Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thoughts on Buddy, Richie and J.P.

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...


Davaudian said...

Well, you hit me where it hurts. The Crickets are dear friends of mine and we toured, played, and hung around together for years. I was only 9 when Buddy died but I remember his sort of hiccup style like it was yesterday.

I first started with J.I. ( Jerry Allison), Joe B. (Mauldin), and Sonny (Curtis) in 1976 when they moved to Nashville from Los Angeles and we became instant friends. We toured for years with Waylon and I never lost the thrill of being around those guys. I could go on for weeks about the stories they conveyed to me while we were on tour. Their drink of choice was Texas Red Beer, simply beer and tomato juice 50/50. We played cards and dice games deep into the night when on tour. I was always honored to know them and at times I would think to myself...fucking hell these guys are the Crickets....they knew Little Richard and everybody......it doesn't get better than this.

I spent many weekends out in Lyles, Tennessee on the White Trash Ranch with J.I. and his wife Joanie. They took me in like family and the list of visitors read like rock royalty by admirers other than me, not for their celebrity, but for their Southern down home honest good nature. Eric Clapton would call, McCartney would want to do a record...Keith Richards was upstairs, etc. They had known these guys for years.

In 1996, we had just recorded a tribute album of Buddy Holly songs by Connie Francis, another real professional, so we did a short tour that involved the David Letterman show and a trip to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. J. I. was spooked by it all even though he had done the Buddy Holly tribute many times. He didn't want to fly from New York to Minneapolis, but finally relented. We took vans to Mankato, Minn. just north across the line from Clear Lake. The amount of press, phone calls and pizzarozzi is agonizing and never gets to the heart of the fact that they lost their childhood friend in that crash, not just Buddy Holly the rock star. One of the limo drivers took me by the crash site and it was covered in snow just like then. I felt sick at my stomach and was glad to return to the hotel. I didn't tell J.I. I felt he would be a little disappointed by that...maybe not.

I can't tell you how much those guys mean to me and how much they have done for my life and my career. I don't know where I would be without them and Waylon Jennings. I could never thank them enough although I've tried, but they just act like everything was meant to be. Their simple wisdom brings a smile and a tear for it all.

barryshap said...

Very touching. And I love the way you end it-- "like everything was meant to be."

I'm glad you mention "Waymore." He certainly was/is part of the equation.

You and I are closer in age than I thought. There's a point where our sharing ceases, though. My love and sense of loss is that of a fan. You are a musician and you got closer than I can even imagine... to that Chevy on the levee.

Davaudian said...

There have been days in my life that I can look back on as being absolutely pivotal for me....the first time I heard "Apache" on the radio....a day in 1968 when i met Seymour Duncan and he showed me a few riffs....the day in 1974 when I met Bill Lawrence and he showed me how to work on guitars....the day i met the Crickets....the day I met Rick Turner...there are many others, but I have a clear vision of these days and they link together like a Golden Necklace.

My days with Waylon, The Crickets, and our mutual Nashville friends, sons of Nashville's music pioneers and such, will always stay with me. Growing up there, as a boy, watching the country music shows on tv and trying to cop riffs from the guitar players....then meeting and working with them later on. I never tried to force anything. It all came very naturally. Just like J.I. in his ultimate down home way said..."everything was meant to be." If you could see the look on his face and his half smile when he delivers those lines.....

barryshap said...

With a chapter to go in John Goldrosen's definitive biography of Buddy Holly (that focuses more on tributes and the Gary Busey biopic), I feel our loss is that much greater. The book (out-of-print) mixes anecdotes, memories and musical insights, fleshing out what I knew of Buddy Holly. He was an immensely talented, driven musician and as Mr. Goldrosen speculates, the world and the world of music would have been a different place had Buddy lived past 22. One interesting aside is the fact that when he, Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin were trying to come up with a name for the band, they went through the insect world and actually had considered "The Beetles." Hmmmm.