Full name, Charles Hardin (some sources say Harden) Holley; Born September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Tex.; killed in an airplane crash, February 3, 1959, near Mason City, Iowa; son of Lawrence O. and Ella Holley; married Maria Elena Santiago (a receptionist), August 15, 1958.

"Even though Buddy Holly never had a Number One single in America, his legacy is immeasurable," stated Chet Flippo in Rolling Stone. The composer and recording artist of such early rock megahits as "That'll Be the Day," "Maybe Baby," and "Peggy Sue," Holly, despite a short career tragically ended by his death in a plane crash at the age of twenty-two, is considered one of the founding fathers of rock music. Classified by some as a purveyor of the "Tex-Mex" branch of rock and roll, and by others as falling into the rockabilly category, Holly pioneered many common practices in the recording industry. He was among the first to overdub musical tracks with his own voice and guitar playing, and the first to use classical stringed instruments on rock records--"It Doesn't Matter Any More," written by fellow recording artist Paul Anka, and his own composition, "Raining in My Heart."

In addition to his own hits, Holly's influence is felt in the work of other musicians, including the Beatles (who even named themselves after insects to liken themselves to Holly's backup group, the Crickets) and Bob Dylan. Himself influenced by early rock giant Elvis Presley, Holly nevertheless evolved a distinctive personal style; as Gene Busnar noted in his 1979 book, It's Rock 'N' Roll: "His skinny kid with glasses image was in sharp contrast to Elvis's sex appeal.... Holly proved that you did not have to be black, tough, or good-looking to be an authentic rock 'n' roll star. Sometimes, talent was enough."

Buddy was born Charles Hardin Holley--dropping the "e" was originally a mistake on the part of a record company talent scout--on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. He learned to play the violin and the piano as a child, but soon displayed a preference for the guitar. Contrary to the depiction presented in the popular film version of Holly's life, "The Buddy Holly Story," Holly's parents always supported him in his musical ventures. By the age of thirteen Holly and his friend Bob Montgomery were playing local clubs, specializing in a music they called "western bop," but performing mainstream country tunes as well. They made what Busnar termed "a conventional country album," which met with little attention, but when Holly and Montgomery served as the opening act for pioneer rock group Bill Haley and the Comets at a local rock show a scout for Decca Records signed Holly, without Montgomery, to a contract. Decca cut a few singles featuring Holly, but they were not considered likely to meet with commercial success, and Decca advised the young musician to go back to Lubbock to refine his material.

Holly did so, forming a band called the Crickets with friends Jerry Allison, who played drums, Joe B. Mauldin, who served as bass player, and Niki Sullivan, who provided the rhythm guitar. Holly played guitar and sang lead vocals. The band traveled to Clovis, New Mexico, to record in the studios of Norman Petty, who produced much of their subsequent music. A Petty-produced, livelier version of "That'll Be the Day," a song Holly had already recorded for Decca, brought the Crickets and their leader by circuitous ways back to Decca's attention; a deal was made in which songs released as Buddy Holly and the Crickets would be released on Decca's subsidiary Brunswick label, while records with Holly's solo billing would be on the Coral label.

Holly's unique vocal style, coupled with Allison's drum beat, ensured success. His singing voice has been likened to that of a person with the hiccups; he is remembered for his use of glottal stops and stretched syllables. As Arnold Shaw pointed out in The Rockin' 50s, Holly broke with usual practice by singing ballads with "a feeling of nervous excitement." Referring to Holly's first solo hit, "Peggy Sue," an expression of unrequited love taking its title from the name of Allison's girlfriend (and later, wife), Shaw explained: "An older school of singers found this disregard of lyrics rather disconcerting. But Holly's admirers were unconcerned that his performance bore no relation to the woeful words of pleading. What counted was the agitation, tension, and energy of Holly's delivery.... His performance was the song.... What was amateurville in the eyes of the 'good music' advocates was a new esthetic to teen-agers."

As part of the early rock movement, a cultural innovation many perceived as stemming completely from rhythm and blues, a field dominated by black artists, Holly and the Crickets were sometimes mistakenly thought to be a black group. Once they were accidentally booked with black singers and musicians to play to a primarily black audience at the Apollo Theater; apparently the audience was shocked to see white musicians on their stage, but Holly and his group performed gamely. As former Cricket Sullivan recounted for Chet Flippo in Rolling Stone: "The first two days that we played the Apollo, we were booed. The third day, Buddy said, 'Let's do Bo Diddley,' [a popular rhythm and blues number] and from that moment on we were a hit." Holly's other breakthroughs include helping introduce rock and roll to English audiences. When he and the Crickets toured Great Britain in March of 1958, Holly was enthusiastically received and became even more popular than he was in the United States.

In the summer of 1958 Holly was at the offices of Peer-Southern, his New York City music publishers, when he met Maria Elena Santiago, who was a receptionist there. Two weeks later, he married her. After a honeymoon in Acapulco, the couple returned to Lubbock; at this time Holly broke with Petty, feeling that he and the Crickets could be their own producers. The Crickets disagreed, however, resulting in Holly's splitting with them as well. He and Maria Elena set up housekeeping in New York City.

With new backup musicians, one of whom was future country music star Waylon Jennings, in early 1959 Holly toured with a rock show that also featured stars J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") and Ritchie Valens. They rode in buses from performance to performance; the buses kept breaking down, and finally, after a concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly decided to charter a small four-seater plane to reach the next town in time to rest and do laundry. Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson, who was ill; Holly's other back-up man was persuaded by Valens to do the same for him. Early on the morning of February 3, the plane took off from the nearby Mason City, Iowa, airport and crashed eight miles out, killing the pilot and his famous passengers.

by Elizabeth Thomas

Buddy Holly's Career

Performed as half of musicial group Buddy and Bob (later Buddy, Larry, and Bob), beginning c. 1949, in Lubbock, Tex.; featured musicial performer on radio program "The Sunday Party," on KDAV, Lubbock, 1953-56; member of musical group the Crickets (later also billed as Buddy Holly and the Crickets), 1956-59; also recorded and performed as solo artist, 1958-59.

Buddy Holly's Awards

Charter member of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

April 6, 2004: Niki Sullivan, Holly's guitarist in the Crickets, died on April 6, 2004, at his home in Sugar Creek, Missouri. He was 66. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Music/04/08/obit.sullivan.reut/index.html, April 8, 2004.

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 7 years ago

Chet Flippo of Rolling Stone must not know very much about music. Buddy Holly & the Crickets' "That'll Be The Day" , was a #1 hit! LinkFeedback Clear searchResult 1 of 1 in this book for Buddy holly "That'll be The Day" #1 in Billboard- Order by: relevance | pagesrelevance | pages- ‹ Previous Next › - View all Loading...Loading...Loading...Loading...

about 9 years ago

THIS IS AWESOME I THINK THAT THEY SING SOME GOOD SONGS