Buddy Holly Part 2

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!

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,

Holly Days #5

Happy American Thanksgiving and a special hello to my family and extended family living in the US. I have a lot of favorite songs I do admit and with Buddy Holly it is hard to pick just one. His original song “Heartbeat” was credited to Buddy’s highschool friend, bandmate and his first writing partner, Bob Montgomery. While I can’t provide any concrete evidence, I feel Buddy also played a large part in the writing as it was from a time when the two worked very closely together and it is so similar to some of Holly’s other songs such as “Words of Love” that Buddy had recorded earlier. To take nothing away from Bob who recorded an unreleased demo of the song with Norman Petty (who would take a song credit) and he wrote other songs such as “Misty Blue” and a song for Patsy Cline, but it was Buddy that moved on to greater things. Buddy was known to be generous with songwriting credits. Part of the reason Bruce Springsteen used to (maybe he still does) listen to Buddy Holly before going on stage was a reminder to “keep it simple” and this song is a perfect example. Straightforward lyrics and vocals with a great accompaniment gives us this beautiful little song.

Thanks to Rock NL Rolla for this Youtube post.
Spiced up but still true to the original, a great cover version by The US group The Knack! Like many of Holly’s songs it had much more of an impact in the UK where it charted #30, than it did in the US where it peaked at #82. There are two cover versions that charted in the UK as well, Showaddywaddy hit #7 in 1975 and Nick Berry reached #2 in 1992.

I did say it was hard to pick just one! “True Love Ways” was written by Holly and recorded on October 21, 1958. Written for his soon to be wife, Maria Elena Santiago it is another simple but beautiful song. It was one of the last songs Buddy recorded but never performed and it was released after his death in March of 1960.

This stunning song only managed to reach the charts in the UK where it peaked at #25. Once again we have cover versions doing very well, Peter and Gordon went to #2 in the UK in 1965 and hit #3 in Canada and #14 in the US.
A very talented pair that would chart with several cover songs. Peter Asher would go on to great renown as a Producer for James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and many more.

Mickey Gilley would top the Country Hot 100 chart in 1980.

The Beatles loved to cover Buddy Holly songs during live performances. On the album Beatles For Sale, released in 1964 (UK only) they covered Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Dr. Feeelgood and (as noted above) Buddy Holly’s song “Words of Love”. Very few artists could write and sing Rock and Roll Ballads like Buddy Holly.

The legend, Paul McCartney. Wow!

Thanks for reading, so many more great covers of Buddy Holly songs but that’s the end of Holly Days! Next we move on to Happy Holidays and first featuring the extraordinary Billie Holiday.

Holly Days #4

Not Fade Away

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.

Thanks for reading.

Holly Days #2

That’ll Be The Day!

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.

Thanks for reading!

References: 1,2, 3

Holly Days #1

Buddy Holly
Holly Tree

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.

John Mellencamp, great version!

A rockin’ version from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Amazing job by Gary Busey in the 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story. A stellar performance by Busey throughout the film. However there were a great many mistakes, omissions and fictional additions in this Hollywood version. More on that in Buddy Holly Part 3.

Thanks for reading.

Holly Tree image by Nannette Turner