Legend of Iconic musician survives test of time
The day that the music was born changed the music industry forever.
Charles Holley, also known as Buddy Holly, was born on Sept. 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. He attended Roscoe Wilson Elementary School and Hutchinson Junior High School, later graduating from Lubbock High School in May of 1955.
“All through his junior high and high school years, he was interested in music,” said Jacquie Bober, assistant manager and curator at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. “He had some early musical partners, and when he was 15 and 16-years-old, he had an half-an-hour radio show on Sunday afternoon. His first musical partner was Jack Neal, and after Jack and got married, he played with a friend from middle school named Bob Montgomery, who went on to have a big career in Nashville as a writer and producer.”
Holly’s performance at the radio station led him to having a manger named Hipockets Duncan. According to Bober, Duncan agreed to be Buddy’s manger so he wouldn’t be taken advantage of when he played.
“Sometimes, the people would offer money, and sometimes the people who would offer money didn’t come through,” Bober says. “Mr. Duncan made sure if someone promised to pay, then they would pay. His His affairs led to them being booked at places around town.”
Holly had a contract to play every Friday night at the Lawson roller rink, which is a building that is still standing in Lubbock, according to Bober. It would lead to other gigs too, such as playing at supermarkets and high school dances. Holly and his band mates would travel in a car to Amarillo, Oklahoma and New Mexico to play for special events.
“He met with Elvis Presley on more than one occasion when Elvis came through Lubbock,” recalls Bober. “And that was at the time before Elvis had any major hits on the Billboard charts, so it was late ‘55 into 1956. For a couple of those meetings, Buddy and Elvis played at a car dealership downtown. It was called Johnson’s Pontiac Dealership. Buddy even opened for Elvis at the Fairgrounds, where Elvis was going to perform. He also opened for several performers who would end up becoming famous later on, such as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Bill Haley and the Comets.
According to Bober, it was during one of those performances that he was seen by Marty Robbins’ agent, Eddie Crandall, who happened to be a talent scout based out of Nashville. His efforts were responsible for Buddy getting his first recording contract in Nashville. Holly was signed with Decca Records, where he got his stage name, Buddy Holly, instead of Holley.
“The family name ‘Holley’ is engraved like that on his headstone,” explains Bober. “When he first received his recording contract, it was received with his named misspelled, and being young and not wanting to rock the boat, he signed his name the way they spelled it. That became his stage name.”
Before going to Nashville and recording his songs, Buddy and his band were recording their songs how they wanted to, according to Bober. The record label wanted Holly to record songs in a country fashion with slower tempo and a country accent.
“One of the songs was ‘That Will be the Day,’ and it wasn’t the song that everyone is used to hearing now,” Bober explains. “It was the country version of the song, and he was signed to the contract in ‘56 for a year. Come January, in 1957, they didn’t renew the contract, and he was a little despondent, of course. But he was told to try to have his records produced by a gentleman where his recording studio was in Clovis, New Mexico named Norman Petty.”
Petty allowed Holly to come in and record his music the way he wanted it recorded. However long it took, Petty would allow it, according to Bober.
Since Holly was still under contract with Decca, he couldn’t use his name. So, Holly, bassist Joe Mauldin, and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan decided that a band name must be used. Thus, ‘The Crickets’ was formed.
“It was that recording of ‘That Will be the Day,’ which was recorded in May of ’57, and by October ’57, it was number one on the Billboard charts, and from that time, him and his band rose,” says Bober. “They traveled extensively throughout the country, up and down the East Coast with other up-and-coming rock n’ rollers. At the time, you couldn’t rely on the Internet. You had to get up and perform your music. He was one of the first rock-n-roll stars to perform overseas.”
According to Bober, Holly traveled to Australia for a few weeks. He spent a month in the United Kingdom in March of 1958.
“From that single tour in the United Kingdom, Buddy, to this day, has a lot of fans, a very strong fan base that are from the United Kingdom,” says Bober. “They will come to the center, come to Lubbock to see where Buddy was born, where the music was born. It was a neat thing. There are also large fan bases from Australia, from Germany, the Netherlands. We’re seeing more visitors from the Pacific Rim and from South America.”
In June of 1958, Holly met his future wife, Maria Elena Santiago. They met in New York when Holly was visiting a publishing company and she was working there as an administrative assistant.
“Maria said Buddy was very driven and very determined,” Bober explains. “You could tell. Within hours of their first date, Buddy asked Maria to marry him. They knew each other for two months before they got married.”
Holly died in Clear Lake, Iowa, where a plane crashed on Feb. 3, 1959, that also was carrying musicians Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) and the pilot, Roger Peterson.
“He lived a very short life,” Bober says. “He was only 22 years old when he died. His musical career was only 18 months long, and out of those 18 months, he recorded 60 songs. Many of them would chart in the top 10 of the Billboard charts. Some of them during his lifetime, many after his passing.”
According to Bober, Holly’s music was very different from what a lot people had heard before.
“Buddy and his band mates wrote the majority of his music,” Bober explains. “They wrote the lyrics and music. That’s something that’s very special. It’s a unique feature for their band. He influenced people like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Graham Nash. So many musicians can trace their musical lineage back to Buddy.”
Bober says that Elton John credited Holly for being brave enough to wear glasses on stage.
“John Lennon, who had to wear glasses, said, ‘Buddy did it, why shouldn’t I,’” explains Bober. “’Why should I be embarrassed? I don’t need to look like a rock star to people.’ And that was one thing Buddy was all about. He didn’t allow people to dissuade him from exploring his musical creativity in ways that he wanted to.”
Bober says that the center gets multiple phone calls every day. On the anniversary of his death, they have a live band and anyone in Lubbock is welcome to come.
“The day of his death is Feb. 3, and it doesn’t matter what day that falls on,” says Bober. “The anniversary of his death and his birthday is the busiest times for us.”
The Buddy Holly Center recently had their dedication to Holly as his 57th anniversary of his death was marked. The center gets at least 45,000 visitors a year, according to Bober.
“He has a star now on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and he counted musicians that would go on and become famous as his friends like Waylon Jennings,” says Bober. “It just seems sort of strange that someone coming from Lubbock would have such wide appeal. But it’s true, and we see that evidence every day. His appeal continues to this day.”