Leading up to the anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly (February 3) I will be presenting a three part series. The second part should appear in late November or early December and the last in late January. I believe the new biopic titled Clear Lake will be released at some point in this timeline though I can’t seem to find out where or when. Recently, I did a post on Rockabilly and as I was also working on Buddy Holly, I left him out. I noticed while doing my research that his name does always get included in that conversation. Rock and Roll yes, but not always Rockabilly. It does appear in Holly’s Wikipedia page and he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (unfortunately the organization and website has fallen into disrepair). While it is true he emulated this traditional style when he used the guitar, drums and double bass ensemble, but in some ways he was different. First and foremost geographically, being from Texas his influences were unlike most of the Rockabilly/Rock and Roll artists in the 50’s, this I think would give his music a fresh and unique feel. In Texas at that time there was the popular Tex-Mex style, more formally called Tejano music, which is a fusion of Northern Mexican and American sounds. Most certainly Country music, his first love so to speak, was very popular and Bob Wills is legendary for his Texas Swing, literally a sub genre he created. The Blues legends Blind Lemon Jefferson and T. Bone Walker were very well known and Big Mama Thornton’s career took off with her move to Houston in 1948. Need I remind you that it was in San Antonio and Dallas where Robert Johnson made his legendary recordings in 1937 and 1938. This is just a sampling of what was going on in the vibrant and diverse Texas music scene in the 1930’s through to the early 50’s.Read more: Buddy Holly Part 1
Not that Buddy would have listened to all of these artists. At home his musical family sang and listened to Gospel Music as well, but certainly his key influences at a young age led him to Country. A genre which (largely for White folks) was the most popular music in Lubbock, Texas and across much of the American South, not to mention that it had spread elsewhere. However, his biggest turning point came with one Elvis Presley. Buddy had seen Elvis perform at least a few times in Lubbock and area and thus began his transformation. Buddy and his highschool chum Bob Montgomery (Buddy and Bobby) along with Larry Welborn performed on the opening ticket for Elvis on October 15, 1955 at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, the night before they had done the same for Bill Haley and His Comets. So, as Elvis went from a Ballad Singer to Rockabilly/Rock and Roll, Buddy followed him by moving from Country, as did Bill Haley for that matter. Now, Buddy did not look or move like Elvis but he understood the beat, the appeal of the music, and he was, as it turns out a natural.
Holly has long been a favorite of mine, even though he was killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 which was five days before I was born. The fact that he died at age 22, aside from the tragedy itself also taking the lives of 28 year old J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens who was just 17 and the 21 year old Pilot, Roger Peterson, it took away all the music he would have created. We know the theme of Don Mclean’s epic “American Pie”, his references to “the day the music died” and there is some truth to that line. Holly was an established artist and the younger Ritchie Valens was a rising star in Rock and Roll. We will never know what may have happen to popular music had these two survived, but I do know their legacy has created an immeasurable influence. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and others all cite Buddy for his songwriting skills, his guitar playing and his unique voice.
Getting back to Rockabilly, Holly and his band The Crickets were key figures in the genre, but not with every song and certainly not his later solo material. Holly’s early attempts as mentioned were in the Country Music genre that included appearances on Lubbock Radio and local venues. But his connection to Rockabilly did not come as it did for most that had roots in Hillbilly music nor was he from Appalachia or any of the states most connected to the genre. His first (home and never released) recording was in 1949 at age 12 or 13 and he chose “My Two Timin’ Woman” written and recorded by an artist that was gaining popularity in Country Music, Hank Snow (1948). If you follow the story of Elvis Presley and as depicted in the recent Elvis movie he really started his career opening for the (albeit briefly) better known Hank Snow. Just as an aside, Elvis also covered three of Hank’s original songs, the most popular being “(Now and Then, There’s) A Fool Such as I” with The Jordanaires in 1959 and Snow’s breakout hit from 1950, “I’m Moving On”, he recorded in 1969. Pardon the tangent, and I won’t steal my own thunder for a future post by expanding on the significance of Hank Snow, but anyone having an influence on both Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly deserves a mention. Those sneaky Canadians!
Buddy, while still just in high school would cut eleven demo songs recorded at KDAV in Lubbock. Among those were songs written by his first songwriting partner, Bob Montgomery. However for his move to Rock and Roll/Rockabilly, we can say that technically all the tools were there, including the core instrumentation setup of his band who were originally just Buddy on guitar, Jerry Allison on Drums and Nikki Sullivan on Bass. The first Buddy Holly Album was released in 1957 and was titled The “Chirping” Crickets. As Nikki would soon leave the band to go back to school (but occasionally return) he was replaced by Joe B Mauldin on Double Bass. It was these four who are pictured on the first album cover. However it was not Buddy Holly and The Crickets for most of his time as a recording artist.
More so as time went on, there was not any cohesion to the musicians, other than Buddy himself. On several records you will see the bass (whether the stand-up double bass or the electric guitar) players; Sullivan, Maudlin and Welborn credited together or separately, this in part is due to the re-recording of the earlier Decca Records songs and production decisions among other things. You can find the unreleased Decca songs as well as more unedited (undubbed) Holly recordings, and even telephone calls and commercials on Youtube. As we all have experienced “going down the rabbit hole” there is an interesting bit of trivia I just picked up. One song in his first string of hits “Maybe Baby” (#18 in 1957) was recorded at the Tinker’s Officers’ Club on Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Apparently Buddy liked the acoustics in the room, how he even knew about the place I don’t know. The song would be finished at the Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Most will know that Holly’s days with Decca Records were frustrating as they failed to see his value. Ironically, Norman Petty would have him sign with Coral Records and record under the Brunswick label which was a subsidiary owned by Decca. The Executives were not fooled for long, but hey, they were making lots of money at this point so they didn’t care. In another twist of fate a Buddy Holly and The Crickets inspired band named The Beatles would record a demo for Decca in 1961 and they were rejected as well… so sometimes you never learn. I will hold there and work on completing Part 2.
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
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