Buddy Holly had a short career, but it definitely was one full of memorable hits that have influenced many artists over the years. From songs to films and even a jukebox musical, it is clear that he will stand the test of time.
His music was ahead of its time influencing bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, while not conforming to the Rock ‘n’ Roll three cord style, and also writing his own songs.
This is the story of a career cut short but not without some of the most memorable and ground breaking music of the late 1950s.
The Origins Of Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley, yes with an ey, on 7th September 1936 in Lubbock, Texas. He was baptized and raised in a southern Baptist family and the youngest of four he has Welsh and English ancestry as well as some Native American. From a young age he would have a great interest in music, just like the rest of the Holleys, learning guitar after his older brother, Larry, brought one back after returning from World War II. Buddy would also learn the piano at age 11 and the steel guitar some time later.
His influences would include the likes of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and The Carter Family. Listening to radio programs from the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride would greatly inspire him as did the late-night radio stations that played blues and R&B. He would blend both these styles to create the Buddy Holly sound.
In 1955 Holly knew what he wanted out of life, to make a fulltime career out of music which was further solidified upon seeing Elvis Presley preform in Lubbock. In February, April, and June the following year he would be the opening act for Presley. Joining him was Larry Welborn on stand-up bass and Jerry Allison on drums while his music shifted from country and western to rock and roll. The group would also open for Bill Haley & His Comets that October. They would sign with Decca Records in February 1956, due to a misspelling on the contract his name would be changed from Holley to Holly.
On 26th January 1956 Holly would begin recording for Decca but became frustrated with the lack of creative control. He has no control over the musical arrangement, and they had brought in session musicians. In April Decca released Blue Days, Black Nights with Love Me as it’s B-side. His second single, Modern Don Juan/You Are My One Desire, would be released later while he was touring as an opening act for Faron Young. On 22nd January 1957 Decca informed Holly they would not be renewing his contact but also informed him he would be unable to re-record any of his music for five years.
Buddy Holly And The Crickets
Holly, being unhappy and deflated by his experience at Decca looked to Norman Petty to help record, produce, and promote his music. He wanted to work with Petty as he had helped Party Doll by Buddy Knox and I’m Stickin’ with You by Jimmy Bowen become highly successful. Allison, Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan, along with Holly, headed to Petty’s New Mexico studio and that is where they recorded That’ll Be the Day. Buddy Holly was thrilled with being able to achieve the sound he truly wanted now that he was playing the lead guitar and Petty would become his manager.
Buddy Holly was still under contact with Decca at this point and could not release his record under his own name. Brunswick Records, who petty had sent the recording to, agreed and so The Crickets were born. It was actually Allison who came up with the name while Brunswick gave Holly a basic agreement giving him the freedom he wanted artistically and financially.
The record label released the demo, as it was so impressive, with the B-side being I’m Looking for Someone to Love and was credited to The Crickets. As luck would have it Brunswick was a subsidiary of Decca meaning legally he could release re-recordings of his previous work. Holly would hold two different recording contacts with Brunswick holding the one for The Crickets while Coral Records, another subsidiary of Decca, handled Holly’s solo releases.
That’ll Be the Day was released on 27th May 1957 topping both the US “Best Sellers in Stores” chart [23/09/57] and the UK Singles Chart [Nov] as well as appearing on the R&B charts in the US. In support of their new single Buddy Holly and The Crickets would play a handful of shows and Buddy would appear on the Dick Clark’s American Bandstand that August. Petty at the time was preparing for two album releases to capitalise on the buzz surrounding Holly and The Crickets.
That September Peggy Sue and Everyday would be released with the former being successful in the Billboard pop chart, the R&B chart, and the UK Singles chart. Holly and The Crickets would begin recording again, this time for a Crickets album, aptly named The “Chirping Crickets that November. Before the album was released, the groups second single would be released Oh, Boy! /Not Fade Away which would reach No.10 in the pop charts and No.13 on the R&B chart. They would preform on The Ed Sullivan Show in December with Niki Sullivan leaving the group the following day, wanting to focus on his studies.
In January 1958 Holly and The Crickets would go on tour until the end of the month, were Holly would go on a solo tour of Australia. Between these two tours he would manage to record Rave On and preform Oh, Boy! on The Ed Sullivan Show. He would reunite with The Crickets for a small tour of the UK in March, playing 50 shows in 25 days. Buddy Holly’s self-titled debut album would be released that same month and upon returning to America would go on a 41-date tour.
Wow, that is a lot and I’m exhausted just reading it.
Holly would get back in the studio in May and hired Tommy Allsup to play lead guitar on these recordings and soon enough he was invited to join The Crickets. Another recording session would occur in June but without his band backing him. This time he chose a Jazz and R&B band, possibly because he wanted to experiment with his sound a bit. It was also during this time that he would meet Maria Elena Santiago and he was in love instantly.
