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BUDDY HOLLY - 55 YEARS DEAD

Extraordinary that he's been dead more than twice as long as he was ever alive, and how important he remains. He more or less created the rock group. And with such snazzy lead guitar, such songwriting, so intimate a voice.
I remember not hearing the news of his death but just knowing about it soon afterwards, and thinking about it a great deal, sitting alone in the front seat on the top deck of a green Crosville bus in Heswall bus station on the Wirral, waiting for it to start, and then it pulling out past the other buses and bus-stops, while I was hearing It Doesn't Matter Anymore' in my head. I wasn't thinking Oh that's ironic"; I was just subsumed by the sadness of his being dead and its perfection as a record: those shivering stings, the panache of its sprightly pace and that rich and vulnerable voice.

I was 13. That year, 1959, turned out to have that rarity in Britain, a long hot summer. (There wouldn't be another like it until 1976.)

My friend Peter, who loved Buddy Holly above all others, had all the singles he could get hold of, and we'd play them over and over, mostly at his house rather than mine, on more or less every Saturday of our early teenage lives, interspersed with mysterious 45s he'd somehow acquired like You Talk Too Much' by Joe Jones & His Orchestra (we'd laugh at its forlorn monotony) and Slim Harpo's Rainin' In My Heart' - not the same song as on the B-side of It Doesn't Matter Anymore'.

We had no problem with Buddy deserting the Crickets and singing with an orchestra on tracks like these and True Love Ways'. Nor with the posthumous overdubs on records that started being released soon after his death, though enormous debate centred around which versions were best, the undubbed or the dubbed - hampered, as we were, by their being drip-fed to us by the record company. (Undubbed wasn't always best.)

We liked everything: the raw and tinny brashness of early work like Midnight Shift' and Rock Around With Ollie Vee'; the big hitters like Rave On', Oh Boy' and That'll Be The Day'; those beautiful quiet tracks like What To Do' and That's What They Say', in which he invoked a tender nostalgia at the time, let alone in retrospect; and the weird ones - all weird in different ways, too:  Fool's Paradise', Reminiscin''; Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie' (so bizarrely old-fashioned a girl's name in the early 1960s). So many.

Yet unlike with Elvis, or Van Morrison or Bob, with Buddy Holly I can say what my absolutely favourite track is. He didn't write it, and it was a B-side (to Words Of Love'). It's this:


13 comments:

  1. Nice post, Michael. I appreciate the insights on Buddy from a British perspective. I'm listening to the undubbed Apartment Tapes today. There is something intimate and haunting about Buddy's final recordings. It leaves us wondering what he would have accomplished.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. I don't have a copy of the undubbed Apartment Tapes. Wish I had.

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    2. Michael,
      Here is the release from 2009 that has the undubbed Apartment Tapes:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_the_Line:_Rarities
      There also some other undubbed songs on this two-CD release.

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  2. Thanks Michael for an excellent piece. Loved the personal touches. As I get older I'm inclined more to think, blow this objectivity lark; it's how it affects or affected you that matters.
    I wouldn't have guessed your favourite in a month of Sundays and I don't think anyone else would. Not that I dislike it. I played "Buddy Holly" and "The Chirping Crickets" to death as a teenager & love all the tracks to a greater or lesser degree. On "Mailman" Buddy deployed many of his vocal attributes on what was essentially a blues and they worked superbly.

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    1. Thanks, Dave. Re Mailman: to say it "was essentially a blues" makes it sound merely formulaic, if not too easy and a bit ho-hum. But for me, his recording of it is utterly superb: one of the best, most personally-stamped white blues ever recorded; he's in powerful command, vocally and on guitar, yet at the same time he's not trying too hard; there's a mix of reticence and love there that's glorious every time.

      (By the way, YouTube has another upload, with a US single of it playing on the video - but the turntable is too fast, so the whole track sounds wrong and a very poor representation of it.)

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    2. My "essentially a blues" wasn't intended to be in any way derogatory though I do appreciate it could have come across that way. Anyone who can put their own stamp on the format deserves our praise. Very happy with your words, particularly "personally-stamped" which I think gets to the nub of it.

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  3. He died ten years before I was born: but he still made a mark on my teenage years, and still sounds very fresh to my 45 year old ears.

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  4. Thank you for this. And thank you for the song - which I have just played and heard for the first time. Yesterday was also "the day the music died'. We are getting old.

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  5. A very enjoyable piece. Buddy and Roy Orbison were my Dad's only concessions to 'Rock'n'Roll', I was born in 1960 and the songs of these artists have been with me all my life. Like Dave, I would never have guessed your favourite Buddy tune, even if you'd provided a few clues! Mine changes fairly regularly - currently 'Think It Over'.

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  6. 'What To Do' and 'True Love Ways' run it pretty close, and as you might guess from the blogpost, I'm very fond of 'It Doesn't Matter Anymore'.

    Ah, Roy. While you were busy being born, I was busy buying 'Only The Lonely'...

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  7. Nice remembrance. I am an American but lived in Liverpool for several years -- about 50 years after Buddy's death in fact. And I know the Heswall bus station well, and have (I'm sure) listened to Buddy Holly on my iPod while traveling into Liverpool from Heswall. Funny how music reaches out over the years and connects people and memories like that. While in Liverpool I lived for a year on Kensington Road, 3 doors down from the terraced house where John, Paul, and George (with The Quarrymen) cut a version of "That'll Be the Day" in July 1958, just 7 months before Buddy died. It's a fun little recording, and despite the scratchiness and watery sound it's thrilling to hear John belt it out, trying to emulate the swagger of Buddy, who was only 4 years older at the time (although in the eyes of an 18-year-old that's a huge difference...). It's clear that Elvis was THE spark for everyone -- but in my mind Buddy had a greater all-around impact in rock history.

    I once read a biography of BH, and came away feeling that he was just the most likeable person -- a feeling that you can get by listening to almost any song of his. The warmth and kindness that were part of his good nature really come through in his best work (by dint of what you call the intimacy of his voice, Michael). Eddie Cochran, the Everly Brothers, Dion DiMucci, Waylon Jennings, etc. -- I've yet to read anything bad any one of them said about Buddy. These people were some of the giants of rock and roll, and to them Buddy was king. It's heart-breaking to read how devastated his friends were when he died.

    (Speaking of Buddy's good nature, this telephone call seems like it is from another planet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfdOPUL409k. It's hard to believe anyone -- ever -- was that polite, especially considering the circumstances. The conversation seems straight out of a 1940s cartoon strip: the "gee, I thought I might could release muh songs" versus the big-city "Oh, you don't own them songs, Buddy, what're'ya, crazy?")

    Somehow I am a tad dubious at Dylan's recollection of seeing Buddy Holly perform in Duluth two night before the plane crash, which seems a bit too much of a neat-and-tidy story. Although this fact always seems incredible to me: Dylan and Buddy both dated girls named Echo while in high school.






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    1. I'm extremely grateful for this Comment - it may say rather more than my post did. In any case, highly interesting and warm. I do suspect, however, that by the time of the iPod, Heswall bus station had changed more than somewhat from how it was 55 years ago...

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  8. McHenry Boatride07 February, 2014

    With regard to Bob, Buddy, and Duluth, it is a matter of record that one of the last tour dates was Duluth. It seems inconceivable to me that, however convenient it seems, Bob wouldn't have been in the audience. I know that if one of his last dates had been in Falmouth - or even Plymouth - I'd surely have been in the audience.

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