Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley to Lawrence Odell and Ella Pauline Drake Holley on September 7, 1939 in Lubbock, Texas. He began to perform in the country music genre in Lubbock at high school dances. He had won a singing contest at age five but got his first guitar when he was fourteen. Buddy and a former junior high school friend named Bob Montgomery formed a duo they called Buddy and Bob and played anywhere they could get a foothold. They also were the opening act when other artists would tour the area and two different times, they opened for Elvis Presley in 1955 and one time the same year for Bill Haley and the Comets (“Rock Around the Clock”). Buddy and some high school friends then formed a group they called Buddy Holly and the Crickets and were known around Lubbock for playing dances and also spots on local radio. The Crickets were Jerry Allison on drums, Joe Mauldin and Nicky Sullivan on guitars. Buddy did the lead singing.
Buddy enjoyed practicing his music and often taped his practice sessions so he could listen to them later. In 1956, the group began recording some songs and then in February, 1957 they recorded a version of “That’ll Be the Day” and took it and some of their other tapes to Norman Petty who had a recording studio in nearby Clovis, New Mexico.
Petty immediately took a liking to Buddy and the group and signed an agreement with them to be their manager. Petty sent the tapes to New York and Decca Records. By then, Petty and the group had recorded the first record, but it was not widely purchased or played. Early on, a typographical error misspelled Holly’s name on the record jacket, dropping the “e.” and Buddy adopted it over the real spelling of his name, so as not to cause more confusion. He went on to record with the Crickets and also had a separate recording contract for solo work. Holly’s relationship with Petty would eventually cool due to Petty’s control, financial issues, and also as Buddy became better known. There are also references in some articles to personal disagreements between Petty and Buddy and his wife. These are unconfirmed and not referred to in many accounts, for whatever reason.
Holly’s popularity was beginning to skyrocket. He had an unconventional appearance, being lanky, wearing a suit and his trademark eyeglasses. He made solo appearances and group dates with the Crickets including an appearance on Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio and what has been called the national debut on August 5, 1957 of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. A video of the Arthur Murray performance has survived, but unfortunately the American Bandstand performance has been lost. It was a ground breaking performance for the band and for the show. Holly eventually parted ways with the Crickets and had begun a solo tour with other musicians, including local Lubbock disk jockey Waylon Jennings who would later become well known as a country music performer.
It was on this solo tour that tragedy struck. Holly and others had played in Mason City, Iowa the night of February 2, 1959. Early the next morning at 1:50 a.m., Holly, recording artists Richie Valens and J. P. “Big Bopper” Richardson left Mason City in a single engine four-seater Beechcraft Bonanza (a model introduced in 1947 with many examples still in use today), tail number N3794N, piloted by Roger Peterson. The rest of the band members were to go by bus the next day to meet up in Fargo, North Dakota. Buddy did not want to wait for the bus ride. The group had been on the road for a couple of weeks, zigzagging across several states for performances. It was winter, so the bus ride was expected to be cold and drafty. The buses they used also tended to break down. Buddy opted instead to arrange for the flight so that he could get there early and have a few extra hours rest. When they took off, it was cold, the wind speed was about thirty-five miles an hour and a light snow was falling. Around fifteen minutes later the aircraft crashed in a cornfield five miles outside Clear Lake, Iowa. The scene looked as though a wing had touched down causing the airplane to cartwheel across a field and come to rest against a fence. There were no witnesses to the crash and there were no survivors. It was speculated that weather conditions had quickly deteriorated after their takeoff and that the pilot may have little or no visibility.
Accounts of the hours before the tragic accident include another band member’s anecdote about his having lost a coin flip to fellow victim Richie Valens for the last seat on the plane that Holly had chartered. A few days later, Holly’s funeral service was held at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas and the 22 year old singer was laid to rest in the City of Lubbock Cemetery. His flat headstone includes the engraved image of a guitar.
At the time of his death, Holly had just been married six months to Maria Elena Santiago. The young couple had set up residence in New York City. His family said that he had been wanting to get out of the hard tour life, had even talked of becoming a producer and starting his own publishing company. They said that he had to be persuaded to go on this final tour.
Buddy Holly is credited for influencing the young rock and roll musical genre with his driving and exuberant style of music. Early groups, even British rock and roll groups, modeled his instrumentation of two guitarists, a bass and a drum set with vocals. His signature sound and delivery influenced many rock and roll artists who followed him, including The Beatles. Other artists adopted some of his and Petty’s recording techniques including overdubbing and reverb.
By the time of the accident, Holly had already sold five million records and had earned two gold records for selling one million copies each of his hits “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” His record label continued to release his recordings for the next ten years. By the late 1970s, twenty years after his death, almost ninety of his songs had been released, thirty of which he composed himself.
Buddy was said to be a prolific song writer, even composing songs while touring and on the road. Many artists have “covered” Holly’s songs over the years. The following is a partial listing of his compositions: That’ll Be the Day, Everyday, Peggy Sue, True Love Ways, It’s So Easy, Not Fade Away, Words of Love, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue Got Married, Oh Boy, Love Is Strange, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, Raining in My Heart, Rave On, Brown Eyed Handsome Man.
Holly also preferred Fender guitars, being one of the first rock and roll artists to use the Fender Stratocaster. The instrument company states that Holly bought his first Stratocaster from Adair Music in Lubbock. Holly’s use of the Stratocaster helped popularize the model to be adopted by later rock artists.
Buddy Holly’s honors include being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio in 1986. He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame that same year. He received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1997. The city of Lubbock created the Buddy Holly Center, a museum devoted to Holly’s life and music. In 2011 on what would have been the year of his 75th birthday, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Currently under development in Lubbock is the Buddy Holly Hall of Arts and Sciences, a new performing arts center for the area. Buddy Holly will never be forgotten.
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