Santiago was born in Porta Rico and emigrated to America when she was six to live with her aunt. Holly asked her out and upon hearing that he would need her aunt’s permission made sure to revie it. When you know you know, and Buddy knew he had found the one. Four hours into their first date he handed her a rose and asked for her hand in marriage. Two months later the pair were married.
Originally, they wanted to live in the south but after Holly saw the way she was treated for not being white moved to New York permanently. A place that was more liberal and understanding about mixed-race couples, or at least wasn’t bogged down by segregation for Latin Americans and Hispanic people. Norman Petty wasn’t happy and suggested Holly keep the marriage a secret as to not upset his female fans. As you can imagine that went over well. This caused friction between Holly and Petty, who was already suspicious of his managers bookkeeping skills.
This only intensified during a hoist of shows in New Mexico where Santiago took charge of the money and delt with the payments for Holly and the rest of the band. This led to Holly confronting Petty about the missing money while promoter Max Greenfield sued Holly for more money. It seems that Holly was being fleeced out of his royalties and I believe he was.
In September 1958 with Holly and Santiago settling in Greenwich Village, New York, the pair would begin to enjoy what it had to offer. Holly would become inspired by the small bars and music venues, flamenco music and interested in joining Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, something he had registered for. He also began producing, while recording at Clovis he would meet Waylon Jennings, who’s singles Jole Blon and When Sin Stops (Love Begins), Holly worked on.
Holly also became very interested in the budding recording and publishing scene in the village, actually recording some acoustic songs from the comfort of his own apartment. Crying, Waiting, Hoping and What to Do would be produced during this time and I would follow it up with his last studio session near the end of October. Known as The String Sessions, Holly would record four songs in collaboration with an 18-piece ensemble known as the Dick Jacobs Orchestra. All recorded in stereo, the only time he did so, only one, Raining in My Heart, was released as such. True Love Ways, Moondreams and It Doesn’t Matter Anymore were released later in mono.
In December 1958 Holly would fire Petty as his manager but that would cause a split between himself and The Crickets, who decided to keep Petty as their manager. With Petty still holding Holly’s royalties it forced him to form a new band and begin touring.
The Day The Music Died
In order to put his new band together Holly would, while vacationing in Lubbock with his wife, contact Waylon Jennings visiting him and offering him a place as bassist in his new backing band. Of course, Jennings accepted with both staying together in New York, were they attended meetings with the General Artists Cooperation who organised the tour, before meeting up with the rest of the band in Chicago. The band also consisted of Tommy Allsup on guitar and Carl Bunch on drums.
The Winter Dance Party tour would begin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 23rd January 1959, but Buddy Holly along with fellow performers Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” wouldn’t make it to the end of the most hellish tour of their lives. The tour wasn’t booked well with little time to make it to the next venue and the tour bus wasn’t heated which resulted in illness for many of the performers, along with the bus breaking down twice. They played their last show on 2nd February 1959 in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Buddy Holly would be involved in a plane crash that took the lives of everyone on board during the “Winter Dance Party” tour. Along with Holly, the plane contained Ritchie Valens, who had taken the place of Tommy Allsup in a coin toss, “The Big Bopper” J.P.Richardson who swapped with Waylon Jennings, and the pilot Roger Peterson. Holly was just 22 while Valens was 17 and Richardson was 28 when the crash occurred near Clear Lake, Iowa.
February 3, 1959, is still known to this day as “The Day The Music Died”.
And what of the men who didn’t get on the plane? Well, they continued on with the tour and went on to still make music, in one way or another.
Carl Bunch [1939-2011] was not in attendance due to being in hospital with frostbite, he went on to play for Hank Williams Jr. and Roy Orbison. Tommy Allsup [1931-2017] also went on to work with Orbison as well as Ronnie Smith and Willie Nelson. The most successful member of Buddy Holly’s backing band was Waylon Jennings [1937-2002] who would pioneer the outlaw country style, he also recorded the first platinum-selling album in country music history and would work alongside Willie Nelson in both The Outlaws in the 1970s and The Highwaymen in the 1980s.
Buddy Holly Songs That You Need To Add To Your Playlist
I guess you are still here and if you have found this article highly fascinating, I have something for you. Me and my mum, also known as Mama Nix, have curated a list of some of our favourite tracks by Buddy Holly. Just a quick little honourable mention for Blue Days, Black Nights, a personal favourite of mine from his early career that I think you should at least give a listen to.
#10. Maybe Baby | Album: The “Chirping” Crickets | 1957
#9. Modern Don Juan | Album: That’ll Be The Day | 1958
#8. It Doesn’t Matter Anymore | The String Sessions | 1958
#7. Look At Me | Album: Buddy Holly | 1958
#6. Words Of Love | Album: Buddy Holly | 1958
#5. Oh Boy! | Album: The “Chirping” Crickets | 1957
#4. Think It Over | Album: Buddy Holly | 1958
#3. Peggy Sue Got Married | 1959
#2. Well…All Right | Album: Buddy Holly | 1958
#1. Rave On | Album: Buddy Holly | 1958