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Gene Vincent
Buddy Holly no era un tío superguaperas ni tenía pinta de macarra, sino más bien de chivato-acusica-gafotas-empollón, pero lo que sí tenía era uno de los mayores talentos musicales de entre todos los cantantes de esa década. Y no me refiero sólo a los intérpretes de Rock and Roll, sino a todos los cantantes.

 

Pero, como siempre, lo mejor será empezar por el principio: Charles Hardin Holley nace el 7 de septiembre de 1936 en Lubbock (Texas), hijo de Lawrence y Ella. Los Holley han emigrado a Lubbock atraídos por la gran cantidad de puestos de trabajo que genera en esa zona la industria algodonera. Lawrence trabaja en todo tipo de oficios (P.ej. carpintero, cocinero o sastre) hasta que a principios de los ’50 funda una pequeña empresa constructora con unos ahorrillos, en la que coloca a sus cuatro hijos.

A Charles, el menor de los cuatro, pronto le empiezan a llamar Buddy (apelativo cariñoso sureño para referirse al benjamín de la familia). Durante sus años escolares, su apellido se transforma de Holley a Holly. El pequeño Buddy no tarda en aficionarse a la música. En el Sudoeste de los EE.UU. se solían interpretar canciones en familia, con resultados en muchas ocasiones cercanos a los de los profesionales. Estas primeras experiencias mostraron la aptitud e intuición de Buddy. En 1941, Buddy y sus dos hermanos (Travis, de 14, y Larry, de 16) cantan durante la feria local el tema Country Down the river of memories, con el que ganan 5 dólares. Durante los años siguientes, Buddy se familiariza con algunos instrumentos del Country: guitarra, banjo y violín, principalmente, y también toma clases de piano. Escucha fielmente el Grand Ole Opry y el Louisiana Hayride y su ídolo es Hank Williams. Pronto la guitarra se convierte en su instrumento preferido, teniendo como primer maestro a su hermano Travis.

En octubre de 1950, Holly empieza a asistir a la J.T. Hutchinson Junior High School, donde conoce a Bob Montgomery, también aficionado al Country, con el que empieza a tocar. Los dos se pasan las noches oyendo a dos disc-jockeys negros: el Profesor Bop y Gatemouth Brown, que radian sólo Blues. En 1953, Buddy y Bob graban de forma casera el tema Footprints in the snow y empiezan a tocar en las fiestas de los institutos. La música es la principal obsesión de Holly, con lo que los estudios comienzan a flaquear, pese a que para satisfacer a sus papás se matricula en cursos nocturnos de artes gráficas y delineación. En 1954, en un festival de su instituto en memoria de los pioneros del Oeste, el dúo gana el primer premio de interpretación con un tema Country: Flower of my heart. Este éxito les anima y consiguen una audición en la emisora local KDAV, cuyo director, Hi Pockets Duncan, les sugiere que amplíen su repertorio y se busquen un bajista. Eligen a un coleguita del instituto, Larry Welborn, y empiezan a preparar varios temas en los que Bob canta y Buddy se encarga de los coros. Poco después, Buddy comienza a interesarse por el Rhythm & Blues y a incluir en el repertorio canciones de este estilo, en las que lleva la voz principal. El trío se gana una reputación de grupo de directo y salta a las ondas en el show Sunday party, obteniendo un gran éxito de audiencia. Pronto tienen un programa propio, el Buddy and Bob show, y Hi Pockets Duncan se convierte en su manager.

A finales de enero de 1955, Elvis Presley toca en Lubbock. Buddy asiste al concierto y, muy impresionado, va a verle al camerino. Se hacen colegas inmediatamente y Elvis le propone que toque con él al día siguiente en la inauguración de un nuevo garaje de la Pontiac en Lubbock. Buddy descubre así el Rock & Roll, lo que va a marcar definitivamente su estilo. Holly incluye en sus actuaciones alguno de los temas de Presley e incorpora en el grupo al batería Jerry Allison para acercarse más al sonido del nuevo estilo. Buddy y Bob empiezan a escuchar a los bluesmen de la Chess, especialmente a Lonnie Johnson, flipando los dos en colores. Conocen a otros intérpretes de Rock & Roll como Roy Orbison o Buddy Knox y, en abril, cuando Elvis Presley vuelve a Lubbock, Holly toca varios temas con él. Por aquel entonces, Buddy ya tiene terminadas sus dos primeras composiciones rocanroleras: Down the line y Baby, won’t you come out tonight.

