Buddy Holly: 50 Years After The Music Died
February 3, 2009
Fifty years after his death at 22, rock 'n' roll founding father
Buddy Holly is still cool. On Feb. 3, 1959, Buddy Holly, along with J.P.
"The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens, died in a plane crash while
touring the Midwest. Holly would have been 72 by now — and probably still
rocking and rolling. Bob
Rolling Stones, The
Beatles and Elvis
Costello have all paid tribute to Holly as a major influence.
But the music itself wasn't his only contribution. Holly was among the
first artists to use the studio as an instrument: He spent days crafting
songs and experimenting with techniques that were still new in the recording
It worked. Buddy Holly and the Crickets shot to the top of the charts
just months after the band was formed in 1957. Elvis
Presley had the sex appeal, but it was Holly's boy-next-door charm
punctuated with horn-rimmed glasses and bow ties, as well as his Southern
drawl, that fans adored. Paul
McCartney, who in 1976 bought the rights to the entire Holly catalog,
remembers seeing him perform on a Sunday night in 1958 at the London Palladium.
The Beatles were huge fans. John
Lennon wore his horn-rimmed glasses "proudly," McCartney says — after
seeing Holly's trademark black frames.
By David C. Barnett ~ December 8, 2000
Buddy Holly was a skinny kid with glasses, but in his short
lifetime, he became one of rock 'n' roll's founding fathers. Holly, who
was known for his Stratocaster guitar and trademark hiccup style of singing,
influenced everyone from The
Beatles to Bob
Dylan. As part of the NPR
100, a list of the most important American musical works of the 20th
century, WCPN's David C. Barnett has the story of one of Holly's biggest
hits, "Peggy Sue."
Before Buddy Holly became an international rock 'n' roll star, he was
a local hero in Lubbock, Texas. That's where Niki Sullivan, who later became
Holly's rhythm guitarist, first heard him play. "We used to go to the skating
rink and watch him perform," Sullivan says. "Or if he were performing in
a live show, say at an opening of a car dealership and things like that,
that's how we were getting hooked into music. Because all we had to listen
to in those days was the big-band music and, being in west Texas, mostly
country and western."
Country & Western
Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holly got his start in the music business singing
country and western songs. A Decca Records talent scout caught his act
at the skating rink one day and signed him to a limited recording contract.
In a Nashville studio, Holly was given three chances to sell record
executives on his music. But they weren't too crazy about his blend of
rockabilly tunes with more traditional country ballads. Holly had especially
high hopes for a song that he and his drummer pal Jerry Allison had written
based on a line from the 1956 John Wayne film The Searchers: "That'll
Be the Day."
Jerry Allison recalls being nervous recording under the strict rules
of famous Nashville producer Owen Bradley. He says it contrasted greatly
with the laid-back attitude of Norman Petty, who'd recorded some demo tracks
for them in a small studio he ran in Clovis, N.M. After the tense sessions
in Nashville, the musicians decided to record exclusively with Petty, and
the results of that relaxed atmosphere were immediately evident.
In between short tours of the region, The Crickets' members spent most
of their time at Petty's studio. They worked long hours, sometimes sleeping
there overnight rather than make the 100-mile trek back to Lubbock. Sullivan
says Petty was a perfectionist, in spite of the imperfect conditions. "When
you hear those recordings, you're hearing one of the cleanest, crispest
sounds ever," Sullivan says. "And it's amazing that he did it in Clovis,
N.M., next to a highway that ... Frequently, we were interrupted by trucks
passing because [of the] rattling windows."
It was during one of those sessions in the summer of 1957 that Buddy
Holly, bassist Joe Mauldin, rhythm guitarist Sullivan and drummer Jerry
Allison began to work out one of their biggest hits. "Buddy had a song
started called 'Cindy Lou,' " Allison says. "I think he had a niece named
Cindy Lou, or Cindy, but it was sort of like, 'Cindy, oh, Cindy / Cindy
don't let me down.' That Harry Belafonte kind of feel. 'Cindy Lou, Cindy
Lou / Oh, how my heart yearns for you, oh, Cindy.' " Sullivan says Petty
was not impressed. "Norman says, 'Well, that cha-cha beat isn't going to
work,' " Sullivan says. "He says, 'You're going to have to do something
else,' and that's when Buddy said, 'Jerry, why don't you try paradiddles?
