Buddy Holly Part 3

September 7, 1936-February 3, 1959.

As we draw close to the 63 year anniversary of that fateful plane crash, I am releasing the third and final instalment on Buddy Holly. Myself and many others will be reading on February 3 about that day in 1959, as well as the before and the aftermath, all I will say is that at age 22 he had left a legacy that is a crucial part of Rock and Roll history. He was there at the beginning, though he was inspired by him, he was a contemporary of Elvis Presley as well as Chuck Berry, but for the two years from his breakout song, we will never know what he could have achieved. To me he stood as an equal. Today I will talk more about the person, his music, the portrayals, and tie up any loose ends from my prior posts.

Buddy started his professional career as a teenager, he and his bandmates were still in Jr. High School. When he found his ‘voice’ with the above song in 1956, he sounded like no one else. As much as he was a gifted lyricist, singer and musician, he also had an ear for songs from other composers/artists.

His last studio recording session in 1958 produced four original songs, “True Love Ways” that he wrote himself, “It Doesn’t’ Matter Anymore” (released January 5, 1959) written by Paul Anka. Then there was “Moondreams” written by or at least fully credited (and disputed) to Norman Petty (Hollys Manager/Producer) and “Raining in My Heart” written by the legendary couple of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant who wrote all those great hits for The Everly Brothers. For the recordings of these songs Holly’s vocals were backed by Dick Jacobs and his Orchestra along with session musicians-replacing all other previously used artists, including members of The Crickets.

Holly was the first to cover “Early in the Morning” co-written by Bobby Darin with Woody Harris. Like Holly, Bobby Darin released songs under different names in an attempt to avoid contract issues, this song was labelled as The Ding Dongs (taken from the song “Midnight Special”) when it came out in June of 1958. However Atco Records was not fooled and forced the return of the Master tapes and re-released the song under the name of The Rinky-Dinks a direct hit back at Darin and Brunswick Records. Holly’s version would hit #32 on Billboards Weekly Singles chart in the summer of 1958 and it would be his last charted song until after his death. The song peaked at #19 on the UK Singles chart where collectively Buddy’s songs appeared 46 times in the Top 20, second only to Elvis Presley’s songs at 51 entries.

“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” would peak at #13 the week ending March 30, 1959 in the US. To prove my above point, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” would do much better on the chart in the UK where it spent 20 weeks in the top 20 and was #1 for two weeks in April and one in May. The song also spent four weeks at the #2 spot.

Holly’s songs have been covered by The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Los Lobos, Blondie, Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt, The Black Keys, Marshall Crenshaw, Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Hot Tuna, Justin Townes Earle, Mickey Gilley, Kid Rock, The Flamin’ Groovies, Fiona Apple, and many, many more.

Here is a small collection of Buddy Holly’s songs that have been covered into the thousands of times:

I was a bit surprised to learn that the most covered song is “Not Fade Away”(written by Buddy Holly). Currently there are 145 versions of this song. Of course the cover by the Rolling Stones in 1964 raised the profile of the song, and of Buddy for that matter, so maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

Next on the list is “That’ll Be the Day” (written with Jerry Allison) at over 112 versions and in seven different languages. Just a reminder this song was first recorded with Decca in 1956, but never released. It was re-recorded and released in 1957. Inspired by a John Wayne line in the movie The Searchers, this is the song that started it all. Most famously done by Linda Ronstadt in 1976. She also did “It’s Doesn’t Matter Anymore” in 1974 which has just under 110 versions.

“Peggy Sue” currently has 95 versions. “Raining in My Heart” has 93 versions, here is a link to a lovely one by Leo Sayer from 1978. Next is “Everyday” with 82 renditions. The very charming “True Love Ways” has 78 versions, and just because I love to connect the dots I will give you a link to a Youtube video. Here we have the exquisite vocals of Gordon Waller along with his then singing partner Peter Asher, know as Peter and Gordon. Asher would go on to to be a mega successful producer among other things, and he was that very guy on those first two Buddy Holly covers by Linda Ronstadt.

Some honourable mentions of other songs, James Taylor had a #3 hit on Billboards A/C chart with his beautiful version of “Everyday” in 1985, I am also partial to the version of “Rave On” from John Mellencamp, then there is “Heartbeat” by The Knack (1979).

At the time of this writing there is still no released date for the Biopic, Clear Lake. Given the proximity to “the day the music died” I would have expected some news by now. So the only focused movie portrayal of Buddy Holly, (despite the historical inaccuracies) is the enjoyable film titled The Buddy Holly Story (1978) with a stellar job by Gary Busey. He sang the songs and deserved that Oscar nomination, he was a very convincing Buddy. However, the first of several issues with the movie is that they left Nikki Sullivan, (The Crickets guitar player) out of the movie. However it is true for most of the time there was just Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin. Also left out was his Manager, Norman Petty who was a very significant part of Buddys success after he left Decca and helped Buddy produce almost all of his hit songs. As the movie progresses, it incorrectly shows who The Crickets members were and for Jerry Allison’s role it was down played. Not only was he a co-writer but arguably Buddy closest friend. In addition, while The Crickets toured with Buddy, they did not actually add any vocals on the particular records as depicted in the film. The added studio singers or musicians were not members of the Crickets, and the movie kind of confuses this I think.