En el verano de 1955, el grupo de Holly (que por esta época se llama Western and Bop) no para de tocar. Después, el 14 de octubre, telonea a Bill Haley & The Comets en Lubbock. Al día siguiente vuelven a actuar, esta vez compartiendo cartel con Floyd Cramer, Jimmy Newman, Johnny Cash y Elvis Presley, que, de nuevo, toca algunos temas a dúo con Holly. Otro intérprete de éxito al que telonean Buddy y los suyos es a Marty Robbins. Tras el bolo, Holly, Robbins y su manager, Eddie Crandall, se van de juerga. Marty piensa que Buddy debería conseguir una audición en algún sello y Crandall, totalmente de acuerdo, habla con Jim Denny, cazatalentos de la división Country de Decca. Denny necesitaba un nuevo Elvis, ya que meses antes le había dicho al Pelvis durante una emisión del Grand Ole Opry que lo mejor que podía hacer era volver a su camión. Ahora Presley acababa de firmar por RCA por 35.000 dólares y Denny era la rechifla del gremio. Total, que Denny pone un telegrama a su contacto en Lubbock, pidiéndole que haga que Buddy Holly grabe cuatro canciones sin cambiar para nada su estilo y que se las mande lo antes posible por avión. El telegrama no menciona en ningún momento a Bob Montgomery, que se separa de Buddy. La banda queda con Jerry Allison a la batería y Buddy, que pide ayuda a Sonny Curtis (guitarra) y a Don Guess (bajo). Holly se acaba de comprar su primera guitarra profesional, una Fender Stratocaster, modelo totalmente inusual entre los músicos blancos pero muy común entre los bluesmen. Graban Love me, Don’t come back tonight y Baby won’t you come out tonight. Nada más enviar la cinta se van de gira como banda de Hank Thompson. Cuando Denny recibe la cinta lo flipa y fija la fecha de grabación para Buddy el 26 de enero de 1956.

Buddy Holly y compañía llegan a Nashville en la fecha fijada. La discográfica quiere repetir con Holly el éxito que Elvis había obtenido pocas semanas antes con Heartbreak Hotel. La sesión no resulta demasiado bien. Don Guess y Sonny Curtis son vetados como músicos de acompañamiento y a los músicos de Nashville no les mola el Rockabilly. Buddy tiene que aguantar a una banda que no comprende la música que quiere hacer y, como es lógico, el resultado es bastante inferior a lo esperado. El 16 de abril aparece el primer single de Buddy Holly: Love me / Blue days, black nights. Aunque tiene buenas críticas, las ventas son escasas. Durante el verano, Holly inicia su primera gira profesional, pero hay broncas y Curtis y Guess dejan la banda. El 15 de noviembre lleva a cabo otra sesión de grabación con la que tampoco queda satisfecho, exceptuando el tema Rock around with Ollie Vee. Convencido de que no le van a renovar el contrato, vuelve a Lubbock. El 24 de diciembre, Decca lanza su segundo single: Modern Don Juan / You are my one desire, que tampoco vende demasiado. Convertir al gafotas en un ídolo no es tan fácil como esperaba Decca. Su contrato es rescindido.

Holly y Jerry Allison se tiran todo el invierno ensayando. También tocan en algunos clubs para sobrevivir, donde se van haciendo una buena reputación. Muchos músicos de la zona acuden para hacer jam-sessions con ellos. Buddy decide grabar algunos temas para mandar cintas a las discográficas y se traslada a Clovis (New Mexico), a los estudios NorVaJak, propiedad de un tal Norman Petty. Allison, Buddy y su hermano Larry Holley graban los temas Bo Diddley y Brown eyed handsome man y regresan tan contentos a Lubbock, dispuestos a seguir componiendo canciones.

Buddy Holly & The Crickets
En enero de 1957, Gary Tollet busca una banda que le acompañe en una audición para la compañía Roulette. Va a ver a Holly y llegan a un acuerdo: Holly y compañía le acompañarán si Gary consigue una audición para ellos. Para esto, vuelven a los estudios de Norman Petty y, con la ayuda de Niki Sullivan (guitarrista) y Larry Welborn (bajista), graban el 25 de febrero de 1957 una nueva versión de That’ll be the day, canción que ya habían grabado en los estudios de Decca, y un tema nuevo: I’m looking for someone to love, al tiempo que piensan un nombre para el grupo. Deciden llamarse The Crickets (los grillos). Tiempo después, Holly sigue sin tener noticias. Norman Petty, al que le había molado el grupo y tenía algún colega en la compañía, telefonea para ver qué pasa. Le dicen que los directivos habían encontrado interesantes los temas del gafoso y que estaban a punto de ser grabados por otros músicos. Petty se pone en contacto con Holly y éste llama a Roulette para amenazarles con un pleito si otros graban las canciones sin su consentimiento. Le devuelven la cinta con la seguridad de que no se haría uso indebido de sus composiciones. A raíz de esto, Petty y Holly se hacen muy colegas y el primero sugiere al segundo que envíe la cinta a Bob Thiele, del sello Coral.

Lo hace y Bob decide comprar los derechos de That’ll be the day para lanzar un single. Pero hay nuevos follones: Buddy tenía firmado contrato con la Decca por dos años y, aunque la discográfica le había mandado al peo un año antes de su expiración, Holly no podía editar nada en otro sello. Por suerte, Coral era subsidiaria de Decca, y se llegó a un acuerdo: Holly era libre de editar lo que quisiera en Coral a cambio de renunciar a los derechos de sus canciones de Decca.

Aquí es cuando Holly decide formar de una vez por todas un grupo estable: Allison a la batería, Joe B. Mauldin al bajo y Niki Sullivan a la guitarra rítmica. Estamos ya ante la formación definitiva de Buddy Holly and The Crickets. A finales de marzo vuelven a los estudios NorVaJak para grabar otros dos temas: Last night y Maybe baby. Después, durante mayo y junio, se encierran literalmente en los estudios. Norman Petty se los ha dejado gratis con la condición de que le cedan un porcentaje de los beneficios de cualquier canción grabada en ellos. Holly, que quiere controlar totalmente su sonido, acepta.

