Written for BrumBeat by Brian Nicholls
During the many interviews I have undertaken with local musicians from the 1950s and 1960s Buddy Holly is the common denominator when it comes to major influences. The 3rd February 2019 marks the sixtieth anniversary of his death in a light aircraft following a concert at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Along with twenty two year old Buddy, seventeen year old Richie Valens ('La Bamba') and twenty eight year old J. P. Richardson, alias "The Big Bopper" ('Chantilly Lace') also perished. I was a "paper boy" at the time and it was splashed all over the front page of The Daily Mirror on 4th February, 1959.
However, it was a mere ten months earlier, March 1958, that "Buddy Holly and The Crickets" (Joe B. Mauldin, bass and Jerry Allison, Drums - both masters of their craft) had undertaken a twenty five-date British tour playing fifty performances and also appearing on three television shows.
Born Charles Hardin Holley (note the spelling) in Lubbock, Texas on 7th September 1936, Buddy came to prominence as a rare breed singer, songwriter, guitarist and anonymous member of The Crickets. As a result of their massive hit single 'That'll Be The Day' - a pop song with a blues guitar solo and intro no less, a ground breaking LP "The Chirping Crickets" soon followed. The album depicted Holly on the front cover holding what was soon to become a game-changing solid body electric guitar called the Fender "Stratocaster".
Crickets' bassist Joe B. Mauldin commented... "Buddy turned up one day with this electric guitar that looked just like a space ship, with a gear shift" (tremolo arm).
More smash hit records; 'Oh Boy', 'Peggy Sue' and 'Maybe Baby' soon followed so a tour of Britain was inevitable. Brumbeaters of yore could see the group at either The Gaumont, Wolverhampton (2nd March), Birmingham Town Hall (10th March) or The Gaumont, Worcester (11th March).
Tickets were priced at 3/6d (17p), 4/6d (22p), 6/6d (32p), 8/6d (42p) and 10/6d (52p) - indeed, this was quite a slice out of your pocket money back in the day! However, this was 1958 and "Skiffle" was more or less over by the end of 1957 with the American led rock 'n' roll craze taking hold over here.
The Crickets arrived at London Airport (Heathrow) on Friday, 28th February and were soon whisked off to ATV studios to perform 'I'm Gonna Love You Too' on the pop programme "Cool For Cats". On the 2nd of March they appeared on the 100th edition of "Sunday Night at The London Palladium" singing 'That'll Be The Day', 'Maybe Baby' and 'Oh Boy' and on the 14th they appeared on "Off The Record" singing 'Maybe Baby'.
Tour headliners were Buddy Holly and The Crickets compered by... "the comedian with the modern style"... Des O'Connor. Buddy asked Des to provide him with some British gags that he could use between songs. Also on the support billing were "Ronnie Keene and his Orchestra" (featuring vocalist Lynn Adams), The Tanner Sisters (Frances and Stella Tanner) and vocalist Gary Miller.
Back then, concerts were of the variety show type and would typically give two evening performances ie. 6.30 am and 8.30 am, with the headliners usually performing a set of 20 to 30 minutes. Holly and The Crickets were on for 30 minutes where they performed 'That'll Be The Day', 'Peggy Sue', 'Oh Boy', 'Maybe Baby, I'm Gonna Love You Too', 'Bebop a Lula', 'Great Balls Of Fire', 'Good Rockin' Tonight', 'Keep a Knockin', 'Rip It Up', and a slow ballad, 'It's Too Late.
Early on in the tour, Buddy purchased a Hofner "President" acoustic guitar to practice on and which he gave to Des O'Connor at the end of the tour. Periodically, Des has been offered astronomical sums of money for this guitar but, he finally donated it to The Buddy Holly Foundation a few years ago - what a decent bloke, eh.
The Crickets were British sports car enthusiasts and Buddy was intent on purchasing an Austin Healey on his return so a visit to The Austin Motor Company in Longbridge was arranged. Whilst walking around the site, one of the two engineering apprentices assigned guides asked Buddy... "And what do you do for a living Mr Holly?"
The group also posed with cricket stars Colin Cowdrey and Denis Compton for routine publicity shots. The Crickets were completely unfamiliar with the sport and when Compton and Cowdrey appeared with their bats, the boys thought they were holding paddles!
When the group were asked by a reporter after a concert... "To what do you owe your success?" the Crickets' drummer Jerry Allison answered in a broad Texas drawl... "Well, it's got to be the music 'cos were just a bunch of ugly pickers"
The month of March 1958 and the eventual extensive and influential catalogue of music left an indelible impression on musicians mainly in Britain and Australia. Some local people have recounted the effect the music has had upon them.
Jon Fox (Jon Fox and The Hunters, The D'Fenders, Varsity Rag, Cathedral and Jigsaw); "I didn't get to see him in concert but I did on TV. My brother came into my bedroom and said that Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash and I was absolutely devastated. I went to school that day wearing a black tie instead of the school one and as a result I was given detention and extra homework for breaching the school uniform code (Ha ha)."
"I used to play all of his current songs in my first version of The Hunters in pubs and clubs across the region. My ambition was to own a Fender like Buddy's but, you couldn't get them until 1960. So, I made do with a sunburst Futurama until my turn on the waiting list came up at Kay Westworth's Music shop in Birmingham from which I had to pay thirty bob a week."
Dan Robinson (Danny Cannon and The Ramrods, Herbie's People); "We all had our personal favourites like, Little Richard, Everly Brothers, Bill Haley but, the greatest influence was Buddy Holly and The Crickets. That sound was so important to us and most of our generation because it seemed to capture all our feelings and our imagination."
Len Beddow (lead Guitar - The Ramrods); "I remember seeing him perform on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. That performance at the Palladium showed just how powerful an electric guitar could be. We all wanted sunburst Fenders after that."
Keith Farley (deceased author of 'N Between Times and They Rocked, We Rolled); "I walked into Voltic Records in the now no longer Queen's Arcade in Wolverhampton and bought 'That'll Be The Day' for a very hard earned 6/7d because it was at number one at the time. That was the moment that a love affair (with rock 'n' roll) had been blossoming below the surface, reached it's first kiss."
Ken Warr (bassist The Strangers, Johnny Dark and The Silhouettes); "I had accumulated all of the records by Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley since I was twelve so, when I left school at fifteen, I started a piecework job at Payters in Great Bridge, Tipton. With my first week's wages the first thing I did was buy a Garrard record player to listen to them."
Alan "Cleebo" Clee (deceased) - The Strangers, Finders Keepers, Giggety, The Crockers); "Buddy's guitar playing was as significant as the songs themselves. These were intricate and challenging guitar parts that had to be right if you were attempting to cover them. You simply could not bluff your way through the guitar parts because your street cred would be shot. This is perhaps why lots of guitarists who otherwise loved his music gave it a miss."
Space does not permit to list all the famous groups and people who have covered Buddy Holly's songs so here are a few memorable examples;
The Quarrymen, 'That'll Be The Day' - 1959 (Beatles Anthology)
The Rolling Stones, 'Not Fade Away' - 1964
The Vendors, 'Take Your Time' - 1964 (Genesis of Slade album)
The Beatles, 'Words of Love' - 1964 (Beatles For Sale album)
Blind Faith, 'Well All Right' - 1969 (with Steve Winwood)
Derek and The Dominos (aka Eric Clapton), 'It's Too Late' - 1970
John Lennon, 'Peggy Sue' - 1975 (Rock 'n' Roll album)
Denny Laine and Paul McCartney, "Holly Days" - 1977 (tribute album)
Blondie, 'I'm Gonna Love You Too' - 1978
Carlos Santana, 'Well, All Right' - 1978
Copyright © Brian W. Nicholls 2019