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Piecing Apart – Buddy Holly


Way back in 2016, at a family campout near Clear Lake, Iowa, I was introduced to Don McLean’s song “American Pie.” My great aunt told me the story which related to the tragic death of Buddy Holly. At the time, I had no idea who Buddy Holly was and why this song was so important. Now, after digging in and researching this topic, I’m proud to share with you the story of Buddy Holly, his tragic death, and the results it had for music and the country.

On September 7, 1936, Charles Hardin Holley, or more commonly known as Buddy Holly, was born. His parents, Lawrence Odell “L.O.” Holley and Ella Pauline Drake, and the rest of his immediate family introduced Holly to music and influenced him to take up music. All except for Holly’s father knew how to play an instrument or sing. Holly’s older brothers even participated in a few talent shows showing off their musical talents. At a young age, Holly became infatuated with the guitar.

Buddy Holly’s music tastes were inspired by artists such as Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and other artists under the country label. Holly became friends with Bob Montgomery during elementary school, and the two practiced songs by Johnnie & Jack and The Louvin Brothers. Later on in his high school years, Holly played with others that he met, such as Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison.

Holly stuck with music after high school, doing gigs such as opening for Elvis Presley, who inspired him to take up rock and roll. In October of 1955, Bill Haley & His Comets had Holly and his band open for them. Nashville scout Eddie Crandall helped Holly and his band to eventually receive a recording contract with Decca Records in February of 1956. Decca accidentally misspelled Buddy’s last name as “Holly” instead of “Holley,” and the spelling was never changed.

Holly and his band, now under the name “Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes,” began recording in January 1956. Holly became frustrated though, due to the fact that he didn’t get very much creative freedom. A year later, Decca informed Holly that his contract would not be renewed, and that Holly could not record the same songs that he sung for Decca for the next five years.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Frustrated but also hopeful, he went to Norman Petty for help, who produced  “Party Doll” (by Buddy Knox) and “I’m Stickin’ with You” (by Jimmy Bowen). With Petty producing, Jerry Allison on drums, bassist Larry Welborn, and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, they started their band under the name “Buddy Holly and the Crickets.” During this time, they released the song “That’ll Be The Day.” The basic agreement made under the making of this song allowed for more creative freedom. The song was released on May 27, 1957 and topped record sales in the US and UK.

The band joined the America’s Greatest Teenage Recording Stars tour on January 8, 1958. Holly recorded “Rave On” on January 25, 1958 and made a second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. He departed later to perform in Honolulu, then began a week long tour in Australia which was called the Big Show. March of 1958 brought Holly and his band to the UK, where they did fifty performances in twenty-five days. Holly also released his debut solo album, “Buddy Holly.”

In May of 1958, Thomas Allsup joined their band. Holly hired him as a lead guitar for a recording session and was impressed enough to hire him on with “The Crickets.”

Later in August of 1958, Holly met María Elena Santiago, during a visit to the Peers-Southern offices. He ended up asking her out after just one meeting and proposed to her on their first date. Their wedding took place on August 15, 1958. Norman Petty, Holly’s manager, advised Holly to keep it a secret in order to not upset his female fan base. This made Holly frustrated and a rise of tension began between the two.

When on tour with Holly, Maria acted as his secretary. She did things such as laundry and equipment setup, along with collecting revenue from performances. She kept the money for the band, instead of giving it to Petty in New Mexico. Maria and her aunt managed to convince Holly that his royalties were being transferred to Petty’s company account. Holly decided to try and get the money back and fired Petty, which resulted in the two going to court and all money transactions being frozen. Petty was unable to pay Holly due to New York Law.

The Plane Wreckage
By Civil Aeronautics Board – Picture from The Day the Music Died: Crash Site Photo Archive

By December of 1959, Holly and the Crickets decided to split up. Holly stayed in New York and left Petty, while the other three band members stayed with Petty.

In January of 1959, Holly announced the Winter Party Dance tour.  The tour consisted of Waylon Jennings (yes, that Waylon Jennings) on electric bass, Tommy Allsup on guitar, and Carl Bunch on drums. The tour would begin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and zig zag around the country. The tour organizers had not properly planned the distance between each stop where they were to perform, which created problems for the tour members. Drummer Carl Bunch had to be hospitalized due to frostbite on his foot because of the unheated buses they took. The buses broke down multiple times due to the cold and the massive amounts of snow they had to drive through. Holly recognized this as a problem and found a solution. He decided to fly himself and three other members of the tour from Clear Lake, Iowa to Moorhead, Minnesota.

After the show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly announced his idea and that he already had the plane. But, he could only bring along two more passengers on the plane. Allsup and Ritchie Valens agreed to flip a coin, with Valens calling heads. The coin ended up being in Valens’s favor, winning him the spot. J.P. Richardson, or the “Big Bopper,” got his spot after Waylon Jennings told him that he had come down with influenza. “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life,” said Valens, not knowing that this would lead to his death, along with Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson, and the pilot of the plane.

The plane took off and only made it 5.2 miles away from Clear Lake. It was suspected that they crashed a little after one in the morning on February 3, 1959. Everyone on board died instantly, with the bodies found outside the plane, suggesting they were ejected from the fuselage. Buddy Holly was only 22 years old.

This day would be known as “The Day the Music Died” and inspired the song “American Pie” by Don McLean. The song tells about this event from his perspective and features lyrics closely related to the song “That’ll Be The Day I Die.”

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About the Contributor
Micah Steffens
Micah Steffens, Staff Writer
Micah Steffens is a 16 year old sophomore who enjoys music, the outdoors, and food. His favorite hobby is listening to music, and he's a fan of bands such as Weezer, Pearl Jam, and Green Day. Micah has 5 other brothers and 2 dogs. He enjoys talking to people and listening to everyone’s opinion, as everyone has a right to one. He enjoys shows such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Micah does sports such as golf and trapshooting. He hopes to pursue engineering after high school.
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