El 27 de mayo aparece el single That’ll be the day / I’m looking for someone to love editado por Brunswick, otra subsidiaria de la Decca, pero, tras varias semanas, no vende demasiado, a pesar de que las emisoras de radio lo pinchan regularmente. Cierto día, un disc-jockey de la WWOL de Buffalo (Nueva York) enloquece repentinamente y se encierra en el estudio de la emisora con dos copias del single de Buddy, radiando That’ll be the day durante 16 o 17 horas seguidas hasta que es desalojado por la policía (qué pasote). Esto hace muy popular la canción en el radio de acción de la emisora. El 23 de septiembre se ha situado en el segundo puesto de las listas Rhythm & Blues y en el tercero de las listas Pop. En pocas semanas, el mercado se inunda de discos de Buddy Holly: Decca lanza un single con la primera versión de That’ll be the day y Rock around with Ollie Vee, Coral saca otro con Words of love y Mailman, bring me no more blues, mientras que Brunswick vende un huevo de copias del single que lo ha liado todo. En agosto, los Crickets han iniciado su primera gira importante, siendo contratados incluso por varios clubs de Blues y sorprendiendo al público, que esperaba ver aparecer a un grupo negro tocando música negra. Durante agosto y septiembre recorren el país junto a Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, The Everly Brothers, The Drifters, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter y Jimmy Bowen, en El mayor espectáculo de estrellas para 1957. Cada artista actúa durante 15 minutos, viajan todos en autobús y se alojan en hoteles baratos. Durante esta gira, los Crickets se hicieron muy muy coleguitas de los Everly Brothers y de Chuck Berry.

La cosa marcha. Norman Petty se ha convertido en su representante y también firma las composiciones del grupo, en el que Holly se muestra como un prolífico autor. En septiembre aparece un nuevo single con Peggy Sue y Everyday, alcanzando rápidamente el tercer puesto en las listas, donde permanece durante nueve semanas. Este éxito hace que Brunswick se decida a lanzar un LP del grupo: The chirping Crickets, del que cuatro temas han sido grabados en un estudio móvil instalado en la base de la Fuerza Aérea de los Estados Unidos en Tinker (Oklahoma), ya que los Crickets aun estaban de gira. Una vez terminada ésta, vuelven a Lubbock y Niki Sullivan abandona la formación. El grupo decide no buscar sustituto, adoptando la composición clásica del Rockabilly: guitarra, contrabajo y batería. En diciembre, el trío aparece en el show de Alan Freed, donde causan sensación. Tras sacar un nuevo single, Rave on / That’s my desire, los Crickets aparecen en el show de Ed Sullivan. Se produce una bronca gorda entre Buddy y Ed porque el presentador intenta manipular la puesta en escena del cantante, lo que tiene como consecuencia que sólo graben una canción (Oh boy!) para el programa. Sullivan intentará disculparse para que Buddy vuelva a su show, pero no habrá manera: Buddy se negará siempre a actuar en el programa.

El grupo ya es conocido en todo el país y, a partir de 1958, el grupo se ve inmerso en una vorágine de grabaciones, giras y apariciones en televisión. El 27 de enero, los Crickets salen hacia Honolulu y Australia con Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka y Judie Sands. Mientras tanto, van saliendo al mercado más singles. Coral lanza los temas I’m gonna love you too y Listen to me, y Brunswick hace lo propio con Maybe baby y Tell me how. En febrero se van a Florida y, después, a Inglaterra, esta vez junto a Bill Haley y Jerry Lee Lewis.

En marzo, Coral edita un LP titulado Buddy Holly. Nueva gira junto a Alan Freed, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Larry Williams y Frankie Lymon. En abril, Decca lanza otro LP titulado That’ll be the day, conteniendo la mayor parte de los temas grabados por Buddy en 1956. Pero las ventas de este disco y las de los singles de Decca de 1957 se resienten muchísimo por las continuas broncas que tiene Buddy con los ingenieros de sonido de la compañía para que le dejen grabar sus canciones como él quiere.

El 3 de mayo de 1958 se produce un follón gordo en el Boston Arena, en el que tocan esa noche los Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis y Chuck Berry, al intentar suspender el concierto las autoridades de la ciudad cortando la electricidad del recinto. Los jóvenes se enfrentan con la poli, lo que desata una campaña enorme contra el Rock and Roll. Tras esta movida, los Crickets pasan unos días en Lubbock, pero las cosas estaban chungas en el grupo: Mauldin y Allison se habían aficionado a la bebida tras un largo año en la carretera. Además, los tres tomaban estimulantes para combatir la fatiga. También estaban cansados del control de Norman Petty porque, al fin y al cabo, los músicos eran ellos. En junio de 1958, los Crickets viajan a Nueva York para resolver unos asuntos con la discográfica. Buddy Holly, con fundas nuevas en los dientes que mejoran su famosa sonrisa, realiza las primeras grabaciones sin su grupo, interpretando dos temas de Bobby Darin. Allí conoce a la portorriqueña María Elena Santiago, con la que se casa el 15 de agosto en Lubbock, matrimonio mantenido en secreto para no desilusionar a las fans. En julio, Holly ha grabado unas maquetas para los Everly Brothers, para las que ha contratado a un guitarrista de estudio llamado Tommy Allsup, que se une a los Crickets. El 1 de septiembre graba unos jingles de promoción para una emisora de radio en la que trabajan dos amiguetes suyos de la infancia: Slim Corbin y Waylon’ Jennings. Éste le cuenta que tiene pensado dedicarse a la música y Buddy se ofrece para producirle. Graban en Clovis dos temas, When sin stops y Jolie blon, mientras que los Crickets preparan un nuevo single con Reminiscing y Come back, baby. A finales de octubre, Petty convence a Holly para que introduzca cambios en su estilo. Sus últimos singles no han funcionado como se esperaba, ya que el Rock and Roll está tomando otros derroteros.

Se va imponiendo el estilo de los Teen Idols, que interpretan un Rock suavizado, con mucha balada y acompañamiento de orquestas. Buddy Holly, de carácter inquieto, prueba esto que le propone Norman acompañado de la orquesta de Dick Jacobs, en unas grabaciones en las que por primera vez no toca la guitarra. Graba cuatro temas: Moondreams, True love ways, It doesn’t matter anymore y Raining in my heart.

Holly se ha hecho maduro. El 29 de octubre se separan los Crickets, ya que Buddy deseaba centrarse en las sesiones de grabación y dejar las giras, con lo que no estaban de acuerdo los otros. Buddy Holly se muda a Nueva York, rompe sus relaciones profesionales con Norman Petty, imagina futuros proyectos con Ray Charles y comienza a recibir clases de arte dramático. En Nueva York funda una compañía discográfica, Prism Records, en la que pretende editar cualquier tendencia innovadora que surja en el Rock & Roll. Saca un single con Heartbeat y Well... All right, pero, a finales de mes, Petty bloquea las cuentas bancarias de Buddy hasta que sea legal la separación de los Crickets, lo que deja al gafoso cantante tieso de viruta. La forma más rápida para un músico de conseguir pasta es tocando en directo. Holly vuelve a Lubbock y pide a Waylon’ Jennings que le acompañe como bajista, junto a Tommy Allsup a la guitarra y Charlie Bunch a la batería. La gira comienza el 23 de enero de 1959 y cuenta también con otros artistas en el cartel: Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, Dion and The Belmonts y Frankie Sardo. El 2 de febrero, Allison y Mauldin, tras romper definitivamente con Norman Petty, intentan ponerse en contacto con Holly, sin éxito. Tras una actuación en Clear Lake (Iowa), Holly, cansado, decide alquilar una avioneta para llegar unas horas antes que el autobús de la gira a Moorhead, lugar del siguiente concierto, y poder dormir un rato. En el último momento, Waylon cede su plaza a Big Bopper y Tommy se la juega a suertes con Ritchie Valens y pierde. A la 1:50 de la madrugada del 3 de febrero de 1959 despega la avioneta desde el pequeño aeropuerto de Mason City (Iowa), pilotada por un joven e inexperto piloto. Tras recorrer 10 millas envuelta en una fuerte tormenta de nieve, se estrella, muriendo todos sus ocupantes en el acto.

Este accidente supuso, en cierto modo, como señala J.A. Hidalgo en su libro La década dorada del Rock and Roll, un golpe de gracia a este estilo, que atravesaba en 1959 la peor crisis de su historia. Morían aquella madrugada dos estrellas muy prometedoras, Big Bopper y Ritchie Valens, y una estrella ya consolidada, de las más brillantes en el firmamento del Rock & Roll: Buddy Holly.

Hay quien dice que esta muerte tan prematura (a los 22 años) favoreció al mito de Buddy Holly porque su futuro era una incógnita, porque probablemente iba a cambiar su estilo de forma radical y porque nos ahorramos ver su decadencia y lo recordaremos eternamente joven. No estoy de acuerdo. Pienso que perdimos a un gran músico que pudo haber grabado muchos más discos estupendos. Cualquier dirección que hubiese tomado hubiera sido muy interesante, dada su gran valía como artista, su carácter inquieto y su voluntad de innovar. Oídme, dinosaurios: evolucionar es positivo si es para bien. Como decía Eddie Cochran en Three stars, su canción de homenaje a los tres cantantes fallecidos en el accidente, “Buddy Holly, siempre te recordaré con lágrimas en mis ojos”.


Artículo escrito por Roberto Blanco Tomás

Un pequeño homenaje interpretado por Vins Martí:
Heartbeat

Videos


That'll Be the Day


Oh, Boy


Peggy Sue

Inglish


Inglish
Buddy Holly is perhaps the most anomalous legend of '50s rock & roll -- he had his share of hits, and he achieved major rock & roll stardom, but his importance transcends any sales figures or even the particulars of any one song (or group of songs) that he wrote or recorded. Holly was unique, his legendary status and his impact on popular music all the more extraordinary for having been achieved in barely 18 months. Among his rivals, Bill Haley was there first and established rock & roll music; Elvis Presley objectified the sexuality implicit in the music, selling hundreds of millions of records in the process, and defined one aspect of the youth and charisma needed for stardom; and Chuck Berry defined the music's roots in blues along with some of the finer points of its sexuality, and its youthful orientation (and, in the process, intermixed all of these elements). Holly's influence was just as far-reaching as these others, if far more subtle and more distinctly musical in nature. In a career lasting from the spring of 1957 until the winter of 1958-1959 -- less time than Elvis had at the top before the army took him (and less time, in fact, than Elvis spent in the army) -- Holly became the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll.

