Charles Hardin Holley (7th September 1936 – 3rd February 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. He was born in Lubbock, Texas and called “Buddy” by his family because he was so nice to everyone. Aged five, his young voice and exuberance won him a talent contest singing a then-popular song, ‘Have You Ever Gone Sailing (Down the River of Memories)’. In 1949, he recorded a bluesy solo rendering of Hank Snow’s ‘My Two Timin’ Woman’ on a wire recorder borrowed by a friend who worked in a music shop.
In 1952, he met Bob Montgomery at Hutchinson Junior High School; they teamed up as Buddy and Bob. They sang bluegrass harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows and performed on a local radio station KDAV Sunday broadcast that made them a top local act.
Buddy Holly saw Elvis Presley sing in Lubbock in 1955, and began to incorporate a rockabilly style that had a strong rhythm acoustic and slap bass. On 15th October 1955, he opened the bill for Presley in Lubbock. Buddy Holly’s transition to rock continued when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets. Decca Records signed Holly to a contract in February 1956, misspelling his name as “Holly”. He thereafter adopted the misspelled name for his professional career.
Among the tracks he recorded was an early version of ‘That’ll Be The Day’. Aside from Buddy Holly on vocal and guitar, the other musicians were, Sonny Curtis: guitar; Don Guess: bass; Jerry Allison: drums. Decca released two singles, ‘Blue Days, Black Nights’ and ‘Modern Don Juan’, that unfortunately failed to make an impression. 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.
The Crickets – then comprising Buddy Holly (lead guitar and vocals), Niki Sullivan (guitar), Joe B. Mauldin (bass), and Jerry Allison (drums) – hired Norman Petty as manager. Petty got Brunswick Records, a subsidiary of Decca, to sign The Crickets on 19th March 1957. Buddy Holly signed as a solo artist with another Decca subsidiary, Coral Records. This put him in the unusual position of having two recording contracts at the same time. On 27th May 1957, ‘That’ll Be The Day’ was released as a single, credited to The Crickets to try to bypass Decca’s claimed legal rights. When the song became a hit, topping the charts, Decca decided not to press its claim.
Reputably Buddy Holly composed ‘Not Fade Away’ with The Everly Brothers in mind, using that famed Bo Diddley rhythm. However they decided not to record it then as they had ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ – although the timing does not fit as ‘Not Fade Away’ was composed and recorded by The Crickets in 1957 and ‘All I Have To Is Dream’ did not appear until March 1958. ‘Not Fade Away’ originally appeared on the first (1957) Crickets album The Chirping Crickets and was not recorded by The Everly Brothers until their 1972 RCA album Pass The Chicken And Listen. It has been covered by many artists, most famously of course in 1964 by The Rolling Stones who had a huge hit with it.
Phil and Don Everly became good friends with The Crickets and showed them around New York encouraging them to buy sharp Ivy League suits. It was they who encouraged Buddy Holly to adopt the more prominent horn-rimmed glasses reasoning that if you have to wear them – make a statement! The more ‘wild’ Holly showed the boys from Kentucky how to have a good time! Famously, in 1958 The Crickets and The Everly Brothers started a twelve-date six-day Florida tour called “The Big Gold Records Stars” at the Kellogg Auditorium in Orlando, Florida. Also on the show were Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Royal Teens, and Jimmie Rodgers. On 20th February The Crickets stepped in to back up the Everlys because their local back-up band was not up to the job. In a 2011 interview for a Buddy Holly documentary, Phil Everly explained, “The one time – really was a fun time – we were doing a Florida tour. Jerry Lee Lewis was on it, we were on it, Buddy was on it and The Crickets. It was Bill Haley promotion and Don and I didn’t travel with a band – it was that early, you know, and we didn’t have our own band. We usually would pick up three pieces and work at it. Well, when we got there, the three pieces they had were three high school kids that played and they were like 16, 15 and you know, and the older one was like 17, maybe a senior, I don’t know. And they – could not play. I mean, they really could not play at all on this set. And we were saying, ‘Well, this won’t work.’ And Bill Hailey had run a…..it was his production thing, and he had just spent as little money as possible. I don’t know; he probably gave them the opportunity and not any money at all. But anyway, Buddy stepped up and The Crickets stepped up and they played – for us, you know. We were closing the show and we followed Jerry Lee; it was Buddy Holly, then Jerry Lee, then us. Jerry Lee was the best of all but when normally it would’ve been a difficult thing [it was] impossible with that band, with those three kids. Buddy then played with us and it was un-believable, you know, how good it was. After Buddy died, Jerry Allison and Joe B. and Sonny Curtis came to play for us for about a year and a half, two years.”
