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76 years ago today, a pioneer of the music that would become known as rock and roll, was born. Charles Hardin Holley was born (Sept 7, 1936) and raised in the town of Lubbock in Texas. Buddy was a nickname adorned by his mother who believed ‘Charles’ was too grown up for a young boy and ‘Holly’ came from the misspelling of his surname on his first contract as Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes in 1956.
He began performing from a young age, learning to play numerous instruments such as the piano and guitar from his older brothers. Originally playing country music he was inspired to try rock after attending an Elvis concert in 1955.
In 1958 holly proposed on his first date with receptionist Maria Elena Santiago, they were married just two months later. However tragedy stuck just 7 months later when a plane carrying Buddy Holly along with fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and JP ‘Big Bopper’ Richardson crashed minutes after leaving the aiport in Clear Lake Iowa. All three rising musicians died on impact as well as the pilot. The day of the crash, 3rd Feb 1959 is often referred to as ‘The Day the Music Died’.
In the short 22 years of his life he created a music legacy that shaped rock and Roll into what it is today. He popularized Rock music with its rockabilly and rhythm and blues roots, to a broader white audience, bridging the racial divide. Holly recorded with music icons such as Chuck Berry as they shared a similar style and tone. People were sometimes unable to determine whether it was a white or black singer on the record. Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the first ever white act to play the Apollo Theatre because the booking agent assumed they were black because they played “colored music”.
Holly is often cited as a key influence to rock and roll icons such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. The later even attended Holly’s final concert just two days before his demise and shared this experience in his acceptance of his 1998 Grammy for Album of the year.
“I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him…and he LOOKED at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was—I don’t know how or why—but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”
The Crickets (Holly’s band that the Beatles later got the inspiration for their own name) pioneered what became the standard rock lineup.Two guitars, bass, and drums. Holly was well known for his glasses and it is reported that a young Elton John began wearing glasses to imitate his idol, Holly, and later his eyes became so accustomed to them that he was then forced to get a subscription.
Don McLeans ‘American Pie’, although not confirmed, is believed to be suggesting that the crash in which Buddy Holly died was when rock and roll started to go down hill. It even uses a paraphrased version of the Holly hit ‘That’ll be the Day’ in the line ‘This’ll be the day that I die’.
We may never really know how far Holly’s influence spread but imagine what would have possible if we had those 53 extra years. It could have been extraordinary.
‘Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens’ is a phrase that has often been attributed to the music legend Jimi Hendrix. It is a valuable quote not just in relation to music but most aspects of life. The interesting thing to note is that although numerous websites list Hendrix as the origin of the quote, it is believed to have a beginning much earlier than those four years in the 60’s when Hendrix thrived as the greatest electric guitarist that the world is yet to see. Some suggest that it is a derivative of ‘It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen ‘ a quote by 19th century author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes. However the basis of the quote can be seen early on in the philosophy of Socrates, who stated “I only know that I know nothing’ in an account by Plato. It seems that the message remains the same despite the ever changing consumer, and that changing the vessel may be the key to adapting to different audiences. In the 20th century, it seems the form of an electric guitarist with a love of rock and roll that changed music forever, was the ideal vessel.