Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crash, Holly is described by critic Bruce Eder as “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” His works and innovations inspired and influenced both his contemporaries and later musicians, notably The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Don McLean, and Bob Dylan, and exerted a profound influence on popular music.
Holly was in the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly #13 among “The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time”.
Holly saw Elvis Presley sing in Lubbock in 1955 and began to incorporate a rockabilly style into his music, which gradually evolved into rock music. On October 15, he opened on the same bill with Presley in Lubbock, catching the eye of a Nashville talent scout. Holly’s transition to rock continued when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local show organized by Eddie Crandall, the manager for Marty Robbins.
Following this performance, Decca Records signed him to a contract in February 1956, misspelling his name as “Holly”. He adopted it for his professional career. Holly formed his own band, which would later be called the Crickets. It consisted of Holly (lead guitar and vocalist), Niki Sullivan (guitar), Joe B. Mauldin (bass), and Jerry Allison (drums).
As Holly was signed as both a solo artist and as part of the Crickets, two debut albums were released: The “Chirping” Crickets on November 27, 1957 and Buddy Holly on February 20, 1958. His singles “Peggy Sue” and “Oh Boy!” reached the top ten on both the United States and United Kingdom charts. Buddy Holly and the Crickets toured Australia in January 1958, and the UK in March. Their third and final album, That’ll Be the Day, was put together from early recordings and was released in April.
Buddy was offered the Winter Dance Party by the GAC agency, a three-week tour across the Midwest opening on January 23, 1959, with other notable performers such as Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. He assembled a backing band consisting of Tommy Allsup (guitar), Waylon Jennings (bass) and Carl Bunch (drums) and billed as The Crickets.
The tour turned out to be a miserable ordeal for the performers, who were subjected to long overnight travel in a bus plagued with a faulty heating system in -25°F (-32°C) temperatures. The bus also broke down several times between stops. Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959, Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. He, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, when their plane crashed soon after taking off from nearby Mason City in the early morning hours of February 3. Don McLean referred to it as “The Day the Music Died” in his song “American Pie”.
Holly’s funeral was held on February 7, 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was performed by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Hollys’ wedding just months earlier. The pallbearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend due to his commitment to the still touring Winter Dance Party. The body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery in the eastern part of the city. Holly’s headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Holly’s pregnant wife became a widow after barely six months of marriage and miscarried soon after. María Elena Holly did not attend the funeral and has never visited the grave site. She later told the Avalanche-Journal:
In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.
Please enjoy this clip of Buddy Holly and the original Crickets playing “Peggy Sue“.