Well, truth be told, it was Buddy who had the most impact on me, and perhaps the world.
If Rolling Stone hadn't run a brief piece in the issue with Bruce Springsteen on the cover, perhaps I wouldn't have known.The date would have escaped me. But once I learned I both felt old and I felt lost.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The Big Bopper, (J.P. Richardson), was the oldest of the three. At 29, he was riding the crest of being a former deejay and one-hit wonder. Valens was just 17 and, He was the first Mexican-American rock 'n roll star. Oh, Donna. La Bamba. Come on, Let's go. They only hint at where the kid from Pacoima was headed.
But it was Buddy Holly that, in a career that lasted less than two years, changed rock 'n roll. The three top ten hits hardly begins to tell the story. That'll be the Day hit #1 in September of 1957. Peggy Sue hit #3 four months later. Oh, Boy! followed shortly after. I can't think of a dud he recorded. He was 22 when he died. There is no telling what rock would sound like had he lived. Would there have been The Beatles? The Hollies? Punk? Elvis Costello?
Ironically, the last hit he had while he was still alive was It Doesn't Matter Anymore, written by Paul Anka.
I was not yet ten when he died. I knew his stuff more from Bobby Vee's album he recorded with the Crickets, and from the oldies station. That idiosyncratic singing style, the thick framed glasses and pompadour, and that space-age guitar! No other rocker, from Elvis to the Everlys, played a Fender Stratocaster. No one. It's safe to say that there was no one like him. Listen to Peggy Sue now-- at how the tempo changes, the range of his voice and the drive of that beat. The music is honestly and truly timeless. Sadly, more people think of Gary Busey when they think of who Buddy Holly was. Paull McCartney owns Buddy's back catalogue. The Rolling Stone's first major hit was a Buddy Holly song, with a speeded up Bo Diddley beat. And his influence is still felt-- in rock and country. I could go on. Listen to a couple cuts, instead. True Love Ways, with that sexy little sax counter. Peggy Sue. Not Fade Away. The urgency and the polish. A voice that was at once innocent and brash
When I first heard Don McLean's song, I thought it was hackneyed and overreaching, pretentious and preachy. But you know what? The music did die that day, fifty years ago. A big chunk of it, anyway...