“A long, long time ago …” is how the song began. The classic Don McLean hit memorialized “The Day the Music Died” as a riddle within a song for all the ages to hear. American Pie is a history of America and the Rock 'n' Roll movement, and may be the most memorable song of the era.
“February made me shiver …”
McLean remembers the day, as a young paper boy in upstate New York. He set out to deliver his morning papers and read that his idol, Buddy Holly, had died in a cold and desolate Iowa cornfield, the result of a chartered plane crash, a V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza. The crash also took the lives of J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and young, inexperienced pilot, Roger Peterson. Rock & Roll music was in its infancy and the loss of three of its stars caused many to believe it was the end for the short-lived musical style. The day was Feb. 3, 1959. It was only the beginning.
Christian scripture teaches that to achieve eternal life, one must die and be reborn. McLean forever branded the event as “The Day the Music Died” but history shows the opposite to be true. The music that Holly created, developed and launched was reborn in England a few years later in the form of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Hollies and the list goes on. Buddy’s music may have died with him on that cold morning, but it was reborn again across the ocean a few years later.
John Lennon said the Beatles were surprised at the American response to their music. It was hailed as the “British Invasion” and a new form of entertainment. Lennon said, “New? We were inspired by Buddy and spent hours trying to reproduce his technique and sound. There was no British Invasion of new music. We were only imitating Buddy and bringing his style back to America. To our surprise, America did not recognize the sound as their own.” Almost every British rock star was influenced and inspired by Buddy Holly and openly says so.
In my book, "Hey Buddy: In Pursuit of Buddy Holly, My New Buddy John and My Lost Decade of Music" (published by Savas Beatie, LLC 2011), I worked to uncover information that was unpublished and unknown about Holly. The book is the most detailed account of the crash on the early hours of February 3, 1959. I interviewed friends, family and those who knew him best. I uncovered dozens of stories of this young kid from Lubbock, Texas, who helped create a form of music that changed a culture and still endures and thrives today. What I found surprised me. I learned that Buddy was always kind, polite and respectful. All that knew him, loved him and I could not find anyone who shared a story of an egocentric rock star, immersed in addictions and living a destructive lifestyle. Instead, Buddy was a gentleman and the kind of guy a father hopes his daughter will bring home someday.
“That’ll be the day …”
Gary and Ramona Tollett were back-up singers on Buddy’s first hit, “That’ll be the Day” and many others. They were friends, neighbors and fellow musicians. In my interview with Gary and Ramona, they spoke reverently of Buddy, with a tone, that would make you believe they just saw him yesterday. In their mind and heart, Buddy was still with them.
Toward the end of our talk, Ramona asked, “Do you really want to know who Buddy Holly was?”
I answered, “Of course!”
“He bought his church new pews with his first royalty check,” Ramona paused to let that sink in. “That … was Buddy Holly.”
“Something touched me deep inside …”
In the hearts of the young and old, Buddy lives on through his music and the music of others who Buddy inspired. Unlike the those who followed in the musical Tsunami of Rock & Roll that swept the globe, Buddy didn’t die of a drug overdose. He wasn’t killed while drunk, behind the wheel of an Italian sports car, and he didn’t take his own life. Buddy never advocated free sex or drugs, but undeniably was a leader in inventing the music that inspired the saying, “Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll.” Instead, Buddy Holly was a kind, respectful and humble young man who tragically died in a plane crash minutes after taking off from the Mason City Iowa airport. Buddy chartered this fateful flight, so he’d get to his next destination in time to do his laundry. Buddy was out of clean socks and underwear.
When I think of Buddy, I hear the words to Peggy Sue in my head and think of the young gentleman from Lubbock, Texas wearing his iconic glasses. I also think of the Billy Joel song, “Only the Good Die Young.”
Buddy Holly, like the title of his most covered hit, will “Not Fade Away.”