By the time he hit high school, Buddy Holly was playing guitar; by 1953, when he was only 17, he was playing regularly on radio in the country-and-western duo Buddy and Bob (Bob was Bob Montgomery, a friend from elementary school). On February 13, 1955, at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Buddy and Bob opened for Elvis—with Holly borrowing Presley’s Martin guitar for the occasion. The pair would open for Presley twice more that year.
“ROCK & ROLL AS WE KNOW IT WOULDN’T EXIST WITHOUT BUDDY HOLLY.”
The source of the above quote is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which should know. But their opinion is widely shared. Bruce Eder, writing at AllMusic.com, called Holly “the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll.” In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked him 13th on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”—extraordinary, especially when you consider that he died at age 22, after a recording career that lasted less than two years.
BUDDY HOLLY HAD JUST ONE NUMBER ONE HIT.
Its hard to imagine, because so many Buddy Holly singles are classics, but only one topped the U.S. charts: “That’ll Be The Day,” in 1957. It also hit the top spot in England, and not long after, The Quarrymen covered it, in their first recording. You can hear it on The Beatles Anthology.
IF NOT FOR BUDDY HOLLY’S BAND, THE CRICKETS, THERE WOULD BE NO BEATLES.
John, Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe (who played bass for the band during the Hamburg days) were all huge Buddy Holly fans. When trying to come up with a new name for their band (The Quarrymen, their original name after the school they went to, was growing long in the tooth), they thought of the Crickets. Then insects. Then beetles. Then eventually, after several variations, as a pun … Beatles.
“It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music,” John Lennon explained in 1964.
Holly and Sullivan had clashed during the show’s rehearsal. Holly’s band went AWOL, temporarily. “I guess the Crickets are not too excited to be on The Ed Sullivan Show,” the host said. “I hope they’re damn more excited than I am,” Holly replied.
BUDDY HOLLY’S GLASSES MADE HIM A FASHION TRENDSETTER
When Holly started out, he wore nondescript plastic and wire-framed glasses, but his eye doctor—inspired by Phil Silvers’s character, “Sergeant Bilko”—convinced him to switch to horn-rimmed models. These would soon become popularized as “Buddy Holly Glasses.” “It was Buddy’s perception that the glasses helped make him,” his optometrist, Dr. J. Davis Armistead, said. “He was really pleased.”
He needed the glasses, because he had 20/800 vision.
If you’re ever in Lubbock and want to find the Buddy Holly Center, just look for a giant pair of horn-rimmed glasses: A 5-foot tall, 13-foot wide, 750-pound sculpture of the glasses, created by Lubbock artist Steve Teeters, was installed there in 2002.
BUDDY HOLLY WAS THE PROTOTYPICAL SINGER-SONGWRITER.
Before Holly came along, pop music performance and songwriting were, for the most part, separate businesses; composers crafted tunes in places like New York’s Brill Building, and performers picked from among those songs to record and sing in concert. But Holly and the Crickets wrote most of their own material, which didn’t go unnoticed by the next generation of rock and rollers. “The fact that the group relied on originals for their singles made them unique and put them years ahead of their time,” Bruce Eder wrote at Billboard.com, noting that the group’s first three big hits—”That’ll Be The Day,” “Oh Boy!,” and “Peggy Sue”—were originals, a stark contrast to Elvis Presley, who didn’t write his own tunes.
BUDDY HOLLY “DISCOVERED” WAYLON JENNINGS.
Holly and Jennings had met in Lubbock, Texas, their hometown, and Holly took Jennings under his wing. Among other things, Holly set up Jennings’s first recording session—and played guitar on two songs laid down that day, “Jole Blon” and “When Sin Stops (Love Begins).”
After the Crickets broke up in late 1958, Holly recruited guitarist Tommy Allsup, drummer Carl Bunch, and Jennings to form his new band. (Jennings played electric bass.) The four would be the headline act on the “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest, which began on January 23, 1959. The acts traveled the 24-city route by bus, but the brutally cold weather and long distances between nightly gigs proved to be such a problem that Holly chartered a plane from a tour date in Clear Lake, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota, which was close to the next scheduled venue.
It was a small plane, and Jennings originally had one of the seats, but gave his spot to J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper).
The plane crashed in a windy snowstorm shortly after takeoff, killing Holly, Richardson, and Ritchie Valens, along with the pilot. The “Winter Dance Party” tour continued, without its headliners—with Jennings singing Holly’s vocals.
Jennings felt guilty about the accident for the rest of his life. As he told the story in Waylon: An Autobiography, before the plane took off, he and Holly had bantered: “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up,” Holly said, to which Jennings responded, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.