Buddy Holly

TrackAlbum / Single
That'll Be The DayBrunswick 9-55009
Midnight ShiftThat'll Be the Day
Words Of LoveCoral 9-61852
Mailman, Bring Me No More BluesCoral 9-61852
Not Fade AwayBrunswick 9-55035
Maybe BabyBrunswick 9-55053
Peggy SueCoral 9-61885
Rave OnCoral 9-61985
It's Too LateThe "Chirping" Crickets
Love's Made A Fool Of YouShowcase
ReminiscingCoral 62329
Raining In My HeartCoral 9-62074
That Makes It ToughCoral 9-62210
Wait Till The Sun Shines NellieReminiscing
DearestMemorial Collection

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Buddy Holly photo

 

Buddy Holly photo 3

The Crickets 1957 line-up (l to r): Niki Sullivan (rhythm guitar, vocals), Jerry Allison (drums), Buddy Holly (lead vocal, lead guitar), Joe B. Mauldin (double bass). Following Buddy Holly’s death, his earlier collaborator and band member, Sonny Curtis, joined the Crickets on guitar and vocals.

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

I’d been getting curious as to why no one had attempted a Buddy Holly Toppermost. Was it because Buddy was just part of the scenery we live in, a constant backdrop that doesn’t require comment? Or, because his oeuvre was regarded so highly that any Top Ten would be sure to be shot down in flames – in other words, cowardice? Or, was he not seen as cult enough for today’s audience (although many Toppermost contributors might not figure in a ‘today’s audience’)? Or, was it felt that Buddy’s life and songs had been traipsed over so many times and the last drops of blood extracted, such that it would be well nigh impossible to add anything? Or, for reasons that hadn’t even occurred to me?

My view was that Buddy fully deserved to be up there in the Toppermost Gallery of Fame, and if no one else was going to have a go at it, I would. Thankfully our editor didn’t blanche (if you can blanche by email), nor did he direct me to what he thought might have been a more productive use of my time, so here we are. I’m embarking on the exercise with a mixture of what-the-hell casualness, a touch of fear that I might not do justice to the great man and lots of excitement at the prospect of digging into some of those great songs and performances again.

I got into training by re-reading John Gribbin’s “Not Fade Away” which was conveniently sitting on my Kindle. I also downloaded a few samples from Holly books which I’d not read (and I have read quite a few over the years). I managed to find my copy of “Remembering Buddy” from John Goldrosen and John Beecher which I always used to swear was the best Holly biography. And of course I dug out the vinyl plus several CDs that I own.

When I started I was thinking along the lines of a Toppermost that was very personal and potentially quirky, but as I thought and read more about my subject, the importance of the man and many of his records started to assume a more prominent position in my brain, and my original objectives started fading a little. I’d like to think that what I’ve produced is still personal – and, to be honest, there aren’t any Holly records I don’t like – but does, in the main, reflect those recordings (and recording sessions) of significance.

Which takes me straightaway to That’ll Be The Day. It may be hard to believe for some but this one wasn’t on my original list. Common sense, however, intervened – ref my remarks above. Not only that, there are three, maybe four, mighty fine reasons to have this one in my list, viz:

1. It’s the very first Buddy Holly record that I heard and that comment applies to almost everyone else at the time. Sure, Love Me backed with Blue Days-Black Nights did see release beforehand (in July ’56 in the UK) but it didn’t get any plugging – we discovered it after the early hits. That’ll Be The Day, though, was credited to the Crickets, but it didn’t take long for us to twig that Holly and the Crickets were actually the same thing.

2. Instead of being a twelve bar blues, as many of Holly’s compositions had been up to then, it had an unusual melody line which doesn’t seem to have been remarked upon in most of the books I’ve read. It actually sounds rather close to a typical pop song middle eight. And, in case anyone asks, a middle eight is eight bars (or so, it doesn’t have to be precise) which is placed somewhere near the middle of a song in order to break up the verse/chorus structure. In this song the chorus is placed right at the start followed by the verse which is not dissimilar in format. This is quite an achievement for a songwriter who was only just starting out.

3. The guitar break performed by Holly himself is an absolute stunner. It follows a conventional twelve bar line and is ample evidence (a) that Holly had a good grasp on blues music and (b) that he wasn’t half bad at playing guitar. In his very early days he was sometimes prone to stand back and let the more experienced Sonny Curtis take breaks, and in the last six months or so he would take the rhythm role and let Tommy Allsup play lead.

4. Finally, I’d comment that, lyrically, the song was already a step removed from most pop songs of the period. The title, which almost everyone knows was lifted from a John Wayne statement in the film, The Searchers, leads into what one would presume was a marital tiff – since partnership largely implied marriage in those days – and the Holly character is telling her that he just doesn’t believe she’s going to leave ’cause they love each other. Hardly poetry but not bad for a pop song from someone with virtually no experience whatsoever.

