Buddy Holly Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas to parents Lawrence Odell Holley and Ella Pauline Drake. The Holleys were a musical family and as a young boy Holley learned to play the violin (his brothers oiled the strings so much that no one could hear him play), piano and guitar. In the fall of 1949 he met Bob Montgomery at Hutchinson Jr. High School. They shared a common interest in music, and soon teamed up to perform as the duo "Buddy and Bob". Initially influenced by bluegrass music, they sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows. Holley's turn to rock music came after seeing Elvis Presley sing live, in his hometown of Lubbock in early 1955. A few months later, he appeared in the same bill with Presley, also in Lubbock. Holley's transition to rock was finalized when they opened for Bill Haley and 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, Holley was offered a contract with Decca Records to work alone, which he accepted.
Back in Lubbock, Holley formed his own band, "The Crickets", and began making records at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Among the songs they recorded was "That'll Be the Day", which took its title from a phrase which John Wayne's character said repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers. 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 Buddy in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time. Before "That'll Be The Day" had its nationwide release and became a smash hit, Holley played lead guitar on the hit-single "Starlight", recorded in April 1957, featuring Jack Huddle. The Crickets actually created two versions of the song, the initial unsuccessful version played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the hit version.
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 been previously shown in the genre.
Many of his songs feature a unique vocal "hiccup" technique, a clipped "uh" sound used to emphasize certain words in any given song, especially the rockers. Other singers have used a similar technique, though less obviously and consistently. Example, the start of the raucous number "Rave On": "Weh-UH-eh-UH-ell, the little things you say and do, make me want to be with you-UH-ou...". Or this, from "That'll Be the Day": "Well, you give me all your lovin' and your UH-turtle dovin'..."
Holly also managed to bridge some of the racial divide that punctuated rock, notably winning over an all-black audience when accidentally booked for New York's Apollo Theater (though, unlike the fictional portrayal in his movie biography, it took several performances for audiences to be convinced of his talents).
After the release of several highly successful songs, in March 1958, he and the Crickets toured the United Kingdom. In the audience were teenagers named John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who later cited Holly as a primary influence (the band's name, The Beatles, was later chosen partly in homage to Holly's Crickets). The Beatles did a cover version of "Words of Love" that was an almost perfect reproduction of Holly's version. The Rolling Stones did a cover of "Not Fade Away." The group, The Hollies were named in homage.
Holly's personal style, more controlled and cerebral than Elvis's and more youthful and innovative than the country and western stars of his day, would have an influence on youth culture on both sides of the Atlantic for decades to come, reflected particularly in the New Wave movement in artists such as Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw, and earlier in folk rock bands like The Byrds and The Turtles.
He married Maria Elena Santiago on August 15, 1958.
In 1959, Holly split with the Crickets and began a solo tour with other notable performers including Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper". One audience member at the tour stop in Duluth, Minnesota was a young Bobby Zimmerman who would later be known as Bob Dylan.
Following the February 2 performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new Crickets band (Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota. Richardson came down with the flu and didn't feel comfortable on the bus, so Jennings gave his plane seat to him. Valens had never flown on a small plane and requested Allsup's seat. They flipped a coin, and Valens called heads and won the toss. The four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off into a blinding snow storm and crashed into Albert Juhl's corn field several miles after takeoff at 1:05 A.M. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the 21 year-old pilot, Roger Peterson, leaving Holly's pregnant bride, Maria Elena Holly, a widow (she would miscarry soon after).
Although the crash received a good deal of local coverage, it was displaced in the national news by a crash that occurred the same day in New York City, when an American Airlines Lockheed Electra crashed during an instrument landing approach at LaGuardia Airport. In that crash, 65 died and 7 survived.
Holly's funeral services were held at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, and his body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.
Holly's headstone carries the correct spelling of his name, Buddy Holley. It also features a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar. Downtown Lubbock has a "walk of fame" with plaques to various area artists such as Mac Davis and Waylon Jennings, with a life-size statue of Buddy, playing his Fender guitar, as its centerpiece.
The tragic plane crash inspired Mike Berry & The Outlaws' single Tribute To Buddy Holly (1961), and singer Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad "American Pie", and immortalized February 3 as "The Day the Music Died". Contrary to popular myth, "American Pie" was not the name of the ill-fated 'plane.
The Surf Ballroom, a popular and old-fashioned dance hall that dates to the height of Big Band Era, continues to put on shows, notably an annual Buddy Holly tribute on the anniversary of his last performances.