Charles Hardin Holley
was born in Lubbock, Texas on September 7, 1936--Labor Day, appropriately--and
quite promptly dubbed "Buddy" by his ma (for rock-and-roll's sake, it's lucky that little Charles escaped that other standard Texas nickname: Bubba). Buddy's parents and two older brothers and sister were musical, and as a boy he joined the family jams on violin or piano. The first indication of his unusual talent came at age five, when his brothers, hoping to score points for cuteness, dragged him along on stage at a talent show. Much to his brothers' annoyance, Buddy won first prize.
By junior high Buddy had turned his attention to the guitar, and formed a western duo with his friend Bob Montgomery. The two became very popular in Lubbock and eventually rated their own half-hour radio show on KDAV-AM. During the mid-fifties, the boys opened for the likes of Elvis, Marty Robbins, and Bill Haley at local shows. Eddie Crandall, the booking agent who arranged for their appearance with Bill Haley, liked Buddy enough to send some of his demos to Decca Records. From this, in early 1956, came Buddy's first record contract offer. He signed it, even though to his chagrin the contract left out his friend Bob and misspelled his name as Holly (at least they didn't change his name to something stupid like Engelbert Humperdinck).
Buddy recorded a number of songs for Decca during 1956, of which "Blue Days, Black Nights"/"Love Me" and "Modern Don Juan"/"You Are My One Desire" were released. However, neither record met with commercial success, and his contract was not renewed (fools). The next set of demo records Buddy made were with Norman Petty, of NorVaJak Studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty (who would become as integral to Buddy's success as any musician) was a brilliant producer and engineer with previous "rock" hits to his credit. And, unlike the fools at Decca, he allowed Buddy to play guitar as well as sing. It was with him that Buddy and his band--now known as the Crickets and comprising Jerry Allison on drums, Niki Sullivan on guitar, and Joe Mauldin on bass--cut "That'll Be The Day". Bought by Brunswick and released in June of 1957, this tune hit number one on the American charts and sold over one million records. The Crickets had arrived.
Through 1957 and 1958, Buddy continued to release many hit records under Petty's tutelage, as a member of the Crickets on Brunswick and as a solo artist on Coral. The group toured extensively in both the States and in Australia and England. In December 1957, American television audiences got their first look at their new four-eyed idol when the Crickets sang "That'll Be The Day" and their two new hits, "Oh Boy!" and "Peggy Sue," on the Ed Sullivan Show. Ed also interviewed Buddy on the air, giving Americans their first taste of his amazing West Texas accent as well.
Buddy stopped by his publishers'
office in New York one day in July of 1958 to discuss some business. At
desk was pretty Maria Elena Santiago, and according to legend it took Buddy less than thirty seconds to ask her for a date. Within days, Buddy (who had, ironically, recorded "Take Your Time" not six months ago) had asked her to marry him. After their wedding in August, the relationship between Norman Petty, Buddy, and the other Crickets began to disintegrate. Newly married Buddy became displeased with his friends' rowdiness, and Petty made no secret of his displeasure at the marriage (even suggesting that Maria Elena masquerade as the Crickets' secretary to avoid alienating female fans). In October, Buddy split with his band and producer and moved to New York to pursue a solo career. He and Maria Elena lived in Greenwich Village (can't ya just see him hanging out with Jack Kerouac, playing the bongos?)
In January 1959, Buddy
embarked on the now-infamous "Winter Dance Party" along with Dion and the
Valens, and fellow Texan J. P. Richardson (otherwise known as the "Big Bopper"). The accomodations for this trek through the frozen tundra of the upper midwest were apparently not ideal, as Buddy's drummer, Carl Bunch, came down with frostbite while inside the band bus. After their February 2 appearance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy chartered a small plane for himself and his remaining backup musicians--Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup--as transportation to the tour's next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota. The Bopper, who had a cold, wheedled Allsup's seat away from him and Jennings' seat was lost to Valens in a last-minute coin toss. The plane took off shortly after 1 A.M. on the morning of February 3 in a snowstorm and crashed almost immediately, killing the three musicians and the plane's young pilot, Roger Peterson.
Buddy Holly is unique in the history of rock and roll for many reasons. The Crickets are considered the first "self-contained" rock and roll band (i.e., what you hear on the record is what you get live). His use of echo, double-tracking, and string sections in the studio were unprecedented. He single-handedly popularized the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. And, gosh darn it, he wore big-ass glasses and hiccupped while he sang.
That said, I feel compelled to correct one common myth in regards to the Great Myopic One: he was not a nerd. Despite his image as some prehistoric Dilbert--which was branded into the public psyche with Gary Busey's Buddy Holly Story
character--ole Buddy was no pencil-necked geek. He drove a motorcycle. He wore pegged pants. And, unlike most of the
heartthrob singers popular in the fifties, Buddy didn't need to make himself up as a matinee idol: He was cool enough the way he
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