jump to navigation

Buddy Holly still timeless at 75 September 13, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
trackback

Last week (September 7, to be exact), marked the would-be 75th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s birth.  In case you have been under a rock, though, for the past 52 years, Buddy Holly has been dead for that long, having died in a plane crash in the wee morning hours in a frozen Iowa cornfield.  It is not uncommon for rock stars to burn briefly but very brightly.  But the degree of brightness to which Buddy Holly shone as a star eclipsed most others in his day, and influenced countless others in the years that followed.

Buddy Holly is rightfully recognized as one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “Founding Fathers.”  The most notable of our nation’s Founding Fathers each made their own unique contribution as our nation was born.  Washington, for example, was the most gifted leader and capable administrator.  Adams was one of the leading advocates in Congress for independence.  Jefferson was the philosopher-statesman who was able to articulate the American experience and the rights of all men.  Hamilton was the sharpest financial mind, Madison was the most detail-oriented, and Franklin was the most pragmatic, hence the most practical of an already-practical bunch.

When it comes to the founding generation of rock music, the unique contributions in that field manifest themselves as well.  Some examples would include Bill Haley, who inaugurated the era; Chuck Berry, who combined blues music and folk themes for his own inimitable style; Little Richard, who found the holy grail of rock with his freight train-style tempo; Jerry Lee Lewis, who changed our paradigm of what a piano was meant to do; Carl Perkins, who owned the Rockabilly sub-genre; Elvis, who sang our kind of songs the way we wanted them to be sung; then there’s Buddy Holly, arguably the most timeless artist of a bunch who recorded music that remains timeless after more than five decades, and the most pioneering in a rare group of accomplished pioneers.

The music speaks for itself.  “That’ll Be the Day” — the first record this author ever recalls hearing in his life — was his only Number One hit State-side, but he and his group The Crickets recorded a slew of other songs that helped define the era as well.  In just 18 months, Buddy Holly and the Crickets had 27 Top 40 hits.

Just try to avoid tapping your feet to “Oh Boy,” or joining The Crickets in call-and-response fashion to the lyrics that make up the title.  Same thing goes for “Rock Around with Ollie Vee“, “I’m Looking for Someone to Love” (the flip-side to “That’ll Be the Day,” fyi), with a guitar solo that would even make Ted Nugent proud.

Same thing goes for “Rave On.”  Speaking of which, “Rave On” personifies the “hiccup” vocal style the Holly pioneered (that is, he introduced it to Rock, as it was already long-standing in Country-Western singing).  But that just scratches the surface of Holly’s firsts.  A full decade before Jimi Hendrix made a name for himself playing his Fender Stratocaster, Holly had already given the Fender Strat guitar a mystique all its own.  Compared to the warm tones of most Gibson hollow-bodies, Holly’s Fender Strat had a distinctly piercing tone, which one can readily recognize in Ollie Vee or, better yet, “Blue Days, Black Nights”, both of which were recorded during a session for the Decca label in Nashville in 1956.

As an aside, there is often confusion on the part of many with regard to Buddy Holly vs. “The Crickets.”  “What’s the difference?”, or some variation thereof, is the top FAQ.  The historical evidence on hand does nothing to alleviate that confusion, as the group recorded on two different labels — both Decca subsidiaries at the time — and due to contractual quirks had to essentially split their name in two. Examples are shown below.

Source: author’s personal collection

Despite the separation of names, it was all illusory:  on both labels, the complete group of Buddy Holly & The Crickets were performing the songs.  Speaking of which, it is on that note that Holly’s pioneering is most pronounced.  Putting things into context is the key to understanding this important point, for this was a time when solo artists and groups alike sang songs written and produced by others.  Not Buddy Holly and the boys, though.  They were the most notable first four-piece band (two guitars, a bass and drums) who wrote their own songs, then performed them their own way.  In so doing, they created a template that rock bands of all sub-genres have followed for more than fifty years.

Holly was also one of the most influential artists of all time.  The Beatles not only drew inspiration from Holly and his group, they even drew inspiration from The Crickets’ group name — wanting to follow along the insect-themed name in tribute to their own favorite group.  The band that defined the genre in the 1960s, that ushered in the “British Invasion”, cut their teeth covering Holly’s hits.  Indeed, as one article in particular points out, it was Holly who led an “American Invasion” into Britain in the 1950s.

But that does not even scratch the surface of Holly’s lasting influence.  An excellent LA Times piece puts it in nearly-poetic words:

“Listen to Me” opens with Stevie Nicks happily rocking atop the Bo Diddley beat of “Not Fade Away” and includes the Fray handling “Take Your Time,” Ringo Starr shuffling through “Think It Over,” Chris Isaak crooning “Crying Waiting Hoping” and Cobra Starship reimagining “Peggy Sue.” Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, who said “Buddy Holly’s sweet voice and his trademark hiccup always intrigued me,” layers his signature harmonies into the title track.

Zooey Deschanel sweetly follows in Linda Ronstadt’s footsteps on “It’s So Easy.” That’s one of three Holly songs Ronstadt — with Asher producing — brought back to the radio airwaves in the mid-’70s, a time when it wasn’t universally hip to revisit the ’50s rock canon.”

Keep in mind that Holly accomplished all of this before he died tragically at age twenty-two.  As long as the issue of youth has been mentioned, it is to that very end that notable artists are serious about keeping Holly’s music relevant in the minds of the young people of today.  Such is the reason why this anniversary coincides with a recently-released tribute album to Holly.  Other tributes have coincided with the birthday in question.  Sept. 7 was declared “Buddy Holly Day” in Los Angeles, where he was posthumously given a star on the Walk of Fame.

IMG_4966_1

Buddy Holly’s star of fame on a sidewalk in Hollywood is, interestingly, right next to the famous Capitol Records studio building. Photo by author, Jan., 2015.

His widow Maria Elena was there to witness the unveiling, along with Don and Phil Everly (a.k.a., the Everly Brothers, who were friends of Holly, as well as fellow performers), and, appropriately, Gary Busey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for portraying him in The Buddy Holly Story (1978).

Evidence of the timelessness of Buddy Holly’s music is everywhere, not just in recordings such as “Listen to Me” or “Words of Love,” but others as well.  AT&T even used “Every Day” (the flip-side to “Peggy Sue”) in one of their recent commercials.

Holly, along with Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, left this world on Feb. 3, 1959, in what became known as “The Day the Music Died” (even his death inspired a number-one hit song – who can forget Don McLean’s “Miss American Pie“?*).  But given Holly’s lasting influence and timelessness, perhaps the name of that fateful date should be seriously called into question.

*For the sake of clarity, “Miss American Pie” was the name of the plane that crashed in 1959, taking the lives of Holly, Valens and Richardson.

Advertisements

Comments»

No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: