Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 ??? February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American 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 both his contemporaries and later musicians, notably The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, and exerted a profound influence on popular music.
Holly was in the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly #13 among "The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time".
Charles Hardin Holley was born in Lubbock, Texas to Lawrence Odell Holley and Ella Pauline Drake on Labor Day, 1936. The Holleys were a musical family and as a young boy Holley learned to play piano, guitar, and fiddle. "is singing won a talent contest at age five." He was always known as Buddy to his family. In 1949, Buddy made a recording of Hank Snow's "My Two Timin' Woman" on a wire recorder "borrowed" by a friend who worked in a music shop, his first known recording.
During the fall of that year, he met Bob Montgomery at Hutchinson Junior High School. They shared a common interest in music and soon teamed up as "Buddy and Bob". Initially influenced by bluegrass music, they sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows. In Lubbock, Holly attended Hutchinson Junior High School, which has a mural honoring him, and Lubbock High School, which has numerous features to honor the late musician. His musical interests grew throughout high school while singing in the Lubbock High School Choir.
Seeing Elvis Presley sing live in Lubbock in early 1955 was a turning point for Holly. He began to incorporate a more rockabilly style of sound into his music, which further evolved into rock music. On October 15, he opened on the same bill with Presley, also in Lubbock, catching the eye of a Nashville talent scout. Holly's transition to rock continued when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local rock show organized by Eddie Crandall, who was also the manager for Marty Robbins.
As a result of this performance, on February 8, 1956, Decca Records signed him to a contract, on which his last name was misspelled as "Holly". That spelling was then adopted for his professional career. Holly formed his own band, though at that time it had no name. It would later be called the Crickets.
That year, he went to Nashville for three recording sessions with producer Owen Bradley. However, he chafed under a restrictive atmosphere that allowed him little input. Among the tracks he recorded was an early version of "That'll Be The Day", which took its title from a phrase that John Wayne's character says repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers. (This initial version of the song played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the later hit version.) However, Decca chose to release two other singles, "Blue Days, Black Nights" and "Modern Don Juan", which failed to make an impression. On January 22, 1957, Decca informed Holly that his contract would not be renewed, but insisted he not record the same songs for anyone else for five years.
Norman Petty Recording Studios in Clovis, New Mexico
Holly got Norman Petty to manage the group, and the band began recording at Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty started contacting music publishers and labels. Brunswick Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed the Crickets on March 19. Soon after, Holly signed on as a solo artist with another Decca subsidiary, Coral Records. This put him in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time.
On May 27, "That'll Be The Day" was released as a single, credited to the Crickets to try to bypass Decca's legal rights. When it became a hit, Decca decided to overlook this. The song topped the US "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on September 23 and the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, beginning November 1. The Crickets performed it and another hit, "Peggy Sue", on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 1.
Holly managed to bridge some of the racial divide that marked rock n' roll. While Elvis made black music more acceptable to whites, Holly won over an all-black audience when the Crickets were booked at New York's Apollo Theater for August 16-22, 1956, though, unlike the immediate response depicted in the 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story, it actually took several performances for the audience to appreciate his talents. In August 1957, the Crickets were the only white performers on a national tour, their first.
As Holly was signed to Decca both as a solo artist and as part of the Crickets, two debut albums were released: The "Chirping" Crickets on November 27, 1957 and Buddy Holly on February 20, 1958. Singles "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy!" cracked the top ten in both the U.S. and UK charts. Holly and the Crickets toured Australia in January and the UK in March. The third and last album, That'll Be the Day, was put together from early recordings and released in April.
In June 1958, he met Maria Elena Santiago (born 1935 in San Juan, Puerto Rico) while she was working as a receptionist for Murray Deutch, the vice-executive at Peer-Southern Music, a New York music publisher.
Holly managed to get Maria Elena along to lunch at Howard Johnson's thanks to Deutch's secretary, Jo Harper. By the end of lunch, he had asked her to have dinner with him that night at the hangout for Manhattan's elite, P. J. Clarke's. He proposed on their very first date. "While we were having dinner, he got up and came back with his hands behind his back. He brought out a red rose and said, "This is for you. Would you marry me?" He turned up to her guardian's house the very next morning to gain her approval. She initially thought he was kidding, but they were married in Lubbock on August 15, 1958, less than two months after they had met. "I'd never had a boyfriend in my life. I'd never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight," Maria Elena told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on what would have been their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The newlyweds honeymooned in Acapulco.
Maria Elena traveled on tours, doing everything from the laundry to equipment setup to ensuring the group got paid. Although Holly had already begun to become disillusioned with Norman Petty before meeting his bride, it was through Maria Elena and her aunt Provi, who was the head of Latin American music at Peer Southern, that he began to fully realize what was going on with his manager, who was paying the band's royalties into his own company's account.
Holly wrote the song "True Love Ways" about his relationship with his young wife. It was recorded in her presence on October 21, 1958 at Decca's Pythian Temple, with Dick Jacob, Coral-Brunswick's new head of Artists & Repertoire, serving as both producer and conductor of the eighteen-piece orchestra, which included members of the New York Symphony Orchestra, NBC Television's house orchestra and Abraham "Boomie" Richman, formerly of Benny Goodman's band.
It was not until Holly died that many fans became aware of his marriage.
Holly in New York
The ambitious Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music/recording/publishing scene, while his bandmates wanted to go back home to Lubbock. As a result, the group split up in late 1958. The Hollys settled in at Greenwich Village, New York, in the new Brevoort apartment block at 9th Street and Fifth Avenue. It was here that 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.
The Hollys frequented many of New York's music venues, including The Village Gate, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, and Johnny Johnson's. Maria Elena reported that Buddy was keen to learn finger-style flamenco guitar and would often visit her aunt's home to play the piano there. He wanted to develop collaborations between soul singers and rock 'n' roll, hoping to make an album with Ray Charles and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. He also had ambitions to work in film, like Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran, and registered for acting classes with Lee Strasburg's Actors' Studio, where the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean had trained.
However, he was still having trouble getting his royalties from Petty, so he hired the noted lawyer Harold Orenstein at the recommendation of his friends, the Everly Brothers, who had engaged Orenstein following their own disputes with their 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.
Holly's headstone in the City of Lubbock Cemetery
Main article: The Day the Music Died
Buddy was offered the Winter Dance Party by the GAC agency, a three-week tour across the Midwest opening on January 23, 1959, with other notable performers such as Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, MN, when their small plane crashed soon after taking off from Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959. Don McLean referred to it as "The Day the Music Died" in his song "American Pie".
Holly's funeral was held on February 7, 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was performed 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. The body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery in the eastern part of the city. Holly's headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Holly's pregnant wife became a widow after barely six months of marriage and miscarried soon after. Mar?a Elena Holly did not attend the funeral and has never visited the grave site. 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."
Holly's music was sophisticated for its day, including the use of instruments considered novel for rock and roll, such as the celesta (heard on "Everyday"). Holly was an influential lead and rhythm guitarist, notably on songs such as "Peggy Sue" and "Not Fade Away". While Holly could pump out boy-loves-girl songs with the best of his contemporaries, other songs featured more sophisticated lyrics and more complex harmonies and melodies than had previously appeared in the genre.
Many of his songs feature a unique vocal "hiccup" technique, a glottal stop, to emphasize certain words in any given song, especially the rockers. Other singers (such as Elvis) have used a similar technique, though less obviously and consistently. Examples of this can be found at the start of the raucous "Rave On!": "Weh-eh-ell, the little things you say and do, make me want to be with you-ou..."; in "That'll Be the Day": "Well, you give me all your lovin' and your -turtle dovin'..."; and in "Peggy Sue": "I love you Peggy Sue - with a love so rare and tr-ue ...".
Buddy Holly statue on the Lubbock Walk of Fame
Holly set the template for the standard rock and roll band: two guitars, bass, and drums. He was also one of the first in the genre to write, produce, and perform his own songs.
Contrary to popular belief, teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not attend a Holly concert, although they watched his TV appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium; Tony Bramwell, a school friend of McCartney and George Harrison, did. Bramwell met Holly, and freely shared his records with all three. Lennon and McCartney later cited Holly as a primary influence. (Their band's name, The Beatles, was chosen partly in homage to Holly's Crickets.) The Beatles did a cover version of "Words of Love" that was a close reproduction of Holly's version, released on 1964's Beatles for Sale. 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; the recording was eventually released in the mid-1990s on Anthology 3. Paul McCartney's band Wings recorded their version of "Love is Strange" on their first album Wild Life. In addition, John Lennon recorded a cover version of "Peggy Sue" on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll. McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly's song catalogue.
A 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.
The Holly mural on 19th Street in Lubbock
Keith Richards attended one of Holly's performances, where he heard "Not Fade Away" for the first time. The Rolling Stones had an early hit covering the song.
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."
Various rock and roll histories have asserted that the singing group The Hollies were named in homage to Buddy Holly. According to the band's website, although the group admired Holly (and years later produced an album covering some of his songs), their name was inspired primarily by the sprigs of holly in evidence around Christmas of 1962.