly and another one of the Crickets. Holly appeared on American Bandstand hosted by Dick Clark on ABC on August 26. Before leaving New York, the band befriended the Everly Brothers.
"That'll Be the Day" topped the US "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on September 23, and was No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks in November. On September 20, Coral released "Peggy Sue" backed with "Everyday" with Holly credited as the performer. By October, "Peggy Sue" had reached number three on Billboard's pop chart and number two on the rhythm & blues chart, while it peaked at number six on the UK Singles chart. As the success of the song grew, it brought more attention to Holly, with the band at the time being billed as "Buddy Holly and the Crickets".
By the last week of September, the band members flew to Lubbock to visit their families. A recording session was arranged by Petty to take place in Oklahoma City, where he was performing with his own band. While the band drove to the location, the producer set up a makeshift studio. The rest of the songs needed for an album and singles material were recorded, while Petty later dubbed the material in Clovis, New Mexico.The "Chirping" Crickets was released on November 27, 1957. It reached number five on the UK Albums Chart. In October Brunswick released the second single by the Crickets, "Oh, Boy!" with "Not Fade Away" on the B-side. The single reached number ten on the pop chart and thirteen on the rhythm and blues chart. Holly and the Crickets performed "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 1, 1957. Following the appearance, Niki Sullivan left the group due to the intensive touring. On December 29, Holly and the Crickets performed "Peggy Sue" on The Arthur Murray Party.
International tours and end of association with Petty (1958):
On January 8, 1958, Holly and the Crickets joined America's Greatest Teenage Recording Stars tour. On January 25, Holly recorded "Rave On!", the next day Holly made his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, singing "Oh, Boy!". He departed to perform in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 27, and later started a week-long tour of Australia. By February, the band toured England, and played fifty shows in twenty-five days. The same month his debut solo album, Buddy Holly was released. Upon their return to the United States, Holly and The Crickets joined Alan Freed's Big Beat Show tour for forty-one dates. Decca then released in April That'll Be the Day, featured the songs recorded with Bradley during his early Nashville sessions.
A new recording session was arranged in May in Clovis. Holly hired Tommy Allsup to play the lead guitar. The session produced the recordings of "It's So Easy" and "Heartbeat". Impressed by Allsup, Holly invited him to join the Crickets. In June, Holly travelled alone to New York for a solo recording session. Without the Crickets, Holly chose to be backed by a jazz and rhythm & blues band. He chose to record "Now We're One" and Bobby Darin's "Early in the Morning".
During his visit to the offices of Peer-South, he met Maria Elena Santiago, the secretary of executive Murray Deutch. Holly asked Santiago out on their first meeting, and eventually proposed her to marry him on their first date. The wedding took place on August 15. Petty disapproved the marriage, and advised to keep it secret to avoid a negative impact on Holly's female fans. Petty's reaction created friction with Holly, who at the time also started to question his manager's bookkeeping. The Crickets also conflicted with Petty, frustrated by the fact that he controlled all of the proceeds from the band.
The Hollys frequented many of New York's music venues, including The Village Gate, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, and Johnny Johnson's. Santiago later declared that Holly was keen to learn fingerstyle flamenco guitar, and would often visit her aunt's home to play the piano there. Holly planned collaborations between soul singers and rock & roll, and desired to make an album with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. He also had ambitions to work in film, and registered for acting classes with Lee Strasburg's Actors Studio.
Santiago accompanied Holly on tours. Hiding her relation to him, she was presented as the Crickets' secretary. She took care of the laundry, equipment setup and collected the concert revenues. The money was kept by Santiago for the band instead of their habitual transfer to Petty in New Mexico. Santiago and her aunt Provi Garcia, executive of the Latin American music department at Peer-Southern, made Holly aware that Petty was paying the band's royalties from Coral-Brunswick into his own company's account. Holly planned to retrieve his royalties from Petty, and to later fire him as manager and producer. At the recommendation of the Everly Brothers, he hired lawyer Harold Orenstein to negotiate his royalties.
Meanwhile Holly returned to Clovis for a new recording session in September that yielded "Reminiscing" and "Come Back Baby". During the same session Holly ventured into producing by recording Lubbock DJ Waylon Jennings. Holly produced for Jennings the single "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)". At the time, Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music, recording and publishing scene. The Hollys settled in Apartment 4H of the Brevoort Apartments located at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. There he recorded a series of acoustic songs, including "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and "What to Do". In October, backed by an eighteen-piece orchestra composed by former members of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and including saxophonist Benny Goodman, Holly recorded tracks for Coral. The three-and-a-half hour session produced "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", "Raining in My Heart", "Moondreams" and "True Love Ways".