Born in Lubbock, TX, on September 7, 1936, Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holley (he later dropped the "e") was the youngest of four children. A natural musician from a musical family, he was proficient on guitar, banjo, and mandolin by age 15 and was working as part of a duo with his boyhood friend Bob Montgomery, with whom he had also started writing songs. By the mid-'50s, Buddy & Bob, as they billed themselves, were playing what they called "western and bop"; Holly, in particular, was listening to a lot of blues and R&B and finding it compatible with country music. He was among those young Southern men who heard and saw Elvis perform in the days when the latter was signed to Sam Phillips' Sun Records -- indeed, Buddy & Bob played as an opening act for Elvis when he played the area around Lubbock in early 1955, and Holly saw the future direction of his life and career.

By mid-1955, Buddy & Bob, who already worked with an upright bass (played by Larry Welborn), had added drummer Jerry Allison to their lineup. They'd also cut some sides that would have qualified as rock & roll, though no label was interested at that particular time. Eventually Montgomery, who leaned toward more of a traditional country sound, left the performing partnership, though they continued to compose songs together. Holly kept pushing his music toward a straight-ahead rock & roll sound, working with Allison, Welborn, and assorted other local musicians, including guitarist Sonny Curtis and bassist Don Guess. It was with the latter two that Holly cut his first official recording session in January of 1956 in Nashville for Decca Records. They found out, however, that there was a lot more to playing and cutting rock & roll than met the eye; the results of this and a follow-up session in July were alternately either a little too tame and a little too far to the country side of the mix or were too raw. Some good music and a pair of near classics, "Midnight Shift" and "Rock Around With Ollie Vee," did come out of those Decca sessions, but nothing issued at the time went anywhere. At the time, it looked as though Holly had missed his shot at stardom.

Fate intervened in the guise of Norman Petty, a musician-turned-producer based in Clovis, NM, who had an ear for the new music and what made it sound good, especially over the radio, to the kids. Petty had a studio where he charged by the song instead of by the hour, and Holly and company had already begun working there in the late spring of 1956. After Decca's rejection, Holly and his band, which now included Niki Sullivan on rhythm guitar, threw themselves into what Petty regarded as the most promising songs they had, until they worked out a tight, tough version of one of the failed originals that Holly had cut in Nashville, entitled "That'll Be the Day." The title and lyrical phrase, lifted from a line that John Wayne was always quoting in the John Ford movie The Searchers, had staying power, and the group built on it. They got the song nailed and recorded, and with Petty's help, got it picked up by Murray Deutsch, a publishing associate of Petty's who, in turn, got it to Bob Thiele, an executive at Coral Records, who liked it. Ironically, Coral was a subsidiary of Decca, the same company to which Holly had previously been signed.

Thiele saw the record as potential hit, but there were some major hurdles to overcome before it could actually get released. For starters, according to author Philip Norman in his book Rave On, Thiele would get only the most begrudging support from his record company. Decca had lucked out in 1954 when, at Milt Gabler's urging, they'd signed Bill Haley & His Comets and subsequently saw his "Rock Around the Clock" top the charts, but very few of those in charge at Decca had a real feel or appreciation for rock & roll or any sense of where it might be heading, or whether the label could (or should) follow it there. For another, although he had been dropped by Decca Records the previous year, the contract that Holly had signed prohibited him from re-recording anything that he had cut for Decca, regardless of whether it had been released or not, for five years; though Coral Records was a subsidiary of Decca, there was every chance that Decca's Nashville office could hold up the release and might even haul Holly into court. Amid all of these possibilities, good and bad, Welborn, who had played on "That'll Be the Day," was replaced on bass by Joe B. Mauldin.

"That'll Be the Day" was issued in May of 1957 mostly as an indulgence to Thiele, to "humor" him, according to Norman. The record was put out on the Brunswick label, which was oriented more toward jazz and R&B, and credited to the Crickets, a group name picked as a dodge to prevent any of the powers-that-were at Decca -- and especially Decca's Nashville office -- from having too easy a time figuring out that the singer was the same artist that they'd dropped the year before. Petty also became the group's manager as well as their producer, signing the Crickets -- identified as Allison, Sullivan, and Mauldin -- to a contract. Holly wasn't listed as a member in the original document, in order to hide his involvement with "That'll Be the Day," but this omission would later become the source of serious legal and financial problems for him.

When the smoke cleared, the song shot to the top spot on the national charts that summer. Of course, Decca knew Holly's identity by then; with Thiele's persuasion and the reality of a serious hit in their midst, the company agreed to release Holly from the five-year restriction on his old contract, leaving him free to sign any recording contract he wanted. In the midst of sorting out the particulars of Holly's legal situation, Thiele discovered that he had someone on his hands who was potentially a good deal more than a one-hit wonder -- there were potentially more and different kinds of potential hits to come from him. When all was said and done, Holly found himself with two recording contracts, one with Brunswick as a member of the Crickets and the other with Coral Records as Buddy Holly, which was part of Thiele's strategy to get the most out of Holly's talent. By releasing two separate bodies of work, he could keep the group intact while giving room for its obvious leader and "star" to break out on his own.