Some other bugbears in the film are for one, the representation of Buddy’s parents, it is not very accurate either, as they appear to be pushing against Buddy and his music career. His father especially, was a big supporter from an early age and this is overlooked. His brothers and sister were also big supporters. Excluded was the fact that his mother wrote the song “Maybe Baby” and gave it to Buddy as a bit of joke and was surprised when he recorded it. The Church Pastor in the movie was shown to make an anti Rock and Roll sermon that never happened, in fact Buddy remained close to the church and tithed 10 percent of his earnings. Having said that the sermon was representative of many church gatherings. There was a large anti-rock and roll movement at the time.

The Holley family was not consulted and were quite upset with the film, they felt it did not represent the true Buddy. Some of the information came from Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena and her recollections were based on their very short time together. Also at the end of the movie, the marquee for the Clear Lake show was dated February 3, when in fact the show was on the 2nd and the crash happened after midnight on the 3rd. As for the real reason Buddy chartered the plane for that fateful night, it was not just because of the bus issues and the heat didn’t work, it was as I understand it, because he was out of clean clothes and wanted the extra time to do his laundry before the next show.

As to the portrayal of Buddy in the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba also a great movie, there is an issue there as well. Buddy did 11 songs that night and not one of them was “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” performed by Marshall Crenshaw in the movie. Holly never performed that song live. For the truth about Buddy Holly we can turn to Paul McCartney and his documentary The Real Buddy Holly Story.

Thematically his last songs as noted above are ballads which was possibly the musical direction in which he was headed. He also recorded at least six complete songs in his apartment in 1958 in addition to several other informal jam sessions. He had a number of unfinished songs as well. Despite the split as mentioned, (months before his death) between Holly and his Manger, Holly’s family asked Norman Petty to work on finishing the songs. The Ray Charles Singers were used on “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”.

To back track a bit The Crickets were reformed in 1958 by Norman Petty after Buddy left him (as well as Jerry Allison and Joe Maudlin) for New York. They began recording sessions which were mostly in the Clovis Studio. After Buddy died there was a song released with the genuinely talented Earl Sink who delivered a respectable approximation of Holly’s voice on “I Fought the Law“. That tune was written by Buddy’s long time friend, sometimes bandmate, and de facto replacement, lead guitarist Sonny Curtis-who did sing lead on some of The Crickets other songs. Although credited as The Crickets, to say the song was meant to mislead listeners that it was Buddy Holly singing, well you can decide on your own. The more well known version is the Top 10 hit from The Bobby Fuller Four and a great rendition recognized by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone Magazine.

Holly’s music remained quite popular for some ten years after his death and the record company(s) released a few albums and more singles using the new material mixed in with previous studio and home recordings. In about 1970 his wife and heirs/family suspected MCA Records Inc. (Coral Records/Decca) were dispersing underpaid royalties for many of Buddy’s songs. There were numerous legal actions and appeals in a case that was remarkably not settled until 2007. While it ruled against the Record Company MCA the court ordered payments only totaled relatively minor amounts with $251,000 going to the family and about $234,000 to The Crickets. Both sides likely spent more than that on legal fees’.

When we look at the timeline of Holly releases, including the different Record Labels, music mixes and the structure of the songs it does not necessarily show the linear progression he was on as a writer and performer. However, I have to say (and feel) there was a melodic theme that connects all of his songs. Not that he was alone in his particular abilities but apart from Chuck Berry, there were few solo artists who could ‘compose’ music, write lyrics, play an amazing lead guitar, all combined with such a distinctive voice. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention a contemporary, Carl Perkins, whose similar talents, mostly through no fault of his own never attained close to the same level of recognition.

It was a real pleasure for me to revisit not only the great songs but to learn more about Buddy and his legacy. I am sure (hoping) the new movie Clear Lake will do the same for me and millions of fans and bring some new ones into the fold…and perhaps be a lot more accurate.

Rave On

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

7 thoughts on “Buddy Holly Part 3

  1. You know it’s kinda odd that Not Fade Away is the most covered…come to think of it…our band did that one the most. But I would think that Peggy Sue is the song he is best remembered for and yet it’s not even 2.
    I hate when movies do that…just go by the truth…that is why I like documentaries more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think had the Stones not covered it would be farther down the list, but it seems like it would be a fun song to play. I don’t mind movies dramatizing but there’s so much wrong about an important person, hence people have the wrong impression about his legacy

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s an easy song to play…that is probably it and it rocks…I love the song but I thought for sure it would be Peggy Sue.
        Yea I love the movie…and it probably got a lot of people into Buddy but just get it right was my only thing after I found out the truth…
        Great post regardless

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As always the movies tend to finagle the truth for greater effect. I mean, taking a plane to get ahead with the laundry doesn’t sound dramatic at all! Dry facts versus wild eyed fiction sees fiction winning out almost every time.

    Liked by 1 person

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