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.
If you are of a certain age you may recall the title is from a song used by Donny & Marie Osmond on their TV show in the mid 70’s. It was originally written as a love song by Marty Cooper, however after some editing it became the signature song for the brother and sister.
Today I am not talking about the song, or any member of the talented Osmond Family for that matter but the title seemed to fit. When I started to write this post the song title just came to me, as I am talking about the relationship between Country Music and Rock Music, I could not have come up with a better title. First, I will discuss a very brief overview of each genres history and then some of the many early connections between the two. Just a reminder that you can check out my past posts on The History of Rock and Roll, The Delta Blues and many others for more connections.
This is the song that many will first associate with Billie Holiday. Written with Jazz pianist and band leader Herbie Nichols it was recorded in sessions from August of 1955 but released in 1956 on the five track album of the same name. This is also the title of a biopic that came out in 1972 with the legend Diana Ross playing Holiday. The movie did not receive the greatest of reviews and is loosely based on Holiday’s autobiography which has the same title as well if you’re sensing a theme here – but as often the case with these films, it’s not very factually accurate. However it is quite enjoyable from my standpoint and well worth watching just to see Ross perform the songs.
Billie herself would record over 200 cover songs and many memorable versions from The American Songbook/American Standards. Of her 40 original songs, “Lady Sing the Blues” has not been covered as often and coincidentally there are currently 40 versions. The first one appeared in a medley by Susan Carter in 1970. This next clip is from one of the many tribute albums to Billie Holiday, interestingly it so happens to have been assembled by the versatile actor Peter Stormare. As I understand the story, Peter, who has his own record label named Stormvox was grieving the death of Jimi Hendrix back in 1970 and his mother gave him a Billie Holiday album which helped him to the point of him promising his mother he would do a tribute album.
This is the instrumental track from the co-writer Herbie Nichols and it was released at about the same time as the vocal track in 1956.
Buddy is best remembered for his original songs, and he wrote or co-wrote most of them himself. His first single was under his new contract with Decca (1956) is “Love Me” that he co-wrote with Sue Parish from Lubbock, Texas. It was the A side of the first of two records released by Decca after those initial sessions in Nashville. On the B side was “Blue Days – Black Nights” written by Ben Hall, also from Lubbock. The other record had “Modern Don Juan” on the A side that was written by a longtime friend of Buddy and his family, Don Guess. Don’s (The Guest) Sisters recorded with Norman Petty in Clovis in the 1940’s and this provides the link to Buddy working with Petty after he left Decca. The B side was “That’s My One Desire” that was also written by Don Guess.
As we known there was a disconnect with Decca right from the beginning, they wanted a Country Singer, and Buddy wanted to do Rock and Roll. For his first recordings in Nashville, he had taken Sonny Curtis to play lead guitar, and Don Guess to play the bass. He left his friend and drummer Jerry Allison in Lubbock and Nikki Sullivan stayed in school. At that time in Nashville, Country & Western Music very rarely used drums and they did not really even know how to record them. They were banned from The Grand Ole Opry stage for many years. In the 1950’s much of the Country Music world worried that with drums it would start to sound like Rock and Roll. So Buddy could not get the sound he wanted and Decca put no effort in promoting him.
I know I posted this song recently but it was not until he worked with Norman Petty that the real Buddy Holly was heard. On “That’ll Be The Day” it was just Buddy with his jangly lead guitar, Jerry Allison on drums and from the first recording, replacing Joe Mauldin on bass it was Larry Welborn (who had also played on past Holly recordings). Nikki Sullivan (one of Buddy’s bass players) provided background vocals only, along with June Clark, Gary Tollett and Ramona Tollett. The resulting and much better version was released on Brunswick in May of 1957. This became his breakout single. It reached #1 on Billboard (this was pre-Hot 100), it went to #2 on the R&B Chart and was #1 in the UK. It was his only #1 in the US.
As I have mentioned, there are movie portrayals and many have seen some of the great theatrical performances, also the books and other tributes to Buddy Holly. There was a Tribute album “Rave On” released in 2011 that was unfortunately a critical failure with some less than stellar efforts from some respected artists. There is one standout version from My Morning Jacket on “True Love Ways“. Then there is the namesake band called The Hollies. Elvis Costello’s look was not a mistake either. As I mentioned in Part 1 and many have said, the course of (what we think of as the original) Rock and Roll changed as a result of that plane crash. I believe it was a key part of the decline of the genre but there were many other events in and around the same time that had an impact. For more on that story you can read my post, When did Rock Drop the Roll. I think the biggest loss with Holly was the direction he was moving with his music.
Buddy never thought Rock and Roll would last much longer, at least not at its current pace of the late 1950’s so he turned his focus to other styles and types of music. The move to New York was due to his desire to focus more on writing and publishing. This led to a split with The Crickets who were for the record, drummer Jerry Allison, bassist Joe B. Mauldin, and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan. They would form the band that toured with Buddy in 1957. If you are following with the names I have mentioned on recordings, the three were rarely together in studio.
After the move, Buddy had a bit of a cash flow problem, for reasons I won’t go into now but this led to his decision to join the Winter Dance Party tour. He put together a new band with fellow Texan Waylon Jennings, a guy Buddy had been grooming for stage performances (lead Guitar) and another Texan Carl Bunch (drums) along with Tommy Allsup (Guitar) who had also been playing in Texas. There are many accounts surrounding the events of that fateful tour. I will try and present the rest of the story as I understand it and wrap up with Buddy Holly Part 3.
Thanks to the band Weezer and this retro themed song and video from 1994 it gave many younger listeners a look back in time and perhaps some discovered the amazing Buddy Holly collection. Not to mention Mary Tyler Moore! BTW and I am sure this is no coincidence on the part of Weezer, the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore tv show was written and sung by Buddy’s friend Sonny Curtis.
I hope you continue to enjoy my blog and as always, thanks for reading!
The Rolling Stones covered this song in 1964 and in reaching #3 it gave them their first top 10 in the UK and it became their first charted single in the US at #48. Released in 1957 it was not a hit for Holly and it appeared on the B side of “Oh Boy” that had reached #10 on Billboard. “Oh Boy” as did almost all of Buddy Holly’s songs charted better in the UK reaching #3, hence the the flip side (Not Fade Away) also gained some popularity and came to the attention of Mick and Keith who worked on the arrangement themselves. The original was written by Buddy Holly and draws inspiration from the great Bo Diddley beat. Drummer Jerry Allison used a cardboard box instead of drums to get that distinctive sound ala “Party Doll” (1957) by fellow Texan Buddy Knox, who was also recorded (April 1956) by Norman Petty at his studio in Clovis.
The Rolling Stones had been touring with Bo Diddley in the UK so this cover of Buddy Holly served as a tribute to both of the artists. I have to say they nailed it. This would be the second cover version as The Bobby Fuller (who covered the Crickets “I Fought the Law”) did it first in 1962. It has since become the most covered Buddy Holly song with over 140 versions. A live performance by Bo Diddley himself appears on the 20th Anniversary of Rock and Roll album from 1976. Other notable covers include Tanya Tucker and Stephen Stills both from 1978 and the Lolitas in 1989. Rock icons Rush released a version of this song in 1973, it was their first single and it charted at #88 in Canada. For a great many artists this is a stage favorite such as Bruce Springsteen and Los Lobos. The Grateful Dead played this song frequently during live performances but I could not find a studio version. If you have a chance to check out this clip of a Celebrity Ensemble doing the song on Austin City Limits, it’s worth it just hear Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt.
“Peggy Sue” is instantly recognizable as a Buddy Holly song and currently there are at least 91 versions. There are many songs that have had great covers recorded, this it not one of them. There is a somewhat exploitive cover version, I think anyway, with a bit of an offensive drum mix billed as Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets from 1962. I have a lot of respect for Lou Reed but he did an awful version for the Holly Tribute album. A much more palatable tribute comes from John Lennon in 1975.
If you are a fan of Holly then you may know there was some debate about the origins of the song. There is little doubt the song was initially written by Buddy and the title was Cindy Lou, named after Buddy’s niece. I read in the Gary James interview that Jerry Allison recalls there was a “Cindy” song out at that time so Buddy changed it to “Peggy Sue” the name of Jerry’s old girlfriend and soon to be ex-wife. Allison said they came up with the rest of the song while driving around in Buddys car.
I have also seen accounts that it was Peggy Sue all along or that Allison had pressured Buddy to change the name to impress Peggy Sue Gerron as a favour to Jerry. I also read and I’ve heard Allison say that Norman Petty, perhaps kiddingly threaten Jerry they would change it back to Cindy Lou if he didn’t nail his snare drum piece on the next take as he was tasked with some tricky paradiddies (complex drum rudiments). Apparently and also with some debate, the credits on the record went to Jerry Allison and Norman Petty with Buddy Holly added at the last minute, another tale there as well. Whatever the story, it’s one great song, it reached #3 on Billboard, #4 in Canada and #6 in the UK.
Some may believe The Buddy Holly Story movie version of how The Crickets got their name. The whole cricket in the garage thing at Buddy’s home in the early days, the scene is fiction. The name came about after the Decca recordings which is about two years later than any playing they did in Buddy’s parents garage. When working with Norman Petty in his Clovis, New Mexico studio, Buddy wanted to record “That’ll Be the Day”. The song was one of the unreleased records that Buddy did with Decca in Nashville. That first session took place July 22, 1956 with Buddy, Don Guess, Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison. And formally credited to Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes and Decca released this after the song became a hit.
Long story short, and there are several different recollections but basically they needed to release the new version under a different name in an attempt to avoid issues with Buddy’s old Decca contract that was still in place. So Nikki Sullivan, Buddy and Jerry Allison got together and, based on an R&B group named The Spiders, they sifted through an Encyclopedia looking for names. They briefly considered the Beetles but as we know they settled on the more ‘musical’ insect.
In another part of the movie, the scene were the DJ locked himself in the studio and played Buddy’s “That’ll Be The Day” over and over was completely made up and this never happened.
“That’ll Be The Day” was written by Jerry Allison and Buddy Holly with a song credit taken by Norman Petty for the reworked hit version. Released as a single by The Crickets on May 27, 1957. It’s not a surprise that his biggest hit and only Billboard #1 is also one of his songs with the most cover versions. Recorded over 110 times.
“That’ll Be The Day” was released by Linda Ronstadt in August of 1976 and the single would reach #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Ronstadt’s fifth top 40 single in two years, all of them cover songs.
The precursor to The Beatles, The Quarryman would record this song July 15, 1958. It was not officially released until 1995 on Anthology 1.
I am starting something new, it will be a short take on cover songs with more frequent posts. Beginning with Buddy Holly songs, moving to Billie Holiday and finishing the year with Holiday and Christmas songs. While Canada held Thanksgiving Day on October 10, Americans will celebrate on November 24. So with this upcoming official start to the Season, along with my recent post on Buddy, and please pardon the pun, but the Holly/Holiday was just too much to resist!
Buddy in his short career released 36 original songs and 27 covers. Of those amazing originals, (for me this is going back some years now) I was surprised to learn that “Rave On” is not one of them. It was co-written and recorded by Sonny West, who was also managed and produced by Norman Petty. West released it in February of 1958, it did not chart. Buddy was the first to cover it and the first time he himself covered someone’s song. So later in 1958 he changed it up just a bit (for the better), leading to a #37 hit in the US and #5 in the UK. This would go on to be covered more than 80 times, mostly in the style of Buddy Holly.
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.
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.
I’ve had this topic in my folder since I started blogging four years ago. On the heels of the Elvis post it seems it’s time. Rockabilly by definition is a hybrid name, or technically a portmanteau so I recently learned. A combination of Rock and Roll and Hillbilly music. Rock and Roll as we know started to really develop in the early 1950’s and prior to that much of Country Music was described as Hillbilly Music. However that name was going out of fashion at the same time as Rock and Roll was rising. So it is somewhat fitting that we have a genre that bridges the gap between the two. Just to set the stage for Rockabilly, which not unlike most of what we call a ‘genre’ is actually considered a subgenre, in this case of Rock, so let’s take a look at the roots of the music. As the name says a big influence came from what was labeled as Hillbilly, so geographically we are talking about music from the Appalachia and the Ozarks as well as parts of the American South. It came to be used to describe the music, often in a derogatory way meaning music from the hills of just about anywhere. Hillbilly Music moved under the term Country & Western, which ‘adopted’ this sound and other associated styles including Bluegrass, Folk, Western, and Folk Blues among others. Having said that, post this musical amalgamation the legendary Country star Hank Williams has been described as The Hillbilly Shakespeare which is unrelated to Rockabilly. For a short time in the late 1940’s Cashbox Magazine among its many music charts had one called the The Nations Big 5 Hillbilly. As for the term Hillbilly, it has not gone away entirely and is closely linked to Old Time Music and Bluegrass.Read More »