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Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crashmarker, Holly is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll." His works and innovations inspired and influenced both his contemporaries and later musicians, notably The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, and exerted a profound influence on popular music.

Holly was in the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker in 1986. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly #13 among "The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time".


Early life

Charles Hardin Holley was born in Lubbockmarker, Texas to Lawrence Odell Holley and Ella Pauline Drake Holley on Labor Day, 1936. The Holleys were a musical family, and as a young boy Holley learned to play piano, guitar, and fiddle. "[H]is singing won a talent contest at age five." He was always known as Buddy to his family. In 1949, Buddy made a recording of Hank Snow's "My Two Timin' Woman" on a wire recorder "borrowed" by a friend who worked in a music shop , his first known recording.

During the fall of that year, he met Bob Montgomery at Hutchinson Junior High School. They shared a common interest in music and soon teamed up as "Buddy and Bob". Initially influenced by bluegrass music, they sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows. In Lubbock, Holly attended Hutchinson Junior High School, which has a mural honoring him, and Lubbock High School, which has numerous features to honor the late musician. His musical interests grew throughout high school while singing in the Lubbock High School Choir.

Music career

Seeing Elvis Presley sing live in Lubbock in early 1955 was a turning point for Holly. He began to incorporate a more rockabilly style of sound into his music, which further evolved into rock music.On October 15, he opened on the same bill with Presley, also in Lubbock, catching the eye of a Nashvillemarker talent scout. Holly's transition to rock continued when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local rock show organized by Eddie Crandall, who was also the manager for Marty Robbins.

As a result of this performance, on February 8, 1956, Decca Records signed him to a contract, on which his last name was misspelled as "Holly". That spelling was then adopted for his professional career. Holly formed his own band, though at that time it had no name. It would later be called the Crickets, consisting of Holly (lead guitar and vocalist), Niki Sullivan (guitar), Joe B. Mauldin (bass) and Jerry Allison (drums).

That year, he went to Nashville for three recording sessions with producer Owen Bradley. However, he chafed under a restrictive atmosphere that allowed him little input. Among the tracks he recorded was an early version of "That'll Be The Day", which took its title from a phrase that John Wayne's character says repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers. (This initial version of the song played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the later hit version.) However, Decca chose to release two other singles, "Blue Days, Black Nights" and "Modern Don Juan", which failed to make an impression. On January 22, 1957, Decca informed Holly that his contract would not be renewed, but insisted he not record the same songs for anyone else for five years.

Holly got Norman Petty to manage the group, and the band began recording at Petty's studios in Clovismarker, New Mexico. Petty started contacting music publishers and labels. Brunswick Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed the Crickets on March 19. Soon after, Holly signed on as a solo artist with another Decca subsidiary, Coral Records. This put him in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time.

On May 27, "That'll Be The Day" was released as a single, credited to the Crickets to try to bypass Decca's legal rights. When it became a hit, Decca decided to overlook this. The song topped the US "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on September 23 and the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, beginning November 1. The Crickets performed it and another hit, "Peggy Sue", on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 1.

Holly managed to bridge some of the racial divide that marked rock n' roll. While Elvis made black music more acceptable to whites, Holly won over an all-black audience when the Crickets were booked at New York's Apollo Theatermarker for August 16-22, 1956, though, unlike the immediate response depicted in the 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story, it actually took several performances for the audience to appreciate his talents. In August 1957, the Crickets were the only white performers on a national tour, their first.

As Holly was signed to Decca both as a solo artist and as part of the Crickets, two debut albums were released: The "Chirping" Crickets on November 27, 1957 and Buddy Holly on February 20, 1958. Singles "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy!" cracked the top ten in both the U.S. and UK charts. Holly and the Crickets toured Australia in January and the UK in March. The third and last album, That'll Be the Day, was put together from early recordings and released in April.


In June 1958, he met Maria Elena Santiago (born 1935 in San Juanmarker, Puerto Rico) while she was working as a receptionist for Murray Deutch, an executive at Peer-Southern Music, a New York music publisher.

Holly managed to get Maria Elena along to lunch at Howard Johnson's thanks to Deutch's secretary, Jo Harper. By the end of lunch, he had asked her to have dinner with him that night at the hangout for Manhattan's elite, P. J. Clarke's. He proposed on their very first date. "While we were having dinner, he got up and came back with his hands behind his back. He brought out a red rose and said, "This is for you. Would you marry me?" He turned up to her guardian's house the very next morning to gain her approval. She initially thought he was kidding, but they were married in Lubbock on August 15, 1958, less than two months after they had met. "I'd never had a boyfriend in my life. I'd never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight," Maria Elena told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on what would have been their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The newlyweds honeymooned in Acapulco.