In mid-1958 period Buddy Holly also composed and demoed two songs intended for The Everly Brothers – ‘Wishing’ (composed with Bob Montgomery) and ‘Love’s Made A Fool Of You’ (again using Buddy’s and Don Everly’s favoured Bo Diddley style); sadly they have not recorded either song. Holly even double-tracked on the demos to help give an Everly ‘sound’. There are numerous theories as to why these songs did not get recorded by Don & Phil when first composed. One is that Wesley Rose blocked them as they were not published by Acuff-Rose and he never even let Don & Phil know about them. There may be some truth in this as Roy Orbison switched publishers in order to enable Don & Phil to record ‘Claudette’. It is also said that ‘Wishing’ was passed up because the Buddy Holly version was so good that it was likely to be released in competition with any Everly version. Both Buddy Holly versions of these excellent tracks were released posthumously.
Buddy Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music/recording/publishing scene, while the other Crickets (Sullivan had already left) wanted to return to Lubbock. As a result, the group split up in late 1958. Buddy and his wife Maria Elena settled in Greenwich Village, New York, in the new Brevoort apartment block at Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue. Here he recorded the series of acoustic songs, including ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’ and ‘What to Do,’ known as the “Apartment Tapes”, which were released after his death.
In addition to ‘True Love Ways’, during the October 1958 sessions at Decca’s Pythian Temple, Buddy Holly also recorded two other songs, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ and ‘Raining In My Heart’ (original composed by The Bryants for The Everly Brothers). The songs were to be his last formal recording studio sessions.
Buddy Holly was having continual trouble getting his royalties from Norman Petty (who also insisted on claiming co-composition credits on many Holly songs for which he made little or no contribution), so he hired the noted lawyer Harold Orenstein at the recommendation of his friends The Everly Brothers, who had engaged Orenstein following disputes with their own manager, Wesley Rose. Yet, with the money still being withheld by Petty and with rent due, Buddy was forced to go back on the road.
Buddy Holly was offered a spot in the Winter Dance Party, a three-week tour across the Midwest opening on 23rd January 1959, with other notable performers such as Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. He assembled a backing band consisting of Tommy Allsup (guitar), Waylon Jennings (bass) and Carl Bunch (drums), and billed as The Crickets. The tour turned out to be a miserable ordeal for the performers. Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on 2nd February 1959, Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. When their plane crashed soon after taking off from nearby Mason City in the early morning hours of 3rd February, Holly, Valens, Richardson and the pilot were killed. Band-mate Waylon Jennings had given up his seat on the plane, causing Buddy Holly to jokingly tell Jennings, “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up!” Jennings shot back facetiously, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes!” It was a statement that would haunt Jennings for decades.
Buddy Holly’s funeral was held on 7th February 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at Holly’s wedding just months earlier. The pallbearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis, and it is often said Phil Everly – however, Phil has said that he was not a pallbearer. Buddy 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.
2011 represented the 75th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s birth. This was marked by a Hollywood Walk of Fame star and a couple of all-star tribute albums with artists like Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Kid Rock, Lou Reed, My Morning Jacket and Chris Isaak paying homage. Speaking at the event Phil Everly said: “When we were interviewed in the ‘50s, the first, second or third question would be “What are you going to do when it’s over?” The people writing the articles hated the music. Whether it was Buddy or Eddie Cochran or Don and myself, none of us thought it would last because that was what we kept getting told. Inside the perimeter, what we were thinking was – and this is what we loved – the cool thing was to do something original. That was important to all of us. I’m only here because Buddy was my friend. My great respect for his music has never diminished.” At the concert Phil joined in the finale singing ‘That’ll Be The Day’, commenting afterwards that it was his last live performance.
Enjoy viewing the complete Buddy Holly Song Lyrics.
Check out this site dedicated to Buddy Holly: