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Artist Biographies: The Buddy Holly Story
Buddy Holly, born Charles Hardin Holley had been performing under his own name during the early 50s as a country singer when he began to get noticed. What transformed his music career from honky-tonk player to music star was his transition from country to the new rock and roll that was becoming popular. While Buddy Holly only released three studio recordings before his death in a plane crash in 1959, his influence was profound on the developing rock and roll scene. Based on his performances and recordings that occurred during a four year span, Buddy Holly was deemed so influential that he has been included on lists of the 100 most influential musicians of the century by Rolling Stone Magazine. During this addition of artist biographies, we will give you the detailed account of the Buddy Holly story.
The Scout and the Crickets
While Buddy Holly had already caught the attention of many people in the early 1950's, it was his inclusion of the rockabilly sound popularized by Elvis Presley and Sun Records Studios that brought him to the attention of a scout from Nashville. He opened for Presley in Lubbock, with his bandmates Robert Montgomery and Lawrence (Larry) Welborn, in October of 1955. That performance caught the eye of a Nashville talent scout who then got him booked to open for Bill Haley at another Lubbock show. By 1956, Buddy Holly had a contract with Decca Records.
The Buddy Holly Story: Life with Decca
Decca immediately misspelled his name, dropping the “e” and transforming him into Buddy Holly. He chose to keep the spelling as his professional name. With Decca, Buddy Holly formed “The Crickets." Many people think that the full name of the band was “Buddy Holly & the Crickets,” but they weren’t billed as that until later. During 1956, The Crickets (Buddy Holly, Niki Sullivan, Joe Mauldin, and Jerry Allison) recorded three sessions in Nashville with Owen Bradley, one of Decca’s producers. The sessions went well, but Holly found the rules and restrictions imposed on him during the sessions stifling. After Decca released two of the recordings, “Blue Days, Black Nights,” and “Modern Don Juan,” the expected success did not come and they released him from contract in the beginning of 1957. The release from the contract also included the stipulation that he could not record the three songs from the session for anyone else for 5 years. The third song, that was not released, was the first version of the later hit, “That’ll Be The Day”.
That’ll Be the Day
Buddy Holly wanted more artistic control so he hired Norman Petty to manage the band and used the Petty studio in Clovis, New Mexico to begin to record. Petty reached out to different publishers and labels, eventually signing The Crickets to Brunswick Records, and Holly as a solo artist to Coral Records. Ironically, both record labels were subsidiaries of Decca.
To get around the prohibition of recording and releasing the Decca session songs, a new version of “That’s Be The Day” was recorded and released in 1957 as a single attributed to The Crickets. The song became a hit, topping the charts in both the US and UK that winter. It earned them an invitation to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show where they did “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” They had an invitation from The Arthur Murray Party to perform “Peggy Sue” 3 weeks later on television again. Kathryn Murray introduced the band to the nation on December 29, 1957. A few weeks later, Holly and the Crickets started off the new year by returning to The Ed Sullivan show to perform “Oh, Boy!” Holly also appeared on American Bandstand and the Saturday Night Beechnut Show in 1958 as well.
Artist Biographies: Winning the Apollo
The television exposure, and the popularity of the recordings on the radio, led to an invitation to perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Contrary to the film, “The Buddy Holly Story,” the audience did not warm up to him immediately. It took several performances before the all-black audience responded enthusiastically to the rockabilly songs he and the Crickets were performing. Once accepted, they came behind him and his music completely. Buddy Holly and his band were the only white performers invited on a national tour of venues in August of 1957 that featured performances at many of the nation’s most prominent black theaters.
1957 and 1958 Triumphs
Debut albums for both the Crickets with Buddy Holly, and Buddy Holly’s first solo album were released during 1957 and 1958. The singles “Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy!” became top ten hits. The “Chirping Crickets” took off on a tour of Australia in 1958, while the solo artist (who was with them) was enjoying spots on the top 10 in the US and UK.
While many people think that “Peggy Sue” was about Holly’s then girlfriend, it was not. It was originally called “Cindy Lou” and was about his niece. The name was changed in honor of drummer Jerry Allison’s girlfriend, who then went on to become his wife. Buddy Holly did write the song “True Love Ways” for, Maria Elena, who he had met and married that year. It was recorded in 1958 at the Pythian Temple with an 18 piece orchestra, directed by Dick Jacob of Coral.
Magic and Marriage
Buddy Holly had met Maria Elena Santiago in 1958 and proposed marriage to her on their first date. Her guardian approved of the proposal and they were married on August 15, 1958 in Lubbock. They took a brief honeymoon in Acapulco, and then Maria became a fixture on their tours. She helped to do anything that needed to be done – from laundry to setting up equipment to making sure contracts were honored. Surprisingly, many of his fans did not even know he was married until after his death. Of Holly, Maria is on record as saying - “When I saw Buddy, it was like magic...It was like we were made for each other. He came into my life when I needed him, and I came into his.”
The Promise of the New York Years
Towards the end of 1958, uddy Holly and the Crickets split up. He wanted to go to New York and break into the music scene there, while the Crickets wanted to return to Lubbock. Holly moved with Maria to Brevoort Apartments in Greenwich Village. During this time he recorded several acoustic songs that when on to become part of his defining discography. They included:
- Crying, Waiting, Hoping
- What to Do
These songs were never studio recorded, only be released after his death as the “Apartment Tapes.” They were later included in all the anthologies of his recordings and received extensive radio play.
The music scene in New York was vibrant and Buddy Holly drank it in. He began to express an interest in learning the flamenco guitar style, its intricate fingering fascinating him. He and Maria were frequently seen at several of the top music hotspots including the Blue Note and Johnny Johnson’s. Holly began to want to do more collaboration. His experience with the Apollo and the subsequent tour led him to want to blend soul and rock. He outlined ideas for collaborations with such luminaries of the late 50s as Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. He also followed his peers with hopes of breaking into film, signing up for classes at the famous Lee Strasburg’s Actors Studio. At the time, Strasburg had a reputation of having trained Brando and Dean. Holly sought to emulate the success of Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran.
Back on the Road ‘til the End
The use of the orchestra to back the recording of “True Love Ways” was something that Holly returned too in late 1958. He recorded “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” along with “Raining in My Heart.” These songs are standouts in his discography for two reasons. For one, they were his first stereo recordings. Secondly, they turned out to be his last formal studio work.
Marriage to Elena proved to help him come to accept what he had long been aware of, that his longtime manager Norman Petty was not handling his royalties well. In fact, due to Petty having the royalties directed into his own accounts Buddy Holly was having a difficult time getting payment from him. It was Maria Elena’s Aunt Provi, who was head of the Latin Music Division at Peer Southern, who helped Holly to connect with Harold Orenstein to be his lawyer in resolving the dispute with Petty. While the legal arrangements were being engaged, Buddy Holly needed money to survive and was forced to go back on the road. While performing on the 3-week tour the Winter Party in the Midwest, Holly’s plane crashed in the Rockies during a snowstorm bringing his life, and career to an end.