Maria Elena traveled on tours, doing everything from the laundry to equipment setup to ensuring the group got paid. Although Holly had already begun to become disillusioned with Norman Petty before meeting his bride, it was through Maria Elena and her aunt Provi, who was the head of Latin American music at Peer Southern, that he began to fully realize what was going on with his manager, who was paying the band's royalties into his own company's account.

Holly wrote the song "True Love Ways" about his relationship with his young wife. It was recorded in her presence on October 21, 1958 at Decca's Pythian Temple, with Dick Jacob, Coral-Brunswick's new head of Artists & Repertoire, serving as both producer and conductor of the eighteen-piece orchestra, which included members of the New York Symphony Orchestra, NBC Television's house orchestra and Abraham "Boomie" Richman, formerly of Benny Goodman's band.

It was not until Holly died that many fans became aware of his marriage.

Holly in New York

The ambitious Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music/recording/publishing scene, while his bandmates wanted to go back home to Lubbock. As a result, the group split up in late 1958. The Hollys settled in at Greenwich Villagemarker, New York, in the new Brevoort apartment block at 9th Street and Fifth Avenue. It was here that he recorded the series of acoustic songs, including "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and "What to Do", known as the "Apartment Tapes", which were released after his death.

The Hollys frequented many of New York's music venues, including The Village Gatemarker, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, and Johnny Johnson's. Maria Elena reported that Buddy was keen to learn finger-style flamenco guitar and would often visit her aunt's home to play the piano there. He wanted to develop collaborations between soul singers and rock 'n' roll, hoping to make an album with Ray Charles and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. He also had ambitions to work in film, like Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran, and registered for acting classes with Lee Strasburg's Actors' Studiomarker, where the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean had trained.

However, he was still having trouble getting his royalties from Petty, so he hired the noted lawyer Harold Orenstein at the recommendation of his friends, the Everly Brothers, who had engaged Orenstein following their own disputes with their manager Wesley Rose. Yet, with the money still being withheld by Petty and with rent due, Buddy was forced to go back on the road.


Holly's headstone in the City of Lubbock Cemetery

Buddy was offered the Winter Dance Party by the GAC agency, a three-week tour across the Midwest opening on January 23, 1959, with other notable performers such as Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. He assembled a backing band consisting of Tommy Allsup (guitar), Waylon Jennings (bass) and Carl Bunch (drums) and billed as The Crickets.

Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. He, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, when their plane crashed soon after taking off from Clear Lake, Iowamarker on February 3, 1959. Don McLean referred to it as "The Day the Music Died" in his song "American Pie".


Holly's funeral was held on February 7, 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was performed by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Hollys' wedding just months earlier. The pallbearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend due to his commitment to the still touring Winter Dance Party. The body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery in the eastern part of the city. Holly's headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Holly's pregnant wife became a widow after barely six months of marriage and miscarried soon after. María Elena Holly did not attend the funeral and has never visited the 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."


Holly's music was sophisticated for its day, including the use of instruments considered novel for rock and roll, such as the celesta (heard on "Everyday"). Holly was an influential lead and rhythm guitarist, notably on songs such as "Peggy Sue" and "Not Fade Away". While Holly could pump out boy-loves-girl songs with the best of his contemporaries, other songs featured more sophisticated lyrics and more complex harmonies and melodies than had previously appeared in the genre.

Many of his songs feature a unique vocal "hiccup" technique, a glottal stop, to emphasize certain words in any given song, especially the rockers. Other singers (such as Elvis) have used a similar technique, though less obviously and consistently. Examples of this can be found at the start of the raucous "Rave On!": "Weh-eh-ell, the little things you say and do, make me want to be with you-ou..."; in "That'll Be the Day": "Well, you give me all your lovin' and your -turtle dovin'..."; and in "Peggy Sue": "I love you Peggy Sue - with a love so rare and tr-ue ...".


Buddy Holly statue on the Lubbock Walk of Fame

Holly set the template for the standard rock and roll band: two guitars, bass, and drums. He was also one of the first in the genre to write, produce, and perform his own songs.

