Remembering Buddy Holly: September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

“[Buddy Holly] passed it on via the Beatles and via [the Rolling Stones] … He’s in everybody.” -Keith Richards

For a man who died at the early age of 22, Buddy Holly’s influence on music is immeasurable.

The Beatles took their moniker because of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. When the Beatles preformed on the “Ed Sullivan Show” they wanted to talk more about Buddy Holly’s appearance on the show than about their own music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney would later go on to say Buddy Holly was the biggest influence for their music.

During his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech for his Album of the Year award for ‘Time Out of Mind,’ Bob Dylan said of seeing Holly on January 31, 1959, two nights before his death “… 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 … with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”

Eric Clapton plays a Fender Stratocaster because of Buddy Holly, saying the first time he saw Holly and his Fender, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven … it was like seeing an instrument from outer space and I said to myself: ‘That’s the future—that’s what I want.’”

In an August 24, 1978, interview with Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen said, “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest.”

The influence and power of Holly’s music is timeless.

A young boy, all of 10-years-old, in a small farm town in Illinois, discovering music through bands like Kiss, The Go Go’s, and Prince, watches “The Buddy Holly Story” on television and immediately falls in love with the music created by the geeky-looking guitarist in horn rimmed glasses. Though the film was extremely disparaged by the music community, and Holly’s friends and family, for its inaccuracies, it didn’t matter too much to me. I was too young to realize that part. All I saw was the guitar, all I heard was the music, all I felt was the tragedy of his death.

Born Charles Hardin Holley on September 7, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas, Holly learned guitar and sang songs with his siblings. By the time he was 16 he made his first television appearance with classmate Jack Neil in a talent show as “Buddy and Jack.” When he was 19, Holly, now with a band, opened for Elvis Presley three times in 1955 and decided to make music his career.

Two years after opening for Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets topped the singles chart with “That’ll Be the Day.” His second single “Peggy Sue” reached number three on the charts. Yes, success came early and often for the kid from Lubbock. Holly and the Crickets released their long player—‘Chirping Crickets’ in 1957 and by January 1958, Buddy Holly and the Crickets had played “The Ed Sullivan Show” twice. He went on to tour overseas in the United Kingdom.

Upon his return to New York City, Holly would meet and marry Maria Elena Santiago. Buddy asked her out on a date the first time he met her and on their first date, Holly asked Santiago to marry him.

Holly and the Crickets’ manager/producer Norman Petty disapproved of the wedding because it would upset Holly’s female fans. This caused tension between the two. Santiago would go on tour with the Crickets and was dubbed the band’s secretary. Santiago was now collecting the money for the shows on tour, instead of the band having it sent to Petty. Santiago and her Aunt, Provi Garcia, who was executive of the Latin American music department at Peer-Southern, found out that Petty was pocketing the royalties from Coral-Brunswick into his own company’s account. Petty would be fired and at the recommendation of Holly’s friends the Everly Brothers, Holly hired lawyer Harold Orenstein to negotiate his royalties.

Upon the firing of Petty, the Crickets kept him on as manager, but Holly wasn’t having it and the band broke up. Holly, who was already recording and releasing solo singles, was in need of money since the royalties Petty stole were unresolved. Holly had to form a new band and go out on tour.

Holly brought in his friend, DJ, bassist, and future country legend Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup on guitar. Holly was one of the first artists to ever have two guitar players in one band. They would join the Winter Dance Party Tour which kicked off in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1959. From the get go, the tour had problems. The tour dates were scheduled too far apart, which had the musicians on the busses, which were not equipped with heaters for long stretches at a time. After a couple breakdowns with the bus, Holly, fed up, chartered a plane after a show in Clear Lake, Iowa to fly to the next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The plane was to take Holly, Jennings, Allsup, and Ritchie Valens to their next show in Clear Lake Iowa. Jennings would subsequently give up his seat to the Big Bopper J. P. Richardson because Richardson had the flu.

The pilot, Roger Peterson, was not certified to fly by instruments only, which he needed to fly during the snow storm. Not long after the wheels left the runway on February 3, 1959, the plane crashed into a farm field killing everyone on board.

Four days later, funeral services for Holly was held back home in Lubbock, Texas. Officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who, just months prior had married Holly and Santiago. Pallbearers included former bandmates and friends Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis and Phil Everly. Jennings was unable to attend due to his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party. Holly’s headstone at the City of Lubbock Cemetery has the correct spelling of his last name and features an etching of his famed Fender Stratocaster.

At the time of his death, Santiago was home, two weeks pregnant. She lost the baby the day after hearing of Holly’s death due to “psychological trauma.” It is said the Santiago did not attend Holly’s funeral services nor has she ever visited his grave site. She later told the Avalanche-Journal, “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”

Santiago heard of Holly’s death on the evening news and Holly’s mother found out on a radio broadcast. When she heard the news she collapsed. In the wake of his death and the way it was announced, authorities implemented a policy against announcing victims’ names until after families are informed.

At the time of his death Holly was just 22 years old, an age when most people are graduating college or settling down with a family, all respectable in their own right. But the skinny kid with the funny glasses became a pioneering musicians not only adding a second guitarist to his live band, but he also was one of the first to track double guitars in the recording studio, a trick he learned from Les Paul. He has been honored numerous times with Hall of Fame inductions, monuments, a museum, and rightly so.

Holly was known to leave behind quite a bit of recorded material. He wanted to explore soul music and make records with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson, he was learning finger style picking on the guitar and wanted to work in film and television. For such a young man, Holly was beyond his years and left an immense impact on the music world.

Buddy Holly left this world more than 50 years ago and here we are still utilizing his techniques in music, still talking about how important of a songwriter and musician he was. Buddy Holly, like his songs are timeless. They will never die. They fill the hearts and ears of musicians worldwide with happiness.

I guess old Keef was right, Buddy Holly is in every one of us.

Rest in Peace Charles Hardin Holley. Thank you for the music.