There was actually little difference in the two sets of recordings for most of his career, in terms of how they were done or who played on them, except possibly that the harder, straight-ahead rock & roll songs, and the ones with backing vocals, tended to be credited to the Crickets. The confusion surrounding the Buddy Holly/Crickets dual identity was nothing, however, compared to the morass that constituted the songwriting credits on their work.

It's now clear that Petty, acting as their manager and producer, parceled out writing credits at random, gifting Niki Sullivan and Joe B. Mauldin (and himself) the co-authorship of "I'm Gonna Love You Too," while initially leaving Holly's name off of "Peggy Sue." Petty usually added his name to the credit line as well, a common practice in the 1950s for managers and producers who wanted a bigger piece of the action. In fairness, it should be said that Petty did make suggestions, some of them key, in shaping certain of Holly's songs, but he almost certainly didn't contribute to the extent that the shared credits would lead one to believe. Some of the public's confusion over songwriting was heightened by complications ensuing from another of the contracts that Holly had signed in 1956. Petty had his own publishing company, Nor Va Jak Music, and had a contract with Holly to publish all of his new songs; but the prior year, Holly had signed an exclusive contract with another company -- eventually a settlement and release from the old contract might be sorted out, but in order to reduce his profile as a songwriter until that happened, and to convince the other publisher that they weren't losing too much in any settlement, he copyrighted many of his new songs under the pseudonym "Charles Hardin."

The dual recording contracts made it possible for Holly to record an extraordinary number of sides in the course of his 18 months of fame. Meanwhile, the group -- billed as Buddy Holly & the Crickets -- became one of the top attractions of rock & roll's classic years, putting on shows that were as exciting and well played as any in the business. Holly was the frontman, singing lead and playing lead guitar -- itself an unusual combination -- as well as writing or co-writing many of their songs. But the Crickets were also a totally enveloping performing unit, generating a big and exciting sound (which, apart from some live recordings from their 1958 British tour, is lost to history). Allison was a very inventive drummer and contributed to the songwriting bit more often than his colleagues, and Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan provided a solid rhythm section.

The fact that the group relied on originals for their singles made them unique and put them years ahead of their time. In 1957-1958, songwriting wasn't considered a skill essential to a career in rock & roll; the music business was still patterned along the lines that it had followed since the '20s, with songwriting a specialized profession organized on the publishing side of the industry, separate from performing and recording. Once in a while, a performer might write a song or, much more rarely, as in the case of a Duke Ellington, count composition among his key talents, but generally this was an activity left to the experts. Any rock & roller with the inclination to write songs would also have to get past the image of Elvis, who stood to become a millionaire at age 22 and never wrote songs (the few "Presley" songwriting credits were the result of business arrangements rather than any creative activity on his part).

Buddy Holly & the Crickets changed that in a serious way by hitting number one with a song that they'd written and then reaching the Top Ten with originals like "Oh, Boy" and "Peggy Sue," and regularly charging up the charts on behalf of their own songwriting. This attribute wasn't appreciated by the public at the time, and wouldn't be noticed widely until the 1970s, but thousands of aspiring musicians, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney, took note of the fact, and some of them decided to try and emulate Holly.

Less obvious at the time, Holly and company also broke up the established record industry method of recording, which was to bring the artist into the label's own studio, working on a timetable dictated by corporate policy and union rules. If an artist were extremely successful -- à la Sinatra or Elvis, or later on, the Beatles -- they got a blank check in the studio and any union rules were smoothed over, but that was a rare privilege, available only to the most elite of musicians. Buddy Holly & the Crickets, by contrast, did their work, beginning with "That'll Be the Day," in Clovis, NM, at Petty's studio. They took their time, they experimented until they got the sound they wanted, and no union told them when to stop or start their work, and they delivered great records; what's more, they were records that didn't sound like anyone else's, anywhere.

The results were particularly telling on the history of rock music. The group worked out a sound that gave shape to the next wave of rock & roll and, especially, to early British rock & roll and the subsequent British Invasion beat, with the lead and rhythm guitars closely interlocked to create a fuller, harder sound. On songs such as "Not Fade Away,""Everyday," "Listen to Me," "Oh Boy!," "Peggy Sue," "Maybe Baby,""Rave On," "Heartbeat," and "It's So Easy," Holly advanced rock & roll's range and sophistication without abandoning its fundamental joy and excitement. Holly and the band weren't afraid to experiment even on their singles, so that "Peggy Sue" made use of the kind of changes in volume and timbre on the guitar that were usually reserved for instrumental records; similarly, "Words of Love" was one of the earliest successful examples of double-tracked vocals in rock & roll, which the Beatles, in particular, would embrace in the ensuing decade.

Buddy Holly & the Crickets were very popular in America, but in England they were even bigger, their impact serious rivaling that of Elvis and, in some ways, even exceeding it. This was due, in part, to the fact that they actually toured England -- they spent a month there in 1958, playing a series of shows that were still being written about 30 years later -- which was something that Elvis never did. But it also had to do with their sound and Holly's stage persona. The group's heavy use of rhythm guitar slotted right in with the sound of skiffle music, a mix of blues, folk, country, and jazz elements that constituted most of British youth's introduction to playing music and their way into rock & roll. Additionally, although he cut an exciting figure on-stage, Holly looked a lot less likely a rock & roll star than Elvis -- tall, lanky, and bespectacled, he looked like an ordinary guy who simply played and sang well, and part of his appeal as a rock & roll star was rooted in how unlikely he looked in that role. He provided inspiration -- and a way into the music -- for tens of thousands of British teenagers who also couldn't imagine themselves rivals to Elvis or Gene Vincent in the dark and dangerous department.