Contrary to popular belief, teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not attend a Holly concert, although they watched his TV appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium; Tony Bramwell, a school friend of McCartney and George Harrison, did. Bramwell met Holly, and freely shared his records with all three. Lennon and McCartney later cited Holly as a primary influence. (Their band's name, The Beatles, was chosen partly in homage to Holly's Crickets.) The Beatles did a cover version of "Words of Love" that was a close reproduction of Holly's version, released on 1964's Beatles for Sale. During the January 1969 sessions for the Let It Be album, the Beatles played a slow impromptu version of "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" — although not written by Holly, it was popularized by him — with Lennon mimicking Holly's vocal style; the recording was eventually released in the mid-1990s on Anthology 3. Paul McCartney's band Wings recorded their version of "Love is Strange" on their first album Wild Life. In addition, John Lennon recorded a cover version of "Peggy Sue" on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll. McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly's song catalogue.

A 17-year-old Bob Dylan attended the January 31, 1959 show, two nights before Holly's death. Dylan referred to this in his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech for his Time out of Mind being named Album of the Year:

The Holly mural on 19th Street in Lubbock

Keith Richards attended one of Holly's performances, where he heard "Not Fade Away" for the first time. The Rolling Stones had an early hit covering the song.

In an August 24, 1978 Rolling Stone interview, Bruce Springsteen told Dave Marsh, "I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest."

Various rock and roll histories have asserted that the singing group The Hollies were named in homage to Buddy Holly. According to the band's website, although the group admired Holly (and years later produced an album covering some of his songs), their name was inspired primarily by the sprigs of holly in evidence around Christmas of 1962.


Buddy Holly released only three albums in his lifetime. Nonetheless, he recorded so prolifically that Coral Records was able to release brand-new albums and singles for 10 years after his death, although the technical quality was very mixed, some being studio quality and others home recordings. Holly's simple demonstration recordings were overdubbed by studio musicians to bring them up to then-commercial standards. The best of these overdubbed records is often considered to be the first posthumous single, the 1959 coupling of "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Crying, Waiting, Hoping", produced by Jack Hansen, with added backing vocals by the Ray Charles Singers in simulation of an authentic Crickets record. "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" was actually supposed to be the "A" side of the 45, with the backup group effectively echoing Buddy's call-and-response vocal. The Hansen session, in which Holly's last six original compositions were overdubbed, was issued on the 1960 Coral LP The Buddy Holly Story, Vol. 2. But the best "posthumous" records were the studio recordings, which included "Wishing" and "Reminiscing".

Buddy Holly continued to be promoted and sold as an "active" artist, and his records had a loyal following, especially in Europe. The demand for unissued Holly material was so great that Norman Petty resorted to overdubbing whatever he could find: alternate takes of studio recordings, originally rejected masters, "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and the other five 1959 tracks (adding new surf-guitar arrangements), and even Holly's amateur demos from 1954 (where the low-fidelity vocals are often muffled behind the new orchestrations). The last new Buddy Holly album was Giant (featuring the single "Love Is Strange"), issued in 1969. Between the 1959–60 Jack Hansen overdubs, the 1960s Norman Petty overdubs, various alternate takes, and Holly's undubbed originals, collectors can often choose from multiple versions of the same song.

The Picks' overdubs

In February 1984, MCA mastering engineer Steve Hoffman sent what are known as safety copies of several Buddy Holly master recordings to John Pickering of The Picks who took them to Sound Masters studios in Houston, TX. There, the reunited group overdubbed their new vocal parts onto at least 60 recordings, and sent them back to Hoffman at MCA. The general consensus seems to be that, under Hoffman's influence, MCA would have issued these "new" recordings as an album, perhaps to commemorate the 25th year since Holly's passing. This however, was not to be.

Not long afterwards, Hoffman was fired by MCA, for, among other things, stealing master tapes of Holly material and attempting to sell them to parties such as the Norman Petty estate. A short time later, a raid produced the stolen tapes, which were returned to MCA. With these plans having fallen through, Pickering decided to take matters into his own hands and release them himself.

These recordings slowly made their way to the public on privately pressed albums like The Original Chirping Sound and Buddy Holly Not Fade Away. In 1992, Pickering approached Viceroy Records to arrange a deal for major nationwide distribution of these overdubbed recordings, who hit a brick wall when MCA made it clear that Pickering did not have proper legal clearance to release such recordings. Andy McKaie, an MCA executive, has stated that Pickering has never bothered to ask for licensing on the songs. To this day, budget labels release these recordings despite the fact that they are, depending on how one looks at it, bootlegs or pirates.

In popular culture

The Buddy Holly Center, a small museum located in Lubbock

Film and musical depictions

Holly's life story inspired a Hollywood biographical film, The Buddy Holly Story. Star Gary Busey received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Holly. The movie was widely criticized by the rock community and Holly's friends and family for its inaccuracies. This led Paul McCartney to produce and host his own tribute to Holly in 1985, titled The Real Buddy Holly Story. This video includes interviews with Keith Richards, Phil and Don Everly, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Holly's family, and McCartney himself, among others.

