“Death is very often referred to as a good career move” (Buddy Holly, 1950’s)
Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, is one of the most preeminent American singer-songwriters and musicians there ever was, being an original pioneer of rock and roll. Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crash, Holly has been described “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” His works and innovations inspired and influenced contemporary and later musicians, most notably The Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Don McLean, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, and exerted a profound influence on popular music in general.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, to Lawrence Odell and Ella Pauline (Drake) Holley, Holly was always called “Buddy” by his family. Buddy was the youngest of three siblings, and brothers Larry and Travis taught him to play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, four-string banjo and lap steel guitar. At the age of five, his young voice and exuberance won him a talent contest singing a then-popular song, “Have You Ever Gone Sailing (Down the River of Memories).” In 1949, still retaining his soprano, he recorded a bluesy solo rendering of Hank Snow’s “My Two Timin’ Woman” on a wire recorder borrowed by a friend who worked in a music shop.
Holly saw Elvis Presley sing in Lubbock in 1955, and began to incorporate a rockabilly style, similar to the Sun Records sound, which had a strong rhythm acoustic and slap bass. On October 15, 1955, Holly, along with Bob Montgomery and Larry Welborn, opened the bill for 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 thereafter adopted the misspelled name for his professional career. Holly formed his own band, later to be called The Crickets, and the rest is history.
Holly’s influence on the course of music is immense: he managed to bridge the racial divide that marked music so acutely in America and the rest of the world where American music was consumed. Along with Elvis and others, Holly made rock and roll, with its roots in rockabilly country music and blues-inspired rhythm and blues music, more popular among a broader white audience. In fact, from listening to their recordings, one had difficulty determining if the Crickets were white or black singers, since Holly did indeed sometimes played with black musicians Little Richard and Chuck Berry, and incorporated the Bo Diddley beat in several songs. Interestingly, Holly’s essential eyeglasses encouraged other musicians, such as John Lennon, also to wear their glasses during performances. And his choice in eyewear style has influenced a generation of hipsters roaming such urban areas as Toronto’s Queen West, Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, and the East End of London.