May he not fade away.

Fifty years ago today my relatively serene childhood was cruelly upended by the sudden death of my idol, Buddy Holly, in a plane crash in the corn fields of Iowa.

This precocious twenty-two-year old rock & roll singer/songwriter/guitarist was lost to the world after writing and recording an inspiring body of work in three short years. (I would argue that Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly were the prime R&R movers in the '50s.)

Buddy's distinctive vocal phrasing and original hits—including 'Not Fade Away', 'That'll Be the Day', 'Peggie Sue', 'Oh, Boy', 'Rave On', 'Maybe Baby', and 'Everyday'—had a major impact on rock for decades.

From John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richard, and Bob Dylan in the '60s… to Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw in the '70s… to Weezer in the '90s, the great ones all acknowledged (through their music) their debt to Buddy. Lennon even named the Beatles after Buddy's band, the Crickets.

As a young tyke I saw Buddy once on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958 and never recovered. (I've been fighting—and losing—a lifelong battle with the rockin' pneumonia ever since.)

Here's Buddy and the Crickets performing 'Peggy Sue' on Arthur Murray's Dance Club in 1958. It's a quiet performance by these 'rock & roll specialists' (not much going on in the Arthur Murray mosh pit) but the introduction by the hostess is priceless and shows the '50s culture trying to come to grips with this new disruption.

The rock & roll business lesson here? If you want to get attention (in any field), #*&^%@! the existing paradigm. Rave on, Buddy.

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  1. Now your talking about a great one. Too bad his performance that night doesn't do him justice. He must have been uptight in those surroundings.

  2. Really? I figure there was always a jam happening at Arthur Murray's Dance Club and Buddy was a fixture there at Last Call. I bet it was his home base in NYC.

    Wasn't it great how the hostess attempted to bridge the cultural gap in her intro? Classic. I'll give her credit for trying tho. Others - circa 1957 & 1958 - used to sneer at these "rock & roll disease" mongers. Even Steve Allen - whom I liked in every other regard - always had a put down for them (and made fun of R&R lyrics), even while he featured artists like Elvis on his Sunday night show.

    What a wacky time. it's great to see these videos again. I REALLY REALLY miss this guy. Not sure if I ever fully recovered from his death. My first loss.

  3. He's an interesting case because his music, at its best, was raw but his image and vocal style were pretty clean and unthreatening. Not as dangerous as Elvis initially or Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard's shows would start riots.

  4. That's a fair point. But I'd add that "Not Fade Away" which was covered by the Rolling Stones years later was primal rock & roll at its best (by 50s standards). His guitar-playing in general was great too. He wasn't as flashy or as innovative a guitarist as Chuck Berry but he had a great rhythmical flair. (That's probably why Keith Richards - the greatest rhythm guitar player in rock history - liked him so much.) I loved Buddy's rockabilly vocals and his unique phrasing. And his songs were so catchy yet well-crafted they had real staying power. "Everyday" - recorded again by James Taylor in 1985 - is a classic, with a "circle-of-4ths" bridge that is absolutely elegant. No wonder he was such an inspiration to Lennon and McCartney. I appreciated Buddy all the more when after his death we had several years of BH clones. Several of them were OK singers, but they couldn't rock. Like Elvis, Buddy could be crooner, but unlike Elvis, he never strayed far from his roots.

    I was hoping someone would challenge me on my assertion that Buddy along with Elvis, Chuck, Richard were the prime movers of R&R in the 50s - so I could get on my soapbox!

  5. holly's producer, norman petty, got writing credits on a lot of holly's songs when he didn't deserve to, which was common practice in those days. he also underpaid holly, forcing him to join that ill-fated midwestern tour because he was broke.

  6. Yep, there's a question whether Petty deserved a writing share of so many of Buddy's hits. Seems pretty sleazy by modern standards. Business managers & producers have always been bashed for exploiting rock & roll artists - especially in the 50s. Norman Petty doesn't have a lot of defenders. If there's a business lesson here, it's don't give away - or share - authorship/ownership of your product if it's not justified. And of course pay attention to the contracts you sign.

  7. Ok, I'll bite. How can you leave Bill Haley and the Comets off your prime mover list? "Rock Around the Clock" is considered the first rock & roll record to hit #1. Haley & the Comets were also featured in the movie of the same name and were the first rock 'n roll band to tour the world.

  8. Art, I certainly don't want to shortchange the Comets. "Rock Around the Clock" was a featured song in the movie "Blackboard Jungle." And "Shake, Rattle, & Roll" was another classic. There was a wide cast of important characters who put R&R on the map. But Elvis really kicked the door open and then the great singer/songwriter/musicians carried the next few years - of which Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly - were IMHO the most distinct. These three were strikingly original in their singing, their songwriting, and their musicianship. And they could all ROCK! (Little Richard, as Anonymous said earlier, would start riots and shut down dance halls.) Maybe you could argue for Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley in that pantheon too. I'm still amazed that these R&R gods were all playing at the same time and often on the same bill! And then suddenly it was gone. Buddy was dead, Elvis was in the Army, Chuck was busted, and Richard was back in church. By 1960 R&R was in full retreat (in the US anyway). Fortunately John Lennon & Paul McCartney kept listening to that music and fed it back to us 4 years later.

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