At least one star British guitarist of the late '50s, Hank Marvin of the Shadows, owed his look (and the fact that he wore his glasses proudly on stage) to Holly, and his look can be seen being propagated into the 1970s by Elvis Costello. Additionally, although he played several different kinds of guitar, Holly was specifically responsible for popularizing -- some would say elevating to mystical, even magical status -- the Fender Stratocaster, especially in England. For a lot of would-be rock & rollers on the Sceptered Isle, Holly's 1958 tour was the first chance they'd had to see or hear the instrument in action, and it quickly became the guitar of choice for anyone aspiring to stardom as an axeman in England. (Indeed, Marvin, inspired by Holly, later had what is reputed to be the first Stratocaster ever brought into England.)

The Crickets were reduced to a trio with the departure of Sullivan in late 1957, following the group's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but that was almost the least of the changes that would ensue over the following year. The group consolidated its success with the release of two LPs, The Chirping Crickets and Buddy Holly, and did two very successful international tours as well as more performing in the United States. Holly had already developed aspirations and interests that diverged somewhat from those of Allison and Mauldin. The thought apparently had never occurred to either of them of giving up Texas as their home, and they continued to base their lives there, while Holly was increasingly drawn to New York, not just as a place to do business, but also to live. His romance with and marriage to Maria Elena Santiago, a receptionist in Murray Deutsch's office, only made the decision to move to New York easier.

By this time, Holly's music had grown in sophistication and complexity to the point where he had relinquished the lead guitar duties in the studio to session player Tommy Alsup, and he had done a number of recordings in New York utilizing session musicians such as King Curtis. It was during this period that his and the group's sales had slackened somewhat. The singles such as "Heartbeat" didn't sell nearly as well as the 45s of 1957 had rolled out of stores. He might even have advanced farther than a big chunk of the group's audience was prepared to accept in late 1958. "Well...All Right," for example, was years ahead of its time as a song and a recording.

Holly's split with the group -- and Petty -- in the fall of 1958 left him free to pursue some of those newer sounds, but it also left him short of cash resources. In the course of ending the association, it became clear to Holly and everyone else that Petty had manipulated the numbers and likely taken an enormous slice of the group's income for himself, though there was to prove almost no way of establishing this because he never seemed to finish his "accounting" of the moneys due to anyone, and his books were ultimately found to be in such disarray that when he came up with various low five-figure settlements to those involved, they were glad to get what they got.

With a new wife -- who was pregnant -- and no settlement coming in from Petty, Holly decided to earn some quick money by signing to play the Winter Dance Party package tour of the Midwest. It was on that tour that Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash, on February 3, 1959.

The crash was considered a piece of grim but not terribly significant news at the time. Most news organizations, run by men who'd come of age in the 1930s or 1940s, didn't take rock & roll very seriously, except to the degree that it could be exploited to sell newspapers or build viewing audiences. Holly's clean-cut image and scandal-free life, coupled with the news of his recent marriage, did give the story more poignancy than it otherwise might have had and probably got him treated more respectfully than would have been the case with other music stars of the period.

For teenagers of the period, it was the first public tragedy of its kind. No white rock & roller of any significance had ever died before, forget three of them, and the news was devastating. Radio station disc jockeys were also shaken -- for a lot of people involved in rock & roll music on any level, Holly's death may well have been the first time that they woke up the next day wishing and hoping that the previous day's news had all been a dream.

The suddenness and the whole accidental nature of the event, coupled with the ages of Holly and Valens -- 22 and 17, respectively -- made it even harder to take. Hank Williams had died at 29, but with his drinking and drug use he had always seemed on the fast track to the grave to almost anyone who knew him and even to a lot of fans; Johnny Ace had died in 1954 backstage at a show, but that was also by his own hand, in a game of Russian roulette. The emotional resonances of this event was totally different in every way possible from those tragedies.

A few careers were actually launched in the wake of the tragedy. Bobby Vee leaped to stardom when he and his band took over Holly's spot on the tour. In America, however, something of a pall fell over rock & roll music -- its sound was muted by Holly's death and Elvis' military service, and this darkness didn't fully lift for years. In England, the reaction was much more concentrated and pronounced -- Holly's final single, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," rose to number one on the British charts in the wake of his death, and it seemed as though the new generation of English rock & rollers and their audiences wouldn't let Holly's music or spirit die. Two years after the event, producer Joe Meek and singer Mike Berry combined to make "Tribute to Buddy Holly," a memorial single that sounded like the man himself reborn and still brings smiles and chills to listeners who know it; it is said that Meek never entirely got over Holly's death, and he did kill himself on the anniversary. On the less extreme front, players from Lennon, McCartney, and Keith Richards on down all found themselves influenced by Holly's music, songs, and playing. Groups like the Searchers -- taking their name from the same Wayne movie whence the phrase "that'll be the day" had been lifted -- sounded a lot like the Crickets and had a handful of his songs in their repertory when they cut their earliest sides, and it wasn't just the hits that they knew, but album cuts as well. Other bands, like a Manchester-spawned outfit fronted by Allan Clarke, Graham Nash, and Tony Hicks began a four-decade career by taking the name the Hollies.