Holly put an end to his association with Petty in December. As his band members decided to stay with the manager, Holly also split from the Crickets. With the money from the royalties still held by Petty, Holly was forced to form a new band and to go back on the road.
Winter Dance Party Tour and death (1959):
Before the tour, Holly vacationed with his wife in Lubbock, and visited Jennings' radio station in December 1958. For the start of the "Winter Dance Party" tour, he assembled a band consisting of Jennings, Allsup (guitar) and Carl Bunch (drums). Holly and Jennings left for New York City, arriving on January 15, 1959. Jennings stayed at Holly's apartment by Washington Square Park, on the days prior to a meeting scheduled on the headquarters of the General Artists Corporation, that organized the tour. They later took a train to Chicago to join the rest of the band.
The tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1959. The amount of travel created logistical problems. The distance between venues had not been considered when scheduling each performance. Adding to the disarray, the tour buses were not equipped for the weather and twice broke down. To gain time to sleep and do laundry after a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a plane for himself, Jennings and Allsup to avoid the long bus trip to Moorhead, Minnesota. Jennings gave up his seat to J. P. Richardson, who was suffering from the flu and complaining about how uncomfortable the bus was for a man of his size.
The pilot, Roger Peterson, took off in inclement weather, even though he was not certified to fly by instruments only. In the early morning hours of February 3, Holly, along with Ritchie Valens, J. P. Richardson, and the pilot, were all killed when the plane crashed shortly after take-off.
Holly's funeral was held on February 7, 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Hollys' wedding just months earlier. The pallbearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend due to his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party. Holly's body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery in the eastern part of the city. His headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Holly's pregnant wife watched the first reports of his death on television. A widow after six months of marriage, she miscarried the following day, attributed to "psychological trauma". His mother, who heard the news on the radio in Lubbock, Texas, collapsed. Because of María Elena's miscarriage, the authorities, in the months following, implemented a policy against announcing victims' names until after families are informed. María Elena Holly did not attend the funeral, and has never visited the gravesite. She later told the Avalanche-Journal: "In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn't with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane."
Image and style:
Holly's singing style was characterized by his vocal hiccups, and his alternation between his regular voice and falsetto. His "stuttering vocals" were complemented by the use of the guitar with percussive playing, solos, stops, bent notes and rhythm and blues chord progressions. Holly bought his first Fender Stratocaster, which became his signature guitar, at Harrod Music in Lubbock for US$249.50. At the time a guitar popular among country musicians, Holly chose it due to its loud sound. His "innovative" playing style was characterized by its blending of "chunky rhythm" and "high string lead work". He played his first Stratocaster, a 1954 model, until it was stolen during a tour stop in Michigan in 1957. To replace it, he purchased a 1957 model before a show in Detroit. Holly owned between four and five Stratocasters during his career.
On their beginnings, Holly and the band wore business suits they purchased in Texas. Upon meeting the Everly Brothers, Don Everly took the band to Phil's Men's shop in New York City and introduced them to Ivy League clothes. The brothers also advised Holly to replace his old-styled glasses with Horn-rimmed glasses, that were popularized at the time by Steve Allen. Holly bought from Lubbock optometrist Dr. J. Davis Armistead a set of glasses made in Mexico. Teenagers around the United States started to request the type of glasses, which were later popularly known as "Buddy Holly glasses".
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included Holly among its first class in 1986. On its entry, the Hall of Fame remarked the large amount of material he produced during a short career, and declared that it "made a major and lasting impact on popular music". It called him an "innovator" for writing his own material, his experimentation with double tracking and the use of orchestration; while it also added that he "pioneered and popularized the now-standard" use of two guitars, bass and drums by rock bands.The Songwriters Hall of Fame also inducted Holly in 1986, and stated that his contributions "changed the face of Rock 'n Roll".
In 1997, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave Holly the Lifetime Achievement Award.Encyclopædia Britannica stated that Holly "produced some of the most distinctive and influential work in rock music".AllMusic defined him as "the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll".Rolling Stone ranked him at number thirteen on its "100 Greatest Artists" list. In 2011, a star bearing his name was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, commemorating his 75th birthday.
In 1980, Grant Speed sculpted a statue of Holly playing his Fender guitar. This statue is the centerpiece of Lubbock's Walk of Fame, which honors notable people who contributed to Lubbock's musical history. Other memorials to Buddy Holly include a street named in his honor and The Buddy Holly Center, which contains a museum of Holly memorabilia as well as a Fine Arts Gallery. The Center is located on Crickets Avenue, one street over from Buddy Holly Avenue, in what used to be the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway Depot. In 2010, Grant Speed's statue was taken down for refurbishment, and construction began on a new Walk of Fame. On May 9, 2011, the City of Lubbock held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza, the new home of the statue and the Walk of Fame.
Teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw Holly for the first time during his performance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Holly made his appearance in the musical scene as the two met and started their musical association. Lennon and McCartney studied Holly's records. From them, they learned his performance style and lyricism, and based their acts in Holly's persona. later chose the band name "The Beatles" , inspired by Holly's bug-themed Crickets. The two musicians later cited him as his main influence.
The Quarrymen covered "That'll Be the Day" during their first recording in 1958. Years later, during breaks in the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, CBS coordinator Vic Calandra talked with McCartney and Lennon. Lennon asked him about the Holly performances. Calandra declared that the musicians expressed repeatedly their appreciation for Holly. The Beatles did a cover of "Words of Love" that was a close reproduction of Holly's version, released on late 1964's Beatles for Sale (in the U.S., in June 1965 on Beatles VI). During the January 1969 sessions for the Let It Be album, the Beatles played a slow impromptu version of "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" - although not written by Holly, it was popularized by him - with Lennon mimicking Holly's vocal style. Lennon recorded a cover version of "Peggy Sue" on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll. McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly's song catalog.
17-year-old Bob Dylan attended the January 31, 1959, show, two nights before Holly's death. Dylan referred to this in his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech for his Time Out of Mind being named Album of the Year: "And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him...and he LOOKED at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that 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."
Mick Jagger saw Holly performing live in Woolwich during his England tour, and particularly remembered his performance of "Not Fade Away". The song also became an inspiration for Keith Richards, that modeled his early guitar play on the track. The rolling stones had a hit version of the track in 1964. Richards later stated about Holly's influence: "He passed it on via the Beatles and via (the Rolling Stones) ... He's in everybody".
Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad "American Pie" was inspired by Holly and the day of the plane crash. A line of the song, calling the incident "The Day the Music Died" became popularly associated with it, and dubbed it under the name in later references. The American Pie album is dedicated to Holly. In 2015, McLean wrote: "Buddy Holly would have the same stature musically whether he would have lived or died, because of his accomplishments ... By the time he was 22 years old he had recorded some 50 tracks, most of which he had written himself ... in my view and the view of many others, a hit ... Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the template for all the rock bands that followed".
The launch of Bobby Vee's successful musical career resulted from Holly's death, when he was selected to replace Holly on the tour that continued after the plane crash. Holly's profound influence on Vee's singing style can be heard in such songs as "Rubber Ball" (the flip side of which was a cover of Holly's "Everyday") and "Run to Him." The name of the singing group the Hollies is often attributed as a tribute to Holly. According to the band, the group admired Holly . but their name was inspired primarily by the sprigs of holly in evidence around Christmas of 1962. In an August 24, 1978, Rolling Stone interview, Bruce Springsteen told Dave Marsh, "I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest." The Grateful Dead performed the song "Not Fade Away" in concerts.
Film and musical depictions:
Holly's life story inspired a Hollywood biographical film, The Buddy Holly Story (1978). Star Gary Busey received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Holly. The movie was widely criticized by the rock community and Holly's friends and family for its inaccuracies. This led Paul McCartney to produce and host his own documentary about Holly in 1985, titled The Real Buddy Holly Story. This video includes interviews with Keith Richards, Phil and Don Everly, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Holly's family, and McCartney himself, among others.
In 1987, Marshall Crenshaw portrayed Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba. He is featured performing at the Surf Ballroom and boarding the doomed airplane with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Crenshaw's version of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" is featured on the La Bamba original motion picture soundtrack.
Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, the jukebox musical depicting his life, is credited as being the first of its kind, spawning a breed of jukebox shows, including the likes of Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You. Buddy - as it is abbreviated on occasion - started in the late 1980s and its most recent a UK tour went out in February 2011.
Holly was depicted in the Quantum Leap episode titled "How the Tess Was Won" although his identity isn't revealed until the very end of the episode. According to this episode, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) influences Buddy Holly to change the lyrics from "piggy, suey" to "Peggy Sue", thus setting up Holly's future hit song.
There are also a number of acts in both the US (Johnny Rogers, John Mueller) and the UK (Marc Robinson, Spencer J etc.) who specialize in performing Holly's songs.
In 2010, Guy Kent portrayed a modern-day interpretation of Holly in the independent film The Day the Music Died.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license