An unusual happenstance relating to That’ll Be The Day; there were two recordings made and both (eventually) got released. The first record was made at Bradley’s Studio A in Nashville on July 22nd 1956 and that recording saw release in the US in single format in August ’57 on Decca (and on the That’ll Be The Day album in ’58 in the UK). The second was made at Norman Petty’s Studio in Clovis, New Mexico on February 25th 1957. This was the hit version, the one we all know. The earlier version sounds like this.

First impressions; it’s more intense, higher pitched and more like rockabilly than the Clovis makeover. The higher pitching is due to the fact the song is played in the key of E rather than A. This is deliberate since it allows Holly to play the break on open strings. However, it has the effect of pushing his voice well up his range and he’s straining. The rockabilly aspects come from (a) the use of an echo chamber and (b) the fact that Don Guess, the bass player, was using the slap bass technique. On the Clovis version the song is taken in the key of A which suits Buddy’s voice and, indeed, it’s a key he was to go on and use regularly on his songs. It’s noticeable on the live clip that he gets over the open strings problem by use of a capo on the fifth fret. The important point here, though, is that the key change was made deliberately to suit Holly’s voice which would enable him to start deploying his battery of vocal techniques with more ease. I would also surmise that the rockabilly tropes are deliberately not used in order to differentiate the sound from rockabilly. And it suggests to me that this was Holly steering things even if Petty was theoretically in control. Mind you, there is a simpler explanation for at least part of the perceived move away from rockabilly: Larry Wellborn, the bass player on the Clovis session, might not have mastered the slap (or slap back) bass style.

I have no intention of putting on record – yet again – Buddy’s life story. That would only lengthen an essay which I suspect is going to get pretty long even without it. Wikipedia does a decent job and if you want to research further, check out some of the biographies listed towards the end. However, from now on, I do intend to address my selections roughly in order of release, so there will inevitably be some allusions to state of career.

 

“Without Elvis none of us could have made it.” Buddy Holly

Buddy might have become little more than a regional country artist had it not been for the appearance of the new sensation, one Elvis Presley, in the Cotton Club in Lubbock on January 2nd 1955. Almost overnight the repertoire of Buddy and Bob Montgomery, with whom he’d been playing, switched to rockabilly. This is something of a simplification. Both Buddy and Bob were already listening to black music and incorporating some in the act. And they were aware of El. The Presley impact can be gauged by this mid ’55 effort:

Midnight Shift is often referred to as rockabilly but of the four songs recorded on the first Nashville session (26th January 1956) it’s the least rockabilly in approach – compare with, say, Blue Days-Black Nights, another of the four. This was the session when Buddy wasn’t even allowed to play guitar; Sonny Curtis ended up playing that role with renowned session man Grady Martin on rhythm. But it has to be said that Sonny stars on the record, his lead guitar duetting with Don Guess’ slap bass, and ending up almost stealing the show from Buddy. The latter is in restrained mode with few of his more flamboyant vocal flourishes on display; it’s more of an insinuating, cool approach he adopts this time – it’s certainly an atypical vocal outing for him.

While I’m on the subject, there’s another early track which has Holly in distinctly randy mode. The record is Ting-A-Ling, originally an R&B Chart hit for black vocal group, the Clovers in ’52. That original, with bluesy piano and plenty of oohing and aahing, positively oozed period charm. Holly and the boys treat it very much as That’ll Be The Day, First Version, Part 2. Even to the totally untrained ear it’s obvious that it resulted from the same recording session, right down to the fact that it contains an identical break. But it’s better. The tempo is a little faster and Holly’s voice is less strained allowing him to deploy those vocal tricks. However, I’m really including the clip so that you can hear those opening words (which do get repeats), “Well now I’m just a poor young boy and these girls ’bout to drive me wild”, and he really makes you believe he means it.

Words Of Love was important for a number of reasons. It was the first single out in the Buddy Holly name in the US (and was effectively a follow-up to the Crickets’ That’ll Be The Day, though a lot of people won’t have realised that); it was the first occurrence of a rock star using vocal and instrumental overdubbing (though the import of that relates more to rock history), and it was the first outright pop song to be written and recorded by Holly. The significance of this last point may have been missed by many. Holly’s previous records would have been regarded by most people in the US as rock’n’roll, rockabilly or country. And at the time, those first two categories would probably have been seen as subsets of country by many in the US. Words Of Love was most definitely not in any of those groupings.

Picking up on those points:

The record wasn’t a hit for Holly though that might have been because a slightly earlier version of the song from established artists, the Diamonds, stole his thunder. It didn’t see single release in the UK.

Both the ambition and the ability to execute the overdubbing process, particularly at such an early stage in Holly’s career cannot be applauded enough, although I’ve noted a tendency by some rock writers to append these statements to a description of Words Of Love, and say nothing about the resulting performance. Whether Holly realised there would be a slight loss of definition on the first phase (of the 3 track) process which would have affected the rhythm guitar, bass, drums and backing vocal, we don’t know, but I suspect that he factored it in. It does produce an intriguing sonic picture.

There was an element of borrowing about the chord sequence used. It had appeared in Love Is Strange which was a sizeable hit for Mickey and Sylvia in early ’57. The song had actually been written by Bo Diddley though there was some dispute about ownership. In the key of A the sequence is A A D E. In other words, the Doo Wop Progression (think Donna or A Teenager In Love) but sticking to the tonic chord for the second two bars. That’s enough pseudo music. Where Buddy’s song differed from Love Is Strange is that he broke the continual chanting of the latter into more conventional four line verses with the last being nothing more than mm mm’s. The lyrics are minimalism itself – a Valentine’s Day card set to music. Punctuation comes from some scintillating guitar work from our man which is thrown into sharp relief against the ever-so-slightly fuzzy backing, or is that my imagination? Buddy certainly put every effort into making his first ‘pop song’ something memorable.

John Goldrosen quotes Jerry Allison saying about Love Is Strange: “Buddy would sit around and listen to that song over and over all night long”. This obsession resulted in a later variant of Words Of Love entitled Listen To Me. I actually prefer Listen To Me but felt, in terms of import, Words Of Love should be my selection. Buddy also recorded a solo version of Love Is Strange within the New York Apartment Tapes plus another song with the same chord sequence, Dearest, also from Bo Diddley/Mickey and Sylvia. More on that later.

Michael Gray has stated (Outtakes, February 2014) that Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues is his favourite Holly track. He went on to say, “his recording of it is utterly superb: one of the best, most personally-stamped white blues ever recorded; he’s in powerful command, vocally and on guitar, yet at the same time he’s not trying too hard; there’s a mix of reticence and love there that’s glorious every time.”

There are a couple of key phrases in there. “Powerful command” which is essential for a blues singer to have in order to carry a performance with minimal melodic complexity and (almost invariably) no middle eight to retain audience interest. And, “personally stamped”, which it is. I didn’t know much about blues when I first heard this but over the decades since I’ve learned a lot and am familiar with virtually all the big names. Buddy was way ahead of me. He’d already been listening to the likes of Muddy Waters and the Wolf. But what was so remarkable about this record was the fact that it very definitely didn’t ape any black blues singers. I can think of only two white (sometimes blues) singers who have done that, and they are/were, Bob and Townes. And with the latter, I mean on the self-written songs not the in-the-mode-of-Lightnin’ Hopkins ones.

Holly deploys all his battery of vocal effects to an even greater degree than usual – how many times will I use that phrase? – stretching out syllables until he erupts in those hiccups creating a sort of crying effect. One last comment on Mailman: Buddy and the boys reportedly listened to the demo after a very long session on Words Of Love, and then, with Vi Petty on piano, performed a run-through and completed one take, and the whole thing was over in ten minutes. It could be that this one take approach accounts for the fresh sound.

Contrast this with Maybe Baby. The version we know was recorded along with a number of other tracks on Norman Petty’s portable Ampex recording equipment at the Tinker U.S.A.F. Base in Oklahoma City over the 28th/29th September 1957. However, an earlier version of Holly’s song (with Petty’s name tagged onto the credits as usual) had been waxed back in March that year in Clovis. For comparison purposes I’ve included both versions:

 

The first version is attractive in an almost swingtime manner – it positively lopes along – but the second one definitely added beef. In a separate essay I have written the following (slightly modified) paragraphs about Holly and this record in particular:

“Holly more than anyone, characterised, and indeed, led, the move from the R&B derived rock’n’roll to teen pop. In case that sounds like a criticism let me hasten to add that his variety of teen pop usually included sufficient attributes of rock’n’roll to keep fanatics (like self) satisfied. Nor was it an outright dismissal of his former work.

“A good example of Holly’s move to teen pop is provided by Maybe Baby, released in February ’58 in the US (and in the Crickets series).

“For this record he’d (temporarily) abandoned the twelve bar blues format of his early singles just as on those singles he’d done away with explicit rockabilly references. Holly’s ‘ringing’ guitar opens the performance swiftly followed by the Picks, the group overdubbed by Petty, for vocal support. Towards the end of the first run through of the chorus/verse which is taken by the Picks in doo wop style, Holly’s guitar breaks into a short touch of double-timing, adding an element of skittishness and individualism to what would turn out to be a number with relatively downer lyrics.

“However, Holly’s vocal is anything but downbeat. There are times on this record, particularly in the middle eight, when he sounds almost triumphal. Syllables get elongated at the end of most lines – the exceptions are mainly where he wants to suggest some emphasis. The famous hiccupy effect also gets an outing in the middle eight. Whether our man was just putting his brave face on or whether he was supremely confident that the lady who spurned him would finally see the light, we don’t know. The performance is anchored by some emphatic drumming from Jerry Allison, which, together with Holly’s ever-present guitar, puts a positive gloss on things and reinforces the resemblance to what I earlier termed, traditional rock’n’roll.”

As an addendum to the above I’d note that Bobby Darin’s Dream Lover, a record with a not dissimilar chordal structure and one that that’s usually viewed as being much more listenable than most teen pop, was a big seller in the first half of ’59.

