Buddy Holly died way to soon and was just starting his trajectory into rock and roll mortality.
It’s rather unimaginable that Buddy Holly, at the time of his death, had recorded only three albums in two years, where his career had only begun to flourish. Yet his impact on the realm of pop music and culture cannot be denied — from his signature geeky looks to his proficient guitar-playing and songwriting.
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Don McLean, Bruce Springsteen, and many musicians in generations to come — have been much inspired by Holly’s singular musical style. In 2004, the popular magazine Rolling Stone placed Holly at #13 in their “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time” list. Seven years later (on the day of Holly’s birth) he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
Holly’s musical roots hailed from Lubbock, Texas, where he was born on September 7, 1936. His family was very much musically-inclined, and his brothers taught him to play a variety of instruments. When he was in his teens, he met Bob Montgomery who also had an interest in music. Eventually the duo performed at clubs and high school talent shows. It was not until, in 1955, when Holly saw Elvis perform in Lubbock that he decided his future should be in music.
In 1956 Holly was signed to Decca Records, whose contract given to him misspelled his last name, dropping the “e”. Not wanting to jeopardize the contract, he adopted “Holly” as his professional name. Also in the same year Holly formed The Crickets, which composed of himself (on guitar and lead vocals), Niki Sullivan (on guitar), Joe B. Maudlin (on bass) and Jerry Allison (on drums).
Eventually The Crickets became successful and popular at that time, having a string of hits such as “That’ll Be The Day”, “Oh Boy” and “Peggy Sue”. Despite the success of The Crickets, Holly became disillusioned with his manager Norman Petty. Because of the legal problems concerning royalty money (which Holly had problems getting from Petty), he split from The Crickets and his manager in 1958.
Earlier that same year, he married Maria Elena Santiago, whom Holly asked to marry on their first date. He later wrote the song “True Love Ways” as a wedding gift to her — the song showed a lot of promise. But sadly, Holly never got to see its potential.
Following his separation from his former mates and manager, Holly assembled a band of musicians — including the rising star Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and other acts — to embark on a three-week tour across the Midwest called The Winter Dance Party in January, 1959.
However, it wasn’t exactly a “party” for the performers on tour. Plagued by miserable conditions, an ill-equipped bus along with its damaged heater, and most of all the freezing weather, Holly decided to charter a small plane to take him to the next stop on the tour.
After some negotiations between band members, Holly, along with Valens and Richardson, took off from the Mason City Airport in the wee morning hours of Februrary 3, 1959. All four men (including the pilot) perished not long after the plane just had its takeoff.
According to the investigators, the cause of the fatal crash was a combination of bad weather conditions and pilot error. For a young and talented artist whose career and full musical potential were cut short, Holly’s untimely death is indeed heartbreaking — one of the most tragic casualties the world of music has ever known.
It was “the day the music died” — as Don McLean hauntingly declares that ill-fated moment. Yet Holly’s music, influence and legend will never die — and otherwise live on in the hearts and minds of music-lovers in the future.
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