Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Day The Music Died

I'm pretty sure the cassette tape had come free, from somewhere.  In the back of my mind, a part of me thinks it might have been something my dad got from saving up points with a particular petrol station, but I could have invented that, completely.  What I do know for sure was that it was a cassette full of "Hits From The 50s" and I would only have been around 7 years old when Dad got it and started playing me some of the songs he remembered hearing on the radio in his earliest years.

By the time I was 8, I was already trying to sing the harmonies to All I Have To Do Is Dream by The Everly Brothers.  I knew all of the words to Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino.  And I had perfected my Big Bopper impression, from the start of Chantilly Lace: "Hello baaaaaaaaaby!"

And just as my mum got me into The Beatles, Abba and The Carpenters at a young age, my dad, thanks to that cassette tape, got me into Buddy Holly.

I don't entirely remember which of Buddy's songs was on that tape, but I'm going to assume it was probably That'll Be The Day.  What I do remember was that his was one of the catchiest songs on the cassette (La Bamba, aside).  And I remember thinking I wanted to hear more from the guy with the funny "hiccup" style of singing, because he sounded cool.

Over the years between my childhood and my twenties, I "discovered" more of Buddy's back catalogue.  For a guy who only spent around 18 months making music before he was tragically killed at the age of just 22, there was a fair amount to find.  From up-tempo rock and roll tunes like Oh Boy! to wistful ballads, such as True Love Ways, it was obvious to my ears that this young man from Lubbock Texas, with his thick spectacles and curly hair, had been extraordinarily gifted.  Even the tunes he didn't write, he was able to put his own distinctive spin on, so that they became instantly recognisable as Buddy Holly songs.  He experimented with sound, damping his guitar strings one minute, twanging them in an effortless solo, the next (often in the same song).  He wasn't afraid to play with a big band, adding strings and extra instrumentation for songs like Raining In My Heart at a time when clean guitar sound was just becoming all the rage.  He demanded artistic control, ensuring that his backing musicians played exactly the way he wanted to.  He was even a pioneer of using studio technology to achieve the sound he desired, something many of today's singer-songwriters take for granted.

Despite his tragically brief stint as a recording artist, Buddy was one of the pioneers of rock and roll and influenced countless hugely successful musicians who found fame long after his death; Elton John, Brian May, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few.  And his influence on The Beatles is well-documented; the first song The Quarrymen (the precursor to the Fab Four) ever recorded together was a cover of That'll Be The Day and they went on to cover Words Of Love, too.  Even more modern acts, perhaps sometimes without even realising it, owe some of their sound to Buddy Holly's vision, all those years ago.  As Keith Richards once put it: "Listen to any new release.  Buddy will be in it, somewhere.  His stuff just works."

Buddy also managed to become a rock and roll legend, without succumbing to the excesses of fame.  Somewhat shy, he had married a woman he'd fallen head over heels for and was expecting his first child, when his life was so cruelly snuffed out.  No diva demands for this rock icon; in fact, the only reason he was on the plane that crashed on February 3rd 1959, killing him along with Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and the plane's pilot, was because he wanted to skip ahead to the next location on the tour he was part of, so that he could do some laundry and have some rest, in order to be fresh for his next performance.  Indeed, he was only participating in the tour to provide for his new family, having been denied royalties owed to him by the man who'd been his manager.

A week after his death, It Doesn't Matter Anymore (incidentally, my favourite Buddy Holly song) was released in the UK and shot straight to number one.  Devastated by the news of three rockstars dying so tragically young, Don McClean wrote American Pie, describing the events of the early hours of February 3rd 1959 as "the day the music died."

We'll never know what Buddy could have gone on to achieve.  The same can be said for Ritchie Valens, who at 17 was the youngest life lost that night, and for J.P "The Big Bopper" Richardson.  But Buddy's legacy is one that continues to this day, inspiring musicians with his distinctive vocals, pioneering studio techniques and clever guitar playing.

He may be gone, but Buddy's music will live forever.