It'll give us a four-four beat. We'll speed it up a little bit.' "
A paradiddle is a basic practice pattern for a drummer; it involves
rapid strokes, which create a rolling sound. Allison agreed to the modified
rhythm, and suggested one more change. "I had a girlfriend at the time
named Peggy Sue, so I talked him into changing it to 'Peggy Sue,' and then
we finished it with a different feel," Allison says. "You know, like the
straight 8s, kind of, 'If you knew / Peggy Sue.' " The result creates a
relentless rhythm that keeps rolling at the listener. Petty accentuated
that effect by playing with the reverb.
A Sense Of Joy
"They kind of used the studio in the '50s the way people like The Beatles
started to use it in the '60s," guitarist Marshall Crenshaw says, "which
was a sort of combination laboratory and playground." Crenshaw, who was
4 when he first heard Buddy Holly, says he was hooked by the energy in
the music. "There's a real sense of joy in almost everything that he ever
recorded," Crenshaw says. "And everything about those records appealed
to me when I was a kid, the way he played the guitar. You know, he'd just
make the whole thing ring, you know, and it just sounded very celebratory
and just made me really happy and excited."
But for all the guitar technique, all the percussive experiments and
Holly's unique hiccup style of singing, Allison says there wasn't any master
plan to be on the cutting edge of anything. "Nah, we just hoped somebody
would buy our records so we could go on the road and play," he says.
On The Road With Peggy Sue
When they took "Peggy Sue" on the road, Sullivan says the reaction
was electrifying. "We were in Idaho. Of all places to break a song was
in Idaho. Those kids jumped up and went crazy with 'Peggy Sue,' and we
don't still know — I mean, the ones of us remaining still wouldn't be able
to tell you if it was the song or it was the combination of songs, or kids
just needed an outlet. But whatever it did, it worked."
And not because of the lyrics, either. "When you listen to that song,"
Allison says, "tell me what in the world — why anybody would buy a song
with those lyrics. But it's the interpretation that comes across and that
driving rock, and it just bites you, you know?"
Since its release, the song has sold more than 5 million copies. But
Buddy Holly had no idea just how long the music that he helped create would
last, and it seems he didn't really think it should, as revealed in a 1957
interview with Canadian disc jockey Red Robinson.
Red Robinson: What do you think about rock 'n' roll music?
How long do you think it will last: another six months, seven months?
Buddy Holly: Oh, possibly, yeah.
Robinson: Think after Christmas things may change a bit, then?
Holly: It might pick back up, but I really doubt it. I'd prefer singing
something a little more quieter anyhow.
Holly historian Griggs to be inducted into
West Texas Walk of Fame
Bill Griggs, internationally respected Buddy Holly
and rock ’n’ roll historian,
will be inducted into the West Texas Walk of Fame
at 6:30 p.m. today.
Online ~ July 30, 2010
“The Buddy Holly
Story” is not William Frederick “Bill” Griggs’ favorite movie. In fact,
that 1978 movie would not stand a chance even if the filmmakers responsible
had gotten their facts straight. Instead, the sentimental Griggs remains
particularly fond of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Now being treated for stage-4
cancer, Griggs, 69, maintains an extremely positive attitude, yet mentions
more than once that he, too, has enjoyed a wonderful life. He said physicians
give him “nine months to a year — or who knows, maybe longer (to live).”
Griggs, respected internationally as a music historian, will be inducted
at 6:30 p.m. today into the West Texas Walk of Fame. His name will be placed
on a plaque near a statue of Buddy Holly, the man whose life Griggs spent
years researching. “I can claim good friends in 34 different countries,”
he said. “My life has been wonderful.”
Cachet envelopes commemorating today’s induction also will be sold;
proceeds benefit the South Plains Stamp Club. It was only a year after
Holly’s statue was unveiled that Griggs moved from Connecticut to Lubbock.
Griggs would later say, “Buddy was gone by then. But everyone else was
still here. So I got here as quick as I could.”
He first visited Lubbock in 1968 on vacation, then moved here permanently
in 1981. Not being from Lubbock originally helped him maintain an objectivity,
he said, when reporting about Holly and other West Texas musicians. For
that matter, Griggs also pointed out that he never placed Holly on a pedestal
of any sort. He began reporting on Holly, he said, because, “I didn’t see
anyone else doing it.”
When he founded the international Buddy Holly Memorial Society in 1975,
operating under an agreement with the Holly estate, he lost track of the
number of people who told him, “I thought I was the only fan left.” Within
15 years, BHMS membership totaled more than 5,500 in 50 states and 34 countries.
His memorial society gave way to publishing Reminiscing magazine. Griggs
later focused on a monthly magazine called Rockin’ 50s, which he published
through 2004 and also became the name of his business. A career highlight
was his publication of a five-booklet set, “Buddy Holly Day-By-Day,” in
which Griggs documented where Holly was, and what he was doing, on all
but a dozen dates during the artist’s entire career. Seven years of research
were required for the 1998 project.
Griggs has lured a significant number of international visitors to Lubbock.
He also was intent on exposing Lubbock’s younger generation to its most
famous native son, and gave multiple speeches at Lubbock schools at the
request of city officials. Griggs mentioned this week that he actually
became a fan of the Crickets before Holly. (“That’ll Be the Day,” he said,
initially was credited to the Crickets.) He first became a fan when he
heard the Crickets make “a smooth tempo change, never missing a beat,”
during that particular song, something he’d never heard young rock musicians
Griggs saw the Crickets (and Holly) perform live twice in the 1950s,
the first time with member Niki Sullivan and the second after he had left
the band. More than two decades later, in 1978, it was Griggs who reunited
all of the Crickets on stage for the first time since 1957. He has been
interviewed by every major news and music network in the United States
He received three gold records from MCA Records for help in maintaining
the authenticity of Holly recordings and at times writing liner notes.
For example, Griggs was hired by the Buddy Holly estate in 2000 as a consultant
to visit MCA Records in Los Angeles, listen to all of its Holly tapes and
explain when, and where, each was recorded, and also what artists are performing
on each version of every song.
In 1994, Griggs published a reference book “A Who’s Who of West Texas
Rock ’n’ Roll Music,” which included details about almost 100 West Texas
solo artists and groups from the 1950s and early 1960s.
Randy Steele, who campaigned for eight years for Griggs to be inducted
into the Walk of Fame, will introduce him today. Steele said, “Bill
covered his music subjects like a ‘fan’ would cover them, and he asked
the questions to find answers that a ‘fan’ would want to know. As a result,
we learned intimate details about the events that shaped West Texas music,
and we learned the stories of the people who made that music.”
John Pickering of the Picks, the group that recorded background harmonies
for Holly and the Crickets, stated, “When (Griggs) found the Picks in 1981,
we were scattered and had given up on anybody ever knowing that we sang
with Buddy Holly. We figured that nobody cared. ... He brought all three
of the Picks together again in 1982 for the 25th anniversary of our recording
sessions with Buddy Holly.”
And Ryan Vandergriff, author of a soon-to-be-published book about Holly’s
final tour, said, “Quite simply, Bill Griggs has acted as a major promoter
for the city of Lubbock for would-be travelers who ever had even the smallest
notion of visiting (Lubbock). “He has done such a wonderful job of promoting
hometown-boy-made-good Buddy Holly that Lubbock has become one of the more
recognizable cities in America.”
•Attraction: Induction of music historian/writer Bill Griggs into West
Texas Walk of Fame.
•When: 6:30 p.m. today.
•Where: Site of the Buddy Holly statue, presently located in the middle
of Eighth Street, west of the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center,
•After induction: Music will be played for approximately 30 minutes
by Jack Neal, the late Buddy Holly’s original singing partner, and George
Tomsco, formerly of the Fireballs and a 2001 West Texas Walk of Fame inductee.