Precisely 50 years since the music supposedly died (Feb. 3, 1959), here are 10 reasons why Buddy Holly remains essential:
1. THE “CHIRPING” CRICKETS
Holly, alongside rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, bassist Joe B. Mauldin and drummer Jerry Allison, formed the immaculately suited, fully self-contained singing/songwriting template upon which some of the greatest pop-rock bands since, from those Beatles most obviously on down, were inextricably linked at the hip.
2. BUDDY’S BUDDY
When no less than Elvis Presley first blew into Lubbock, Texas, on tour in 1955, homeboy Holly was not only right there in the front row cheering him on, but afterward appointed himself the Hillbilly Cat’s exclusive host, guide and confidant for the ensuing 16 hours. Duly inspired, Holly immediately revamped his burgeoning Crickets from an alt-bluegrass combo into Lubbock’s very own Elvis, Scotty (Moore) and Bill (Black — so successfully so, in fact, that several months later, when Presley triumphantly returned to town, Holly had graduated from mere tour guide status to that of official onstage opening act.
3. LEARNING THE GAME
After somehow failing to impress the usually infallible Owen Bradley with “That’ll Be the Day” at a 1956 demo session, Holly determinedly drove the thousand miles from Nashville, Tenn., to the Clovis, N. M., studios of Norman Petty. Over the next 18 months, they turned the simple two-track facility into an audio workshop/lab from which came not only the look and attitude, but the very sounds of the 1960s to come.
4. LISTEN TO ME
It may have lasted only 25 days, but when Holly and his Crickets toured the United Kingdom in spring 1958, those watching closely and taking serious notes for future use were, amongst thousands of others, John Lennon and Paul McCartney (whose first-ever recording was a near note-perfect “That’ll Be the Day”), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (the former already proud owner of the “Chirping” Crickets album), Graham Nash and Allan Clarke (who soon grew their two-man Everly Brothers act into the full, named-in-guess-who’s-honor Hollies) and pioneering British record producer Joe Meek (who subsequently became so obsessed over Holly that he killed himself and his landlady on the eighth anniversary of Holly’s death).
5. NOT FADE AWAY
It did indeed take a Holly composition to first put The Rolling Stonessecurely into the American hit parade with, at the very height of Beatlemania, Lennon/McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” unceremoniously relegated to the single’s B-side!
And speaking of whom …
6. WORDS OF LOVE
Holly wrote the best song on the Beatles VI album and, come to think of it, maybe even on Beatles for Sale.
7. FOOL’S PARADISE
Holly’s wealth of songs have proven so adaptable, durable and downright sturdy as to withstand covers from the likes of Rush, the Grateful Dead, The Knack and even Linda Ronstadt — not to mention “It’s So Easy” (-Off oven cleaner) and “Oh Boy” becoming “Oh, Buick!” television jingles at the behest of Holly’s supposedly sympathetic publishing magnate, Sir Paul McCartney.
8. MAYBE BABY
Years before he was to become the serial tragic clown of VH1 reality programming, that perennially short-pant-legged dust storm known as Gary Busey deservedly nabbed an Oscar nomination for his title role in 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story. While its script may have taken inexcusable Hollywood shortcuts in recounting our hero’s life and music, at least Busey, alongside co-stars Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith, became pretty damn garage-worthy Crickets all over the film’s soundtrack, performing close to live whenever possible before the cameras.
9. CRYING, WAITING, HOPING
Weeks before his last-ever tour, Holly sang several song sketches into a tape recorder in his Greenwich Village apartment for what turned out to be posterity. With covers of Ray Charles and Bing Crosby, plus Holly’s own final compositions, these exquisite guitar-and-voice-only recordings are far more than simply “unplugged.” They are sublime, heartbreaking and totally unique — as with most things Holly.
10. STANDING IN THE DOORWAY
“And I just want to say that when I was 16 or 17 years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory, and I was three feet away from him. And he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was — I don’t know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”— Bob Dylan, during his 1998 Grammy Awards acceptance speech for Album of the Year honors (Time Out of Mind).
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.