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Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known as Buddy Holly, was an American musician, singer-songwriter and record producer who was a central and pioneering figure of mid-1950s rock and roll. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, to a musical family during the Great Depression, and learned to play guitar and sing alongside his siblings. His style was influenced by gospel music, country music, and rhythm and blues acts, and he performed in Lubbock with his friends from high school. He made his first appearance on local television in 1952, and the following year he formed the group “Buddy and Bob” with his friend Bob Montgomery. In 1955, after opening for Elvis Presley, he decided to pursue a career in music. He opened for Presley three times that year; his band’s style shifted from country and western to entirely rock and roll. In October that year, when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets, he was spotted by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall, who helped him get a contract with Decca Records.
Holly’s recording sessions at Decca were produced by Owen Bradley. Unhappy with Bradley’s control in the studio and with the sound he achieved there, he went to producer Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, and recorded a demo of “That’ll Be the Day“, among other songs. Petty became the band’s manager and sent the demo to Brunswick Records, which released it as a single credited to “The Crickets”, which became the name of Holly’s band. In September 1957, as the band toured, “That’ll Be the Day” topped the US “Best Sellers in Stores” chart and the UK Singles Chart. Its success was followed in October by another major hit, “Peggy Sue“.
The album Chirping Crickets, released in November 1957, reached number five on the UK Albums Chart. Holly made his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1958 and soon after, toured Australia and then the UK. In early 1959, he assembled a new band, consisting of future country music star Waylon Jennings (bass), famed session musician Tommy Allsup (guitar), and Carl Bunch (drums), and embarked on a tour of the midwestern U.S. After a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, he chartered an airplane to travel to his next show, in Moorhead, Minnesota. Soon after takeoff, the plane crashed, killing Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson in a tragedy later referred to by Don McLean as “The Day the Music Died”.
During his short career, Holly wrote, recorded, and produced his own material. He is often regarded as the artist who defined the traditional rock-and-roll lineup of two guitars, bass, and drums. He was a major influence on later popular music artists, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Weezer, and Elton John. He was among the first artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 13 in its list of “100 Greatest Artists”.
Teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw Holly for the first time when he appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The two had recently met and begun their musical association. They studied Holly’s records, learned his performance style and lyricism, and based their act around his persona. Inspired by Holly’s insect-themed Crickets, they chose to name their band “The Beatles”. Lennon and McCartney later cited Holly as one of their main influences.
Lennon’s band the Quarrymen covered “That’ll Be the Day” in their first recording session, in 1958. During breaks in the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, on February 9, 1964, Lennon asked CBS coordinator Vic Calandra about Holly’s performances; Calandra said Lennon and McCartney repeatedly expressed their appreciation of Holly. The Beatles recorded a close cover of Holly’s version of “Words of Love“, which was released on their 1964 album Beatles for Sale (in the U.S., in June 1965 on Beatles VI). During the January 1969 recording sessions for their album Let It Be, the Beatles played a slow, impromptu version of “Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues” – which Holly popularized but did not write – with Lennon mimicking Holly’s vocal style. Lennon recorded a cover version of “Peggy Sue” on his 1975 album Rock ‘n’ Roll. McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly’s song catalogue. […]
The Beatles’ name was partly inspired by Holly’s backing group, The Crickets. All four members were keen Holly fans, and in 1976 McCartney bought the publishing rights to his songs.
Paul McCartney in the Anthology:
Buddy Holly was completely different; he was out of Nashville, so that introduced us to the country music scene. I still like Buddy’s vocal style. And his writing. One of the main things about The Beatles is that we started out writing our own material. People these days take it for granted that you do, but nobody used to then. John and I started to write because of Buddy Holly. It was like, ‘Wow! He writes and is a musician’.Paul McCartney
Last updated on October 6, 2018
Songs written or co-written by Buddy Holly