It’s hard to imagine what today’s music would be like if Buddy Holly hadn't come along. There have been so many famous bands and artists influenced by Buddy like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Elton John, Hank Marvin to name but a few. People very often ask the question 'what would Buddy have accomplished if he hadn't died?' There is no doubt in my mind that the world lost out on a lot of good music because he would have undoubtedly produced a lot more hit songs. But there was more to Buddy Holly than the public realised and he was very forward thinking. He was already making plans to become a producer producing other artists like Waylon Jennings. It was also said by those who were close to him that he was always in a rush to get to where he was going and that he was impulsive. This might explain how it came to be that a man who was only on the scene for 3 years made such an impact on the world of music.
Buddy was born on the 7 September 1936 his full name Charles Hardin Holley. His mother thought the name was a bit long winded for a child so she nick named him Buddy. The Holly part of his name came about because it was spelt wrong on a Decca contract and it remained that way. Coming from a musical family Buddy was influenced from a very early age and in his teens he was no stranger to the stage and the radio. When ever he got the opportunity he would perform in front of a crowd and this undoubtedly gave him the grounding and the confidence for what was to come later.
He approached his music with a lot of imagination and creativity drawing on lots of musical styles and vocal ideas. One of these vocal ideas was his hiccup but the way he used it rhythmically tapping out a beat with his voice was very much ahead of its time. It has to be also one of the main reasons why Buddy Holly stood apart from other vocalists – there just wasn’t anyone like him. His guitar playing complemented his singing and was also very unusual. Most guitar players would normally strum up and down strokes with the plectrum but Buddy preferred to use mainly down strokes. Also Buddy was a very good rhythm guitar player and playing good rhythm guitar is an art in itself. He seemed to appreciate that a song needs a good sounding complimentary rhythm behind it to give it foundation. Anyone who thinks that his songs are simple just because they very often consist of three chords should try recreating one of his songs from scratch! They would soon realise that although the idea behind the song is simple, the musicianship and the talent involved in the original is of a very high order.
In the three very busy years after which Buddy’s career took off a lot of things happened. He recorded and had hit after hit with songs like That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue, Rave On, Oh Boy and many others. He toured England and not long after got married to Maria Elena Santiago a receptionist at New York City music publishers. Deciding that he needed more control over his future he decided to make a break from his manager Norman Petty the man who had recorded a lot of his hits. This opened up a rift between Buddy and The Crickets and Buddy left to go it alone. A lot of Buddy’s capital was still tied up with Norman Petty and this created a lot of financial strain. In 1959 Buddy went on tour with the ill fated Winter Dance Party. The tour buses on this tour constantly broke down in the cold weather and Buddy arranged to catch a flight after playing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa in order to go on ahead of schedule. On the plane with him were Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The light aircraft crashed not long after take off killing everyone on board. One sad twist to this tragedy is that Maria was pregnant at the time and after hearing the news of her husband miscarried and lost the baby. Along with the pilot one might even say that there were five people in that plane not four.
Despite her loss Maria Elena came through that dark period in her life and remarried raising three children along the way. She looks remarkably well and tours the world promoting her first husband’s legacy. God bless her.
As I wrote at the beginning of this page it’s hard to imagine what the world of music would be like if Buddy Holly hadn’t come along. So as I pay tribute to Buddy Holly by playing his music in my show The Graham Holly Experience I like to think that the legend still lives on in me.