I hate to use the term “the day the music died” because it conjures up the song “American Pie” by Don McLean which, as we know from last week, is on my list of the worst songs of all time. However, February 3rd will now be forever known by that moniker, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that means we will never forget the names that are synonymous with that event: Richie Valens (Richard Valenzuela), The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson), Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holley) and pilot Roger Peterson.
The Big Bopper was mainly a novelty artist who would probably be a footnote in rock history had he not died in that terrible tragedy. Richie Valens was only 17 years old and just starting his career, so who knows how far he would have gone.
But Buddy Holly had already achieved a great deal of well-deserved fame by the time he was starring on the Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959. He was only 22 years old, yet he had already had 3 top ten hits by himself, and with his band, The Crickets. He was a veteran of several tours, including England. In fact, at the time of the Winter Dance Party tour, he had parted ways with the original Crickets and was trying to revive his career. He had several projects in the works, including producing other artists and starting his own record company to record those artists. Unfortunately, much of his income was tied up at the time in a dispute over royalties with his old manager, Norman Petty. He dreaded the thought of touring, especially through the Midwest in the middle of winter. But the fact was pure and simple: he needed the money.
I’ve been a big Buddy Holly fan as long as I can remember, and always think of him as this grim anniversary occurs. I have visited the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, and walked about a quarter-mile down a fencerow in an Iowa cornfield to see a simple monument that was constructed to signify where the plane crashed on that fateful night. So to pay my respects, I will count down my
Top Five Favorite Buddy Holly Songs:
5 – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore – After breaking away from the Crickets, Holly and his wife had moved to New York City. Buddy wanted to expand into different musical directions, so he recorded a few songs with an orchestra backing him. This song was written by his friend Paul Anka, and when Anka played it for him one afternoon, Holly decided he needed to record it later that night. It was riding up the charts when Buddy was killed.
4 – Oh Boy! – There’s nothing really special about this tune, it’s just a good rock and roll song, and one that I always play when I’m in a Holly mood and a guitar is in my hands. It was so popular in Britain that they named a teen music TV show after it.
3 – Not Fade Away – Another great rock and roll song that’s really pretty simple. This is where producer Norman Petty deserves a little credit. He was constantly working with the band to get a different sound. On “Everyday”, he had drummer Jerry Allison just pat his legs as accompaniment. On “Not Fade Away”, he had Allison play cardboard boxes instead of drums. The Rolling Stones did a great version of this song early in their career.
2 – Rock Around With Ollie Vee – This song was recorded by the Crickets in Nashville early in their career. They had a record deal with Decca Records, and recorded two singles. Neither of them sold very well, and they were dropped from the roster. This tune is pure rockabilly, complete with a lot of reverb.
1 – Rave On – I can never get tired of this song. It’s probably the best rocker that the Crickets ever recorded, and even though it barely cracked the Top 40 in the US, it climbed to number 3 in England. Those Brits know great American rock and roll when they hear it.
A little piece of advice: if you want to learn more about Buddy Holly, DO NOT WATCH THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. This piece of garbage, starring much bigger piece of garbage Gary Busey as Holly, is pure Hollywood fantasy. In fact, when the movie premiered, Crickets drummer Jerry Allison was asked his opinion of the film. He simply said, “I watched about the first 15 minutes, and as soon as I saw they got my name wrong, I walked out.” It was so bad that it prompted long-time Holly fan Paul McCartney to make a video called “The Real Buddy Holly Story”. Look for that one. It’s more of a documentary, but has some great footage, and you can tell that McCartney took great care in making it. Maybe Hollywood will try again and get it right.
That’ll be the day.