It was February 3rd, 1959 when a plane crash killed Buddy Holly (22), Richie Valens (17), and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (28) . Because of the song “American Pie”, that tragic event is often referred to as “The day the music died”.
I don’t remember the news story from when it first broke. I was 10 years old, and the news wasn’t everywhere like it is today. The fact is, except for knowing “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue”, I wasn’t very aware of how special Buddy Holly was until years later. That’s probably the way it was for many people.
Buddy Holly had his first hit “That’ll Be The Day” (#1) in 1957, followed that same year by “Peggy Sue” (#3) and “Oh Boy” #(10). In 1958, he had 4 more Top-40 hits, with “Maybe Baby” being the only major hit at #17. Richie Valens had the two-sided hit “La Bamba”/”Donna” (#2), and The Big Bopper (who was a radio DJ) had one major hit “Chantilly Lace” (#6). He also wrote “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston, and it later became a #1 hit.
The importance of Buddy Holly revealed itself over the decades. Musicians who were influenced by him recorded his songs. The Beatles released “Words Of Love” on the Beatles For Sale album in 1964 (on Beatles VI in the U.S.), and had been performing the song live since 1958. They also recorded “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” for the BBC in 1963.
The Beatles name was even based on The Crickets. John Lennon thought it was cool that “Cricket” had two meanings…the insect and the game. He wasn’t aware that the game, Cricket, wasn’t well know in the U.S. Of course hearing “Beatles” can bring to mind both the band and the bugs. Paul McCartney is a major Buddy Holly fan, and he wisely bought the rights to all of Buddy Holly’s songs.
The biggest popularizer of Buddy Holly songs was Linda Ronstadt. She got major airplay in the mid-seventies with three of his songs “That’ll Be The Day” (#11), “It’s So Easy” (#5), and a popular album track “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (written for Holly by Paul Anka). Of particular note is the success of “It’s So Easy”. It was released as a single in 1958 by Buddy Holly & The Crickets, but failed to chart. Linda Ronstadt and her producer, Peter Asher, recognized the potential of the song, and then turned it into a hit.
Holly’s “True Love Ways” was a #14 hit for Peter & Gordon in 1965. The Bobby Fuller Four had a hit with “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” (#26) in 1966. “Not Fade Away” has been played and recorded by numerous artists through the years, including The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. “Rave On” is another popular choice of Rock Bands. “Everyday” has been recorded by many artists, including James Taylor. His recording was #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1985.
Eric Clapton saw Buddy Holly in London in 1958, and he says seeing Holly on stage with a Fender Stratocaster guitar made him want to have a career in music. Bob Dylan also saw Buddy Holly perform, and he says they looked each other directly in the eyes. Dylan claims it affected his music. Bruce Springsteen says he plays Buddy Holly songs every time before he goes on stage. He said, “It keeps me honest”.
Buddy Holly’s influence shows up in other ways. He added a rhythm guitar to The Crickets line-up, and two guitars, bass & drums became the blueprint for Rock bands. He was also one of the first musicians to write, sing, arrange, and produce his own recordings. He experimented with recording techniques, including double-recording his vocals so he sang harmony with himself. He sounded a lot like The Everly Brothers. Shortly before his tragic death, he was working with orchestral arrangements to broaden his sound. All of this from a young man who was just 22, and whose successful recording career was only about 2-years long!
In just those two years, his impact was so great that he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the first 10 artists.
February 3rd, 1959 wasn’t “The day the music died”. Buddy Holly’s music continues to live on through all the artists he inspired, and the new artists they inspire.
Update: There will be a new film about the life of Buddy Holly.
Oscar-winning director Bruce Beresford is helming the movie Clear Lake, which is expected to be a 2022 release. The movie’s title comes from the fact Buddy Holly’s final concert was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Here’s hoping the film concentrates more on his life and music than it does on the tragedy.