My Love bigger than a Cadillac
I try to show it but you drive me back

I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between Holly’s original Not Fade Away (Dec ’57 UK) and the cover from the Stones (Feb ’64 UK). And to add some context, you should know that Bo Diddley had had one, yes one only, record (an EP) released in the UK by December 1957 i.e. the vast majority of people buying the Holly/Crickets Not Fade Away single were either totally unaware of Diddley or knew him only as a romantic name from the US blues world. The Stones record was Diddley drenched. If you could have switched Mick’s mangled Americanese out and added Bo’s voice, it might almost have sounded authentic, if a little rushed for the laidback Mr Diddley. Although Holly would have been fully aware of Diddley – he’d already made a demo disc of Bo Diddley (the song) – his approach on Not Fade Away seemed to be to produce a subtle variant on Bo’s shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits style. Between them, Buddy and Jerry produce a complex rhythmic effect that’s as entertaining as it’s unexpected. The overdubbed backing vocals on this one, from Allison, Niki Sullivan and Holly himself, add to the overall effect and are probably more in line with Holly’s vision of the song rather than the more usual Petty/Picks overdubbing.

The big one, Peggy Sue, seemingly an ode to his best friend’s girl, hit the UK in Spring ’58. Is it possible to generate any new words on this record? The most striking feature of Peggy Sue (originally entitled Cindy Lou), which in essence was nothing more than a twelve bar blues, was the drumming from Jerry Allison. In “Not Fade Away”, John Gribbin notes that, during practice, “J.I. (nickname for Jerry) thrashed out a rolling rhythm, known as a paradiddle, often used as an exercise by drummers” and, “Buddy liked the effect so much that he immediately suggested using it on Cindy Lou.” He was asking for something that fell in the extremely difficult category. To bribe Jerry to do it “Buddy said he’d change the title to Peggy Sue (the name of Jerry’s girlfriend) if he could keep up the paradiddles all the way through.” Norman Petty also influenced the sound of the mix by “flipping the control switch of the echo chamber repeatedly on and off so that the drumming became a rolling beat, coming and going like waves on a beach” (source also John Gribbin). And who can forget the point about one minute twenty in when a switch is flicked and Buddy’s strat bursts into loud treble mode with a ferocious break, almost all played in chords rather than single notes. And where he got this idea from is just another thing we don’t know.

What an intro!

In his book on the 1001 Greatest Singles, Dave Marsh offered the following comments on Rave On, “Epiphany with hiccups and electric guitar. If you don’t get it just follow the instructions till you’re dizzy, then turn it up a little higher.” What he didn’t say was that Holly’s rising five syllable “We-e-e-e-ell” is one of the greatest intros in rock’n’roll, almost on a par with Little Richard’s famous a cappella one on Tutti Frutti. What follows doesn’t disappoint either. Holly’s best rocker, and it was recorded in New York rather than Clovis. Was this the beginning of the end for Norman Petty?

A sideways move to LPs is in order; there were two issued in Buddy’s lifetime in the UK and three in the US with the last being an attempt by Decca to cash in on those Nashville sessions. There’s an irony here in that Brunswick and Coral, the labels on which the Holly/Crickets hits were released, were both owned by Decca. The first LP to see release, both in the US and the UK was The “Chirping” Crickets. It was an excellent album being mercifully short of padding which was the norm at the time. A breakdown of the contents: 6 A- or B-sides of singles, 4 original songs (2 from the pen of Roy Orbison) and 2 covers, both of black artists’ songs, Little Richard’s Send Me Some Loving and Chuck Willis’ It’s Too Late, both, incidentally, recommendations from Buddy’s older brother Larry.

The originals of these songs were slow and would most probably now be referred to as pre-soul. Certainly at the time, they would have been looked on as coming from well outside Buddy’s normal stamping ground. There’s evidence on both of the Holly versions that he’d performed some extensive study of the originals though in neither case is the Holly vocal a slavish copy. Both versions show original ideas in Buddy’s singing and in the arrangements, which makes them listenable in their own right. Both are very good but I’m going to focus on It’s Too Late, the one with the more complex arrangement.

Chuck Willis was a virtually unknown figure in the UK at the time. Although London American had picked up the rights to Atlantic, the label which Willis was on from Spring ’56 to his unexpected death only two years later, they didn’t start issuing his singles in the UK until June 1957 and those singles did not include the first Atlantic release, It’s Too Late. The song would have been referred to as an R&B ballad back then. It’s blessed with a splendid arrangement and production, possibly by Jerry Wexler but my sources don’t tell me. AllMusic comment “It’s Too Late is so quietly perfect that it’s difficult to understand why this song wasn’t Chuck Willis’ pop breakthrough instead of the comparatively weak C.C. Rider.” The song saw later covers from Otis Redding (on his second album), Wilson Pickett and Charlie Rich. There was also a near contemporaneous one from Roy Orbison on Sun but it didn’t see release until decades later. Bob Dylan featured the song in his live set list on a few occasions in the nineties. One has to conclude that the song, and possibly the original arrangement, must have had considerable merit to have attracted interest from those big names.

The vocal on the Willis original is relatively restrained, even conversational at times, though there’s a lot of soaring and swooping. It gets louder in the middle eight where Willis is joined by one of those warm Atlantic saxes. Two features stand out: the backing vocal group who are almost in call and response mode, and the rather pretty usage of a keyboard instrument called a celesta (and sometimes known as a celeste), where normally the backing would go silent in effectively stop-time blues mode. Strip away all those rather nice embellishments and essentially this is a blues. Chuck could have, and really should have, done more, but now it’s too late and she’s gone, and he does little more in that middle eight than let rip on those last three words. Every now and again the agony has to come out.

So what do Holly and possibly Petty do – though I would suggest that the latter isn’t contributing much by now? It’s clear that they really listened to the original and have aimed at a similar result if not quite in the same manner and bear in mind they didn’t have the same resources as the Atlantic label. They retained that effect during the halt in backing – the stop-time bit – only it’s delivered by what sounds like Allison’s hi-hat (which is a tad ironic because a celesta was famously used on Everyday). They also retain the vocal backing; if anything this grows in relative importance – there’s an element of white doo wop about it. During the middle-eight Petty switches the echo chamber on, a bit of artifice I’ve always had mixed feelings about though I can understand the desire to increase the audible anguish level. Buddy’s vocal redeems things. He doesn’t have the natural warmth of Willis but he succeeds in conveying the fragility of someone in a terrible situation, and one he feels he should have avoided. But that voice sits within an arrangement and production that’s at once ethereal and painful. It might even be white soul before anyone had even invented the terminology of soul music.

June 1958 found Buddy recording two tracks which were intended as demos for the Everly Brothers. The offer was unfortunately turned down because of the boys’ contractual situation with Acuff-Rose. The songs were Love’s Made A Fool Of You and Wishing, both written by Buddy along with old mate, Bob Montgomery. The former, the one I’ve selected, bore a slight resemblance melodically to Johnny Cash’s Ballad Of A Teenage Queen, written by Jack Clement, which had been released the previous December. Whether this was a case of conscious copying, pure coincidence or something in between, we’ll never know and, to be fair, I’m not aware of anyone making this connection other than myself, so I guess it could all be in my head. Regardless of any of that, it’s an excellent early example of country rock.

The song featured Tommy Allsup on lead guitar plus a couple of session guys rather than the usual Crickets. Lead guitar in fact was a prominent feature of the record with long snaking semi-improvised guitar lines not unlike those from Scotty Moore in Elvis’ Tryin’ To Get To You. Add in a definite Diddley beat plus Buddy with double-tracked harmonising, and this would have been an ideal track for Don and Phil. Buddy (or Bob) might well have had the slightly Diddley-ish Wake Up Little Susie in mind when putting this song together. The demo record gathered dust over the years not seeing release on either side of the pond until 1964. It might well have been that release (on LP only in the US) which sparked a belated ‘cover’ version from fellow Texans, the Bobby Fuller Four who achieved minor hit status with the song in 1966.

Unfortunately the Fuller version omitted those splendid guitar lines from the Holly original.

In September 1958, Buddy Holly recorded two tracks with sax maestro King Curtis plus the other Crickets in Clovis. Holly had met Curtis on one of his tours. We’re aware that he already had an interest in R&B which had been further kindled by a New York session which produced Early In The Morning in June ’58. On YouTube there are fascinating fragments of Buddy performing Ray Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Her So and Drown In My Own Tears (from a live jam with Jerry Lee Lewis) plus an even smaller fragment of the last song on the Apartment Tapes.

The two tracks were Reminiscing and Come Back Baby. But If anyone had been expecting out-and-out R&B they were to be disappointed. Reminiscing was a slow to medium tempo chugger with Curtis echoing or responding to Buddy’s individual lines. It had an unusual structure also: one long verse, then a sax break, then the second verse and that was it, not too much in the way of hook lines either. The usual guitar sound was nowhere to be heard with those ringing fills from Buddy entirely absent. The song is credited to Curtis but I’ve read one account wherein it’s claimed that Holly actually wrote it but gave the credit to Curtis. Not sure if that’s true but lyrically it’s a blues with the narrator referring to his new opponent as a ‘young man’. It’s a performance that didn’t strike home with me originally, but it’s been a grower, its lack of stridency reflecting the meditative and resigned lyrics.

In October 1958, Buddy recorded four songs in New York without the Crickets but with a string orchestra. The session was held in the Coral Studios under control of producer Dick Jacobs. Whether this was yet more of his seemingly restless experimentation – I’ve covered most of this above but he also produced records for other artists, most notably Waylon Jennings – or whether this was caused by serious concern about falling record sales, we can only surmise, though the world is likely to assume that the last point held sway. I should add that that drop in sales was curious; perfectly good singles in ‘58 like It’s So Easy and Heartbeat had been flops (though didn’t do so badly in the UK).

What the rock biogs tend not to record is the reaction of fans, particularly those in the UK, to this perceived selling out to the Easy Listening Brigade. Strings back then were viewed as anathema to the rock fan, even if he or she had allowed a pleasing little ditty like Everyday to slip in under the radar. I’ve not forgotten when I learned about this session, probably from the NME. To myself and my mates at the time this was committing the ultimate crime. The sixties fuss about Dylan ‘going electric’ is still nothing in my memory banks compared to this news. I have to say though, that when the first product of the session came out – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore c/w Raining In My Heart, it did look as if my fears had been a touch OTT. The A-side sounded very much like a typical Holly song even if it was written by Paul Anka. It had misery lyrics but a bouncy beat with the whole thing topped by pizzicato strings which added a sort of manic effect. In other words the sort of bitter sweet Holly record we were already used to.

The other two songs from the New York session deserve mention. Moonbeams, a ballad from the pen of Norman Petty was relatively forgettable and arguably was one that did deserve the negative forebodings from myself (and others). True Love Ways, also a ballad but this time written by Holly himself, was considerably better and has received the implied praise of the occasional good cover version over the years.

I skipped over Raining In My Heart in order to come back to it. The song was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who had already written so many great songs for the Everly Brothers. It showed. Raining was, quite simply, a stunning pop song, complete with a great hook around which Jacobs had provided a splendid descending string arpeggio which balanced the rising melodic line in the verse. I resisted the charms of this one for several years, then going through the phase of secret love until eventually I was able to come out and confess that I’d succumbed.

In August 1958, Buddy married Maria Elena Santiago and they rented an apartment in New York. In December of that year he recorded a number of songs on the Ampex equipment which he’d purchased from Norman Petty. It is these tracks which are generally referred to as the New York Apartment Tapes or just the Apartment Tapes. After his death on the Winter Dance Party Tour on the 3rd of February, a number of these songs were released with overdubbed backings first by Coral then, after dispute, by Norman Petty using local group, the Fireballs. The releases made after Holly’s death were, in a word, shambolic, and an absolutely disgraceful abuse of his heritage. Amazingly it actually took decades for the undubbed tapes to emerge after rumours swirled round that Petty had overwritten or accidentally destroyed them. However the recordings are now available and can be found, along with a best-of overview, on two CD sets released in 2009: Buddy Holly: Memorial Collection and Down The Line: Rarities. I’ve reviewed both of them on Amazon UK and with some reservations I applaud these collections.

The Apartment Tapes consist of six new songs plus versions of a number of pop songs mostly from the rock’n’roll era. Something I hadn’t appreciated about these songs was the thread of misery that runs through them. Julian Lloyd Webber talks about it in this article from the online Daily Telegraph.

And a quote from “Remembering Buddy”: “Five of these songs deal with the disappointments of love in striking and sometimes ambivalent fashion.” I guess the fact that I’d not previously spotted the consistent level of angst in these songs was down to an already observed tendency of Buddy to combine downer lyrics and upbeat music. There is an argument that this might have been disguised by the songs he took on from totally different writers and the occasional more positive contributions of other writers (mainly Joe B. Mauldin and Jerry Allison) to his songs.

I wanted one selection to represent this period and was torn between That’s What They Say and That Makes It Tough. Both had interesting things going on melodically in addition to the qualities present in the lyrics. I eventually plumped for That Makes It Tough, principally because it was that relatively rare thing, a slow, well slowish, Holly composition. It kicks off with the chorus which initially bears comparison to a country ballad. It then moves to a long and intense verse before ending with a repeat of the chorus. I am slightly reminded of It’s Too Late. The middle eight in that one relates to the chorus here. Holly unleashes a falsetto (and in the earlier song, you might remember that an echo chamber was deployed).

That makes it tough
Oh, so tough
When you tell me
You don’t love me

Stark.

In contrast several of the ‘covers’ are relatively upbeat. The oldie, Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie, which apparently Holly had recorded for his mother, is particularly so. The song actually dates back to 1905 but Mrs Holley might have known it from the Bing Crosby and Mary Martin version in 1941. I’ve been quite heretical here and selected the dubbed version. In my defence I’d say that it’s the one I heard first and fell in love with, and that it’s one of the better dubbed ones coming in this instance from Petty and the Fireballs. George Tomsco of the Fireballs adds a high guitar line, the vocal group is effective, and there’s a level of sonic murk coming from the overdubbing which is not unattractive to today’s ears. There’s even a hint of an early wall of sound about it, and Buddy doesn’t pay undue reverence to the original; he wheels out the usual Holly attributes as well.

Although it’s accidental it does seem fitting that my final selection is the final track on the 2009 Memorial Collection I referred to earlier. That doesn’t mean it was the last one of the Apartment Tapes tracks recorded. I’m not even sure that there is a conclusive record of the ordering of these tracks. The undubbed Dearest is the most personal thing on the tape. It’s sung directly at the listener and the one minute fifty or so it takes is over in no time. Was the listener Maria Elena? Or, picking up the Julian Lloyd Webber theory, is the song aimed at Echo, his first real girl friend? Is there any tie-in to all those new songs on the tape?

We’ll never know but the last thing Buddy is known to have recorded in any form is a 13 second spoken promo spot for the Winter Dance Party Tour. (Source: BLOG The New York Apartment Tapes)

Hi, this is Buddy Holly. The Crickets and I are really happy to be coming your way on the Winter Dance Party. We certainly hope to see all our old friends and to be making some new ones too. Also, I hope you like my latest Coral release ‘Heartbeat’. See you soon.”

