50 YEARS AGO: The Day The Music Died

buddyholly.jpg

THE INDEPENDENT: “That’ll Be the Day” topped both the British and American charts, incidentally topping the US chart when Holly only had 500 days left to live. Frank Allen of the 1960s band The Searchers loved the record: “To be a star, you obviously need a desirable amount of talent, but the most important factor is individuality – and Buddy was distinctive and unmistakeable, both visually and aurally. While we were skiffling away, trying to find a fourth chord, Buddy was giving us the opening bars of ‘That’ll Be the Day’ with unbelievable expertise and on an instrument that was the equivalent of a bullet-finned ’59 Cadillac. He looked gangly and geekish with those glasses but that guitar made him unbelievably cool, and he knew how to play it. It was the revenge of the nerd. His records are almost without exception terrific. He got everything right.” Most top acts released four singles and an album a year, but Petty realised that Holly was productive and arranged for solo records, still backed by The Crickets, on Coral, another Decca subsidiary. Holly’s hit-making career only lasted 18 months, but his output was double that of comparable musicians. MORE

buddy_hollyweb3_1.jpg

FUNDAMENTAL BAPTIST INFORMATION SERVICE: Buddy Holly (1936-1959) was one of the founders of rock & roll, and his influence is vast… Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, and grew up in the Tabernacle Baptist Church, a fundamental Baptist congregation. His father and older brothers served in various capacities at Tabernacle. Buddy made a public profession of faith in Christ and was baptized at age 14, but his life did not exhibit good evidence of regeneration… Buddy Holly professed Christ, but he never lived for Christ. Sadly, he was far more interested in rocking and rolling than in glorifying Jesus Christ. Buddy Holly’s biographer notes: “He became sexually adventurous, a moral outlaw in his time. . .” (Ellis Amburn, Buddy Holly, p. 4). In his teens, Buddy began disobeying his Christian parents, staying out late, drinking, smoking, shoplifting, gambling, carousing with immoral women. Buddy’s friend Sonny Curtis remembers him as “a drinker–loud, a smart aleck, head-strong.” Even after publicly professing Christ and being baptized, Buddy told his friends that he had no intention to stop his sinful ways. From time to time, Buddy expressed some remorse for his wicked life… Buddy’s older brother, Larry, who is still a member and a trustee at Tabernacle Baptist, believes Buddy was saved but backslidden and the Lord took him home because of his stubborn rebellion (Amburn, p. 54)… The late Pastor Ben Johnson, who baptized Buddy, testified to E.L. Bynum, the current pastor of Tabernacle, that not long before he died, Buddy told him that he intended to get out of the rock & roll business after he made enough to get out of debt. (This was related to me in a telephone conversation with Pastor Bynum, August 9, 2000). Instead of getting right with the Lord and obeying the Bible, though, Buddy pursued his self-willed course and was destroyed in his youth… instead of shining the light of God’s holiness into this fallen, needy world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Buddy Holly used his music and lifestyle to promote moral license and to help create the debauched rock & roll society. MORE

THE INDEPENDENT: Buddy Holly woke up on Monday morning, 2 February 1959, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with his whole body aching. For the past fortnight, he had been sleeping either on the tour bus or in fleabag hotels as he played an appallingly organised tour of the American Midwest, travelling on treacherous roads in near-Arctic conditions. His run of hits was over – he hoped only temporarily – but he was free from his dishonest manager and he would be rebuilding his career in New York. The fans’ reaction at each venue gave him encouragement, the only bright moments on this ungodly tour.

The touring party had had a succession of buses with broken heaters. It was impossible to socialise with the other musicians as their prime concern was keeping warm. The previous day, the drummer had been admitted to hospital with frostbite, and they had to work out who would replace him. Holly agreed to drum for 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, who was making his way up the charts with “La Bamba”.buddyholly2_1.jpg

At around 9am, the tour bus – their sixth in 10 days – set off on a 350-mile journey from Green Lake to the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. It was gruelling and, with breakdowns, would take nine hours. By then, 21-year-old Roger Peterson had reported for work at Dwyer’s Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa. During his short career, he had flown 700 hours, but he had failed an examination for flying by instruments alone. As no flights were scheduled, he spent the day welding.

The manager of the Surf Ballroom, Carroll Anderson, was keen to quash reports that rock’n’roll was equated with juvenile delinquency and he would admit adults to the dance for only 10 cents. When the bus arrived, Holly told Anderson that he wanted to charter a plane to take himself and his guitarists, Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings, to the next venue – the Armoury, Moorhead, Minnesota, some 500 miles away. Anderson called Jerry Dwyer who told him that the flight would cost $108. Peterson was told to report back for a flight at 12.30am to Fargo airport, North Dakota.

Buddy found time to call his new wife, Maria Elena, but he wasn’t totally forthcoming. “It was the tour from hell,” says Maria Elena. “Everybody got sick; the buses were breaking down; it was bad weather and very cold. Buddy called me in Clear Lake but he never told me about the plane. That was Buddy, though: he was always taking over.” At around 10.30pm, another tour member, the Big Bopper, who had flu, asked Waylon Jennings for his seat and, in compensation, he offered Waylon his new sleeping-bag. Waylon said: “If it’s all right with Buddy, it’s all right with me.”

At 11.20pm, the other performers joined Holly on stage for the final songs of the evening, “La Bamba” and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”. Since his first hit, “That’ll Be the Day”, Buddy Holly had performed in 200 venues in 18 months. After the show, the Big Bopper asked Buddy if he could take Waylon’s place. “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up again,” joked Holly as Waylon chuckled back: “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” MORE

buddyhollycrasha_1.jpgEXAMINER: “The Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s unwise decision to embark on a flight which would necessitate flying solely by instruments when he was not properly certificated or qualified to do so. Contributing factors were serious deficiencies in the weather briefing, and the pilot’s unfamiliarity with the instrument which determines the attitude of the aircraft.” There was talk of some conspiracy, or that someone shot the pilot in-flight, and that Mr. Richardson exited the airplane and was trying to get help.  But a recent exhumation of Mr. Richardson by his son dispelled these rumors, these men all died on impact.  It also appears that the pilot may have been the only one wearing a seatbelt, as the other three were thrown clear of the airplane. MORE

BUDDY HOLLY: Peggy Sue

*

Waylon Jennings always wore a black hat. He named his kid Shooter. Lonesome, ornery and mean, he walked it likeWaylonJEnningsPoster.jpeg.jpghe talked it. He was a rebel to the bitter end. Take this life and shove it, he must have thought, a legend and a ghost, forgotten and alone, exiled in Arizona, the place where people go to die. Fuck Nashville. Fuck Grand Ole Opry. Fuck the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fuck the law. And motherfuck Garth Brooks and the horse he rode in on. That goes double for diabetes, which took his foot before it took his life at age 64. It wasn’t always like this. The luck of the draw was on his side that day the music died in 1959. He played bass for Buddy Holly and at the last minute chose not to take that fateful charter flight that crashed and burned with Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper on board. And he would press that luck for the next 21 years, telling the dealer to hit him again and again–scaling mountains of blow, backstroking across rivers of whiskey–until he crapped out. If you played his 60 albums backward, he would in fact get back his wife, his horse and his dog. And despite his mega-selling commercial heyday in the mid-’70s, he will likely be best remembered for singing the theme song to The Dukes of Hazzard. Life is cruel like that. Nobody understood that better than Waylon Jennings. — JONATHAN VALANIA

[Buddy Holly illustration by GLENN FERGUSON]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *