Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959) was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. The change of spelling of "Holley" to "Holly" came about because of an error in a contract he was asked to sign, listing him as Buddy Holly. That spelling was then adopted for his professional career.
Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crash, Holly is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll. His works and innovations were copied by his contemporaries and later musicians, notably The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and exerted a profound influence on popular music. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Holly #13 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Holly turned to rock music after seeing Elvis Presley sing live in Lubbock in early 1955. A few months later, he appeared on the same bill with Presley, also in Lubbock. Holly's transition to rock was finalized 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, Holly was offered a contract with Decca Records to work alone, which he accepted. According to the Amburn book (p. 45), his public name changed from "Holley" to "Holly" on February 8, 1956, when he signed the Decca contract. Among the tracks recorded for Decca was an early version of "That'll Be The Day", which took its title from a phrase that John Wayne's character said repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers.
Back in Lubbock, Holly formed his own band, The Crickets and began making records at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Norman had music industry contacts and believing that "That'll Be the Day" would be a hit single, he contacted publishers and labels. Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed Buddy Holly and The Crickets. This put Holly in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time. Before "That'll Be The Day" had its nationwide release, Holly played lead guitar on the hit-single "Starlight", recorded in April, 1957, featuring Jack Huddle. The initial, unsuccessful version of "That'll Be The Day" played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the hit version.
Holly managed to bridge some of the racial divide that marked rock n' roll music. While Elvis made black music more acceptable to whites, Holly won over an all-black audience when the Crickets were accidentally booked at New York's Apollo Theater (though, unlike the immediate response depicted in the 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story, it actually took several performances for his talents to be appreciated).
After the release of several highly successful songs in 1958, Holly and the Crickets toured Australia in January and later the United Kingdom.
That same year, he met Maria Elena Santiago (born 1935 in San Juan, Puerto Rico) while she was working as a receptionist for Peer-Southern Music, a New York music publisher. He proposed to her on their very first date. She initially thought he was kidding, but they were married in Lubbock on August 15, 1958, less than two months after they 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 told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on the occasion of what would have been the Hollys' fiftieth wedding anniversary. She resides in Dallas.
Maria traveled on some of the tours, doing everything from the laundry to equipment set-up to ensuring the group got paid.
The ambitious Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music/recording/publishing scene, while his easygoing bandmates wanted to go back home to Lubbock. As a result, in 1959, the group split.
Holly began a solo tour with other notable performers, including Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. One night after a performance in Green Bay, Wisconsin at the Riverside Ballroom, the three headliners gave a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959. Afterwards, Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new back-up band (Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota, enroute to play the next leg of the Winter Dance Party tour at the Armory in Moorhead, Minnesota. Carl Bunch missed the flight as he had been hospitalized with frostbite three days earlier. The Big Bopper asked Jennings for his spot on the four-seat plane, as he was recovering from the flu. Ritchie Valens was still signing autographs at the concert site when Allsup walked in and told him it was time to go. Allsup pulled a 50 cent coin out of his pocket and the two men flipped for the seat. Allsup lost.
The plane took off in light snow and gusty winds at around 12:55 A.M., but crashed after only a few minutes. The wreckage was discovered several hours later by the plane's owner, Jerry Dwyer, some from the airport on the property of Albert Juhl. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. Holly's body, along with those of Valens and Richardson, was thrown from the wreckage. Holly and Valens lay south of the wreckage and Richardson was thrown around to the north of the wreckage. The pilot's body remained in the wreckage. All had suffered severe and multiple injuries. Without any doubt, all had died on impact, with the plane hitting the ground at . While theories abound as to the exact cause of the crash, an official determination of pilot error was rendered by the Civil Aeronautics Board. Although the crash received a good deal of local coverage, it was displaced in the national news by an accident that occurred the same day in New York City, when American Airlines Flight 320 crashed during an instrument landing approach at LaGuardia Airport, killing 65. Don McLean referred to it as "The Day the Music Died".
Holly's pregnant wife became a widow after barely six months of marriage and miscarried soon after.
Holly's funeral services were held at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, February 7, 1959 at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock under the direction of Sanders Funeral Home. His 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.
Maria Holly did not attend the funeral and has never visited the gravesite. She 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."
Early in 2008, Maria visited the apartment building where she and Holly lived. There, she observed musicians in nearby Washington Square Park, where Holly often played his guitar. "I gave one musician $9 because 9 was Buddy's favorite number," Maria told the Avalanche-Journal She said that she had never come to grips with his premature death.
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.
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 ...".
A young 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 1997 Time out of Mind winning Album of the Year:
"And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen 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 — I don't know how or why — but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.
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. However, the site also admits to a degree of uncertainty about that story.
Eddie Cochran, good friend and fellow rock 'n' roll pioneer was so distraught by the deaths of Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper that he recorded the song "Three Stars" as a tribute. Ironically, the song was not released until after Cochran's own premature death.
A 1980 Gyllene Tider song is called "Ska vi älska, så ska vi älska till Buddy Holly". ("If We'll Make Love, We'll Make Love (listening) to Buddy Holly").
The Smithereens' song "Maria Elena" is a Buddy Holly tribute as sung to his widow.
Mike Berry released a 1961 single called "Tribute to Buddy Holly". It was written by Geoff Goddard and produced by Joe Meek, who was a great Buddy Holly fan. In the USA, it was released on Coral, Buddy Holly's label.
The Ramones video for the song "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" features an extended clip of Buddy Holly performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1985 the German rock band Die Ärzte sang a song named "Buddy Hollys Brille" (Buddy Holly's glasses), in which they discussed in a humorous way the question of what happened to Buddy Holly's glasses after his death.
Mac Davis' "Texas In My Rearview Mirror" also references Buddy Holly, with these lines:
Humming an old Buddy Holly tune called "Peggy Sue"
With my favorite jeans
And a cheap guitar
I ran off chasing a distant star
If Buddy Holly could make it that far
I figured I could too
"Sleep Walk" is an instrumental steel guitar-based song recorded and released in 1959 by Santo & Johnny. It was recorded at Trinity Music in Manhattan. "Sleep Walk" entered Billboard's 'Top 40' on August 17, 1959. It rose to the No. 1 position for two weeks in September (the 21st and the 28th) and remained in the Top 40 list until November 9. It is also recognized as a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper.
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, Wisconsin. That memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.
In Soul Music, part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, a character by the name of Imp y Celyn appeared as a bard-cum-guitar-playing-rocker from the fictional Cymric country of Llamedos. He became the Disc's greatest musician under the name Buddy in the Band with Rocks In, before dying in a cart crash (a reference to Buddy Holly as Imp's name translates as "bud of the holly").
A fictional version of a young pre-fame Buddy Holly is a main character in an episode of Quantum Leap, working as a veterinarian's assistant. In the episode, Sam overhears Buddy strumming his guitar calling to a lost pig "Piggy, sueee" and suggests Buddy change the words to "Peggy Sue".
In the Simpsons episode "Colonel Homer", the manager of the recording studio fondly recalled how "Buddy Holly stood on this spot in 1958 and said, 'There is no way in hell I am gonna record in this dump.'" In a later episode, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper appear on an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. Itchy sabotages the plane's engine, resulting in the crash that kills the musicians and pilot Scratchy. In yet another episode, Lisa discovers Sideshow Bob had won election as mayor through votes by her two dead cats, Snowball I and Snowball II, as well as Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (whose tombstone reads "good bye, baaaaby!!").
In an episode of the MTV series Clone High, Holly "guest stars", along with Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and several other musicians who died in plane crashes.
Maria Holly told the Avalanche-Journal that some have called her "the Yoko Ono of Lubbock; they blame me for everything," a reference to controversies over using Holly's name to promote the City of Lubbock. The city was forced to rename the Buddy Holly Walk of Fame to the West Texas Walk of Fame. She recalled former Mayors Windy Sitton and David Langston as allies, but she said that she could not work well with former Mayor Marc McDougal.
"And I have not even received a phone call from the new Lubbock mayor or anyone in the City Council. ... I've tried to help with an annual festival and symposium and concert. Lubbock officials had gold in their hands, and they didn't know how to sift it," Maria told the newspaper.
Travis Holley, an older brother of Buddy, said, "I don't think Lubbock likes her. She puts too many restrictions on using Buddy's name, whereas the family considers it an honor that the city wants to pay tribute to Buddy. That is the reason I don't like Maria. I don't like the way she's been so mercenary for so long about Buddy's name."
Maria, however, has remained firm for a half century. She contends that she is merely protecting her late husband's reputation.