As a teenager, I knew that the Rolling Stones had an early hit with their great cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” I may have also noticed that there was a cover of Buddy’s song “Words of Love” by the Beatles on the album Beatles VI.
As a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in the mid-1970s, I knew first hand that their medley of “She’s The One” and “Not Fade Away” was one of the highest-lights of their highlight-filled, marathon-length concerts. (I’m still a big fan.)
But it wasn’t until 1978 when I went to the movies that I really fell in love with Buddy Holly.
It was “The Buddy Holly Story” and Gary Busey’s Oscar-nominated performance that did the trick. I remember coming out of the theatre dancing, singing and exclaiming: “Wow! What fabulous music! I’ve got to check more of this stuff out.”
By the way: the movie, despite its historical inaccuracies, is well worth seeking out and watching. As Freddy Bauer, one of the producers said: “We’re not out to make a true-to-life movie, we’re out to make a movie that’s bigger than life.” They accomplished their goal.
In the years since, I have spent quite a bit of time with the music of Buddy Holly. I’ve listened many times to the records and CDs, learned to play and perform some of his songs and often used his songs in my teaching.
Then as now, his recordings simply leap from the speakers. The combination of the energy, the carefully-crafted arrangements and the gorgeous sound that Buddy and the Crickets (and producer Norman Petty) created with one or two electric guitars, an upright bass, a drum set and three voices still has the ability to take over the room and make you want to dance.
Buddy Holly’s songs are masterpieces of concise, making-the-most-from-a-little songwriting. He knew how to take a 4 bar (“It’s So Easy”) or 8 bar (“Maybe Baby”) chord progression and make it function as intro, verse accompaniment, chorus accompaniment and guitar solo back-up and always keep it interesting and fun to listen to. “Peggy Sue,” for example, is built around a supercharged 12-bar Blues progression in the key of A major (Buddy’s favorite key) with a bridge section that brilliantly uses the outside-of-the-key F major chord for one startling, but still-harmonizing measure. (For the guitar players: Buddy played the relentless, rapid, rhythm guitar part on “Peggy Sue” using all downstrokes!)
Buddy Holly knew how to write lyrics that used familiar words and phrases in fresh and ear-catching ways and he set them to melodies that fit the words perfectly. Once you heard his tunes, they stuck with you for days (or a lifetime), but you didn’t (don’t) mind that you couldn’t (can’t) get them out of your head.
Much has been written about the life, short career and death of Buddy Holly. Probably the most succinct summation I’ve read about his work is found in Bud Scoppa’s liner notes to the Decca Records 2008, 3-CD Memorial Collection: “Holly ammassed a remarkable body of work characterized by envelope-pushing innovation as a singer, guitarist and recording pioneer, while capturing with plainspoken eloquence the hormonal agony and ecstasy of young love.”
I will simply say that, in my opinion, his world-wide influence moved popular music to a definitely higher level and made it far more fun than it would have been without him.
Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas on this day, September 7, in 1936.
He, with his band, the Crickets, recorded their first hit record, “That’ll Be The Day” on February 25, 1957. It was released as a single on May 27, 1957 and reached #1 on the Billboard magazine “Top 100” on September 23, 1957.
Buddy Holly passed away on February 3, 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa.
The main source of information for this post was: Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly (1986) by John Goldrosen and John Beecher.