Holly's record label continued to release posthumous albums of his work for years after his death, beginning with The Buddy Holly Story in early 1959, and they even repackaged the 1956 Decca sides several times over under various titles (the mid-'70s British LP The Nashville Sessions is the best of the vinyl editions). The company also engaged Petty to take various Holly demos and early country-flavored sides done by Buddy & Bob and dub new instruments and backing voices, principally using a band called the Fireballs. Those releases, including the albums Reminiscing and Showcase, did moderately well in America, but in England they actually charted. New recordings of his music, including the Rolling Stones' bone-shaking rendition of "Not Fade Away" -- taking it back to its Bo Diddley-inspired roots -- and the Beatles gorgeous rendition of "Words of Love" helped keep Holly's name alive before a new generation of listeners. In America, it was more of an uphill struggle to spread the word -- rock & roll, like most American popular culture, was always regarded as more easily disposable, and as a new generation of teenagers and new musical phenomena came along, the public did gradually forget. By the end of the 1960s, except among older fans (now in their twenties) and hardcore oldies listeners, Holly was a largely forgotten figure in his own country.

The tide began to turn at the very tail-end of the 1960s, with the beginning of the oldies boom. Holly's music figured in it, of course, and as people listened they also heard about the man behind it -- even Rolling Stone magazine, then the arbiter of taste for the counterculture, went out of its way to remind people of who Holly was. His image constituted a haunting figure, frozen forever in poses from 1957 and 1958, bespectacled, wearing a jacket and smiling; he looked like (and was) a figure from another age. The nature of his death, in an air crash, also set him apart from some of the then-recent deaths of contemporary rock stars such as Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison -- they'd all pushed life right to the edge, till it broke, where Holly stood there seemingly eternally innocent, both personally and in terms of the times in which he'd lived.

Then, in 1971, a little-known singer/songwriter named Don McLean, who counted himself a Holly fan, rose to international stardom behind a song called "American Pie," whose narrative structure was hooked around "the day the music died." After disposing of the erroneous notion that he was referring to President Kennedy, McLean made it clear that he meant February 3, 1959, and Holly. Coverage of "American Pie"'s popularity and lyrics as it soared to the top of the charts inevitably led to mentions of Holly, who was suddenly getting more exposure in the national press than he'd ever enjoyed in his lifetime.

His music had never disappeared -- even the Grateful Dead performed "Not Fade Away" in concert -- and now there was a song that seemed to give millions of people a series of personal and musical reference points into which to place the man. Until "American Pie," most Americans equated November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy's murder, with the loss of national innocence and an opening of an era of shared grief. McLean pushed the reference point back to February 3, 1959, on a purely personal basis, and an astonishingly large number of listeners accepted it.

In 1975, McCartney's MPL Communications bought Holly's publishing catalog from a near-bankrupt Petty. To some, the sale was Petty's final act of theft -- having robbed Holly and his widow blind in settling the account of what was owed him as a performer, he was profiting one last time from his perfidy. The truth is that it was a godsend to Maria Elena Holly and the Holly family in Lubbock; amid the events of the years and decades that followed, MPL was able to sell and exploit those songs in ways that Petty in Clovis, NM, never could have, and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for them that Petty never would have. And with McCartney -- a Holly fan from the age of 15, and probably the most successful fan Holly ever had -- as publisher, they were paid every cent they had coming.

Amid the growing interest in Holly's music, the record industry was very slow to respond, at least in America. At the end of the 1960s, there were exactly two Holly LPs available domestically, The Great Buddy Holly, consisting of the 1956 Decca sides, which hardly represented his best or most important work, and the even more dispensable Giant album, consisting of overdubbed demos and outtakes. British audiences got access to more and better parts of his catalog first, and a collection, 20 Golden Greats, actually topped the charts over there in 1978, in conjunction with the release of the movie The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey in the title role. It was a romanticized and very simplified account of the man's life and career, and slighted the contributions of the other members of the Crickets -- and never even mentioned Petty -- but it got some of the essentials right and made Busey into a star and Holly into a household name.

In 1979, Holly became the first rock & roll star to be the subject of a career-spanning box set, ambitiously (and inaccurately) called The Complete Buddy Holly. Initially released in England and Germany, it later appeared in America, but it only seemed to whet hardcore fans' appetites for more -- two or three Holly bootlegs were circulating in the early '80s, including one that offered a handful of songs from the group's 1958 British tour. In a rare bold move, mostly courtesy of producer Steve Hoffman, MCA Records in 1983 issued For the First Time Anywhere, a selection of raw, undubbed masters of original Holly recordings that had previously only been available with extra instruments added on -- it was followed by From the Original Master Tapes, the first attempt to put together a Holly compilation with upgraded sound quality. Those titles and The Great Buddy Holly were the earliest of Holly's official CD releases, though they were soon followed by Buddy Holly and The Chirping Crickets. In 1986, the BBC aired The Real Buddy Holly Story, a documentary produced by McCartney as a counteractive to the Busey movie, which covered all of the areas ignored by the inaccuracies of the movie and responded to them. There have followed stage musicals and plays, upgraded and audiophile reissues of his work, and tribute albums, all continuing to flow out at a steady pace more than 40 years after Holly's death.
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