In 1987, Marshall Crenshaw portrayed Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba. He is featured performing at the Surf Ballroom and boarding the doomed airplane with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. Crenshaw's version of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" is featured on the La Bamba original motion picture soundtrack. Steve Buscemi played a Buddy Holly imitator/waiter in Pulp Fiction (1994). Currently in preproduction (scheduled for 2010) is a film version of Bradley Denton's 1991 sci-fi novel Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, starring Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame—not as Buddy (that role is still open) but as the protagonist Oliver Vale.

There were also successful Broadwaymarker and West Endmarker musicals documenting his career. Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story ran in the West End for 13 years. This was followed by a tour and return to the West End on 3 August 2007.

Buddy appeared briefly in an episode of the BBC's 'Young Ones' when he crashed through the ceiling of the flat and played his guitar while suspended upside down in his tangled parachute strings.


The American Pie album is dedicated to Holly.
International airport... as I'm getting out I laugh to myself 'cause this is the only place, where as you're getting on the plane you see Buddy Holly's face. I hear they hate me now just like they hated you, maybe when I'm dead and gone I'm gonna get a statue too.


Buddy has appeared as a fictional character in several novels. Bradley Denton's Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1992.. He was referred to as a character in P.F. Kluge's Eddie and the Cruisers (1980) and showed up in an alternate time stream in 'The Second Coming of Buddy Holley' chapter in Edward Bryant's 1988 Wild Cards Volume V: Down and Dirty--an original Bantam Books paperback. The plane crash appeared in The Day the Music Diedmarker (Carroll & Graf, 1999), the first of Ed Gorman's rock 'n' roll mystery novels. In Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, the pioneer of what is easily recognized as rock and roll is a musician from Llamedos named Imp y Celyn, or Buddy Holly.


Fan monument in a private cornfield at the site of the airplane crash, near Clear Lake, Iowa
Downtown Lubbock has a "walk of fame" with plaques to various area artists such as Glenna Goodacre, Mac Davis, Maines Brothers Band, and Waylon Jennings, with a life-size statue of Buddy by sculptor Grant Speed (1980) playing his Fender guitar as its centerpiece. Downtown Lubbock also features Buddy Holly Avenue and the Buddy Holly Center, which is a museum dedicated to Texas art and music.

In 1988, Ken Paquette, a Wisconsin fan of the 1950s, erected a stainless steel monument at the site of the airplane crash, depicting a steel guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of each of the three performers. It is located on private farmland approximately five miles north of Clear Lake. He also created a similar stainless steel monument to the three musicians at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay. That memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.

Buddy Holly's previous home in Lubbock is still standing. It is a private residence and not open for tours.


Further reading

  • Amburn, Ellis (1996). Buddy Holly: A Biography. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312145576.
  • Bustard, Anne (2005). Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1422393024.
  • Dawson, Jim; Leigh, Spencer (1996). Memories of Buddy Holly. Big Nickel Publications. ISBN 978-0936433202.
  • Goldrosen, John; Beecher, John (1996). Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80715-7.
  • Goldrosen, John (1975). Buddy Holly: His Life and Music. Popular Press. ISBN 0859470180
  • Gribbin, John (2009). Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly. London: Icon Books. ISBN 978-1848310346
  • Dave Laing, Professor. Buddy Holly (Icons of Pop Music). Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-22168-4.
  • Lehmer, Larry (1997). The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. Schirmer Trade Books. ISBN 0028647416 or 978-0028647418.
  • Mann, Alan (1996). The A-Z of Buddy Holly. Aurum Press (2nd edition). ISBN 1854104330 or 978-1854104335.
  • McFadden, Hugh (2005). Elegy for Charles Hardin Holley, in Elegies & Epiphanies. Belfast: Lagan Press.
  • Norman, Philip (1996). Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684800829 or 978-0684800820.
  • Peer, Elizabeth and Ralph II (1972). Buddy Holly: A Biography in Words, Photographs and Music Australia: Peer International. ASIN B000W24DZO.
  • Peters, Richard (1990). The Legend That Is Buddy Holly. Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0285630059 or 978-0285630055.
  • Rabin, Stanton (2009). OH BOY! The Life and Music of Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Buddy Holly. Van Winkle Publishing (Kindle). ASIN B0010QBLLG.
  • Tobler, John (1979). The Buddy Holly Story. Beaufort Books.

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