 

ONES THAT ALMOST MADE IT

* I’m Gonna Love You Too – adrenalin packed – almost punkish (but punks were rarely as tuneful as this) – pity the Ramones never cut it

* Everyday – the one with that tinkling celesta/celeste – it’s the middle eight that does it for me – climbing off to who knows where and then conveniently landing just a semitone above its target

* You’ve Got Love – a slow to medium song penned by the Big O – effectively a vocal group performance since the overdubbed voices are a major part of the record: “You’ve got me in a spin – I love the spin I’m in”

* It’s So Easy – one of the rare happy ones – Buddy’s positively gurgling with pleasure – great ending to the guitar break (from Tommy Allsup)

*It Doesn’t Matter Anymore – I think over-familiarity may have done for this one – I still wonder at (and respect) Paul Anka for the way he got into Buddy’s head and produced perhaps the ultimate bitter sweet song – Dick Jacobs shouldn’t be forgotten – those pizzicato strings have their rightful place in rock history

* Slippin’ And Slidin’ (the undubbed version) – was ever-so-slightly spoiled for me when it was virtually confirmed that Buddy had deliberately recorded it this slowly in order to see what it was like when speeded up – before then Buddy’s approach had yielded a totally new and sensual way of listening to the song

* Smokey Joe’s Cafe (the undubbed version) – rivals the Robins’ original for charm and, well, fun: “A chick came walkin’ through the door, that I had never seen before” – Buddy was enjoying himself

 

COVERS

This sub-section has been included primarily to give a home to a the clip below which comprises a quite lovely set of home recorded Holly songs performed solo by John Lennon. The Fi is low to the extent that Yoko talks continually through one of the songs.

As a general rule, Holly covers don’t do justice to the songs and those wonderful originals. However there are exceptions and the ones below should all be of interest:

 

 

 

QUOTES

“Holly did not immediately seek out a niche to occupy, but studied, tweaked, experimented, and grew constantly in the areas of sound, arrangement, orchestration, unique lyrics and technology to become the most progressive rock and roll star of the 50s.” “American Legends: The Life of Buddy Holly” (Charles River Editors)

“Buddy Holly was a poet. Way ahead of his time … Read his story. I played with Buddy Holly in North Dakota, South Dakota ballrooms …” Bob Dylan telling tall tales from Robert Shelton’s “No Direction Home”

“Extraordinary that he’s been dead more than twice as long as he was ever alive, and how important he remains. He more or less created the rock group. And with such snazzy lead guitar, such songwriting, so intimate a voice.” Michael Gray, Outtakes 2014

“The first modern rock band.” Dave Marsh, “The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”

“When I was 20, in 1957, and maybe you would say I was old enough to know better, but nevertheless, I was completely nuts about Buddy Holly.” Tom Stoppard

“In those two years of feverish activity, Buddy Holly not only wrote a vital early chapter in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, he made it all seem easy, fun and perfectly natural.” Bud Scoppa, sleeve notes to the Buddy Holly Memorial Collection, 2008

“I can’t remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride. But something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.” Don McLean, lyrics to American Pie

 

FOOTNOTES

1. In case anyone spots what might appear to be a typo in the document I should point out that Buddy was born Charles Hardin Holley. The shortening to Holly happened early on in his career but was retained.

2. On 23rd April 1955 Buddy traded in his Gibson Les Paul for a Fender Stratocaster which would very much become part of his image and sound (Source “Rock Diary: Buddy Holly” from Luke Crampton & Dafydd Rees). I would add that the appearance of the sunburst strat on the sleeve of The “Chirping” Crickets marked the first time a stratocaster had been seen on a record sleeve.

3. For those who don’t know Midnight Shift, the full title line is “‘Cause Annie’s been working on the midnight shift” and it’s popularly supposed to be an answer song to Hank Ballard’s Work With Me Annie (which had already spawned Roll With Me Henry from Etta James). The fact that Buddy had been featuring Work With Me Annie in his stage act would tend to confirm this theory if corroboration was required. However in “Remembering Buddy”, John Goldrosen reports on an interview with the song’s writer, Luke McDaniel, “The name of the woman in the song was not intentionally derived from Hank Ballard’s ‘Annie’ songs; McDaniel states, “I did not have any other song in mind at the time I wrote Midnight Shift. I was just picking up things of what women would do when they begin to slack off from a true marriage.” Interesting, but I still suspect that Buddy saw it as continuing the Ballard theme. Certainly his knowing approach is rather at odds with the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth image that is conveyed by the majority of his tracks and the biographies. And bear in mind that Lubbock was contained within a particularly god-fearing part of the South and that Buddy’s parents weren’t exceptions to the norm.

4. Although Luke McDaniel was a country boy like Buddy, the pair never met. McDaniel merely submitted the song via the normal channels at Nashville.

5. Very few of the books I’ve read do more than note the presence of Holly’s vocal effects but I did spot the following in “American Legends”: “Buddy’s youthful voice was unusually high-pitched, a trait that lasted even into adulthood, so he developed unique characteristics for sliding between the falsetto and the fully connected voice that had not been heard in the past.” John Goldrosen however recalls the great Hank: “Williams’ quavering tenor voice and his distinctive country habit of rising to a required pitch instead of sounding it cleanly had their influence on Holly’s own style. Holly’s famed ‘hiccup’ is related to Williams’ yodelling technique, of which Holly had been fond of imitating.” I would add to this that Buddy could also put a pretty convincing rasp in his vocal delivery when interpreting Little Richard numbers.

6. It’s not very well known – Wiki doesn’t mention it – but Roy Orbison cut his first record at Norman Petty’s Clovis, New Mexico Studios. The record was Ooby Dooby and it was released on the tiny indie, Je-Wel Records. Very shortly after that, Orbison auditioned for Sam Phillips and Ooby Dooby was recut and released by Sun.

7. Ellis Amburn writing in “Dark Star: The Roy Orbison Story” has Orbison and Holly as friends even if not bosom buddies – they only lived 90 miles away from each other which is nothing in Texas. He also states that they went to each other’s gigs in the early days.

8. I should have given credit to Norman Petty in relation to Words Of Love in particular. The process of balancing an already recorded track against a new track that would form the overdub was in its infancy and his assistance to Holly was critical. While Petty was officially producer on all the Clovis sessions, in reality he took more of a back seat as the months progressed. However, in the early days he was of great assistance to Buddy and the boys, both technically and logistically.

9. Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues was written by Bob Thiele of Coral Records under the pseudonym Stanley Clayton, so Norman Petty had motivation in getting Holly to record this one.

10. The song Rave On was written by Sonny West and Bill Tilghman, writers also of Oh Boy. Tilghman has stated that he got the idea for the song from hearing the words ‘Rave On’ in Carl Perkins’ Dixie Fried.

11. On 14th March 1958, the 14 year old Mick Jagger attended his first ever rock’n’roll show at the Woolwich Granada. It featured Holly and the Crickets, and Jagger would have heard them play Not Fade Away. (Source: John Gribbin’s “Not Fade Away: The Life And Music Of Buddy Holly”)

12. Reportedly the pizzicato scoring on It Doesn’t Matter Anymore was only present because the song choice was late, leaving Jacobs little time to generate a more conventional string arrangement. It Doesn’t Matter Anymore was the last Holly record to come out in his lifetime, an unfortunate title perhaps.

13. The track recorded alongside Reminiscing in September ’58, Come Back Baby, had writing credits Neil/Petty. Neil was Fred Neil who was then working out of the Brill Building. He later achieved a much deserved degree of success as a singer/songwriter.

14. It’s tempting to view Holly’s composition, It’s So Easy (To Fall In Love) as a reaction to meeting Maria Elena Santiago and, as the story goes, falling in love with her. However the recording session was held on 25th May 1958 but Maria, who was working as a receptionist at Peer-Southern Music, doesn’t recall any conversation with Buddy until June ’58, though the Crickets would have visited the office before. But you never know.

15. The source of Dearest is something of a mystery. It has the same chord sequence and, by and large, same tune as Mickey and Sylvia’s better known Love Is Strange, which was written by Bo Diddley. This one also has E.McDaniel in the credits along with two others. This is Bo’s real name and one he used on song credits. However I’ve never been able to track down a Diddley version of the song; it shouldn’t be confused with his Dearest Darling. There is a theory that Mickey Baker had the credit added in order to appease Bo for stealing his thunder (and dosh!) with Love Is Strange.

16. Reportedly, Paul McCartney has said “At least the first forty songs we wrote were Buddy Holly influenced” but I don’t know the source.

17. I’ve managed not to comment on the number of Holly songs with titles based on popular sayings or scraps of dialogue. We had a few in the selections plus other mentions but to those you could add Look At Me, Take Your Time, Think It Over, Fool’s Paradise, It’s Not My Fault, What To Do and more. When he started there were few composers relating to the record buyer in this direct manner. However, honourable mention should go to Jack Clement and Charlie Rich for some of the songs they wrote for Johnny Cash in the Sun years. Lennon and McCartney picked up the trait and you’ll know the titles.

18. The mid-period Crickets, after Niki Sullivan left but before Tommy Allsup joined, were effectively a power guitar trio some years before Hendrix and Cream.

19. David Frizell, younger brother of country hero Lefty Frizzell, has written a biography of his brother, “I Love You A Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story”. David was/is a Holly fan and, within the book, he claims to have attempted to persuade Lefty to record That’ll Be The Day but to no avail.

20. There’s a book which references Buddy Holly which doesn’t get included in the Bibliography. That’s because it’s not a reference book, it’s a novel and a most unusual one at that. The title is Buddy Holly Is Alive And Well On Ganymede and the author is Bradley Denton. I found the book in a second hand charity shop and enjoyed it. I’ll say no more but leave the reader to explore. I did post a review on Amazon UK.

21. Waylon Jennings was on Fender bass for Holly on the Winter Dance Party in January/February 1959. After the session in the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy hired a plane to take some of the artists on to the next venue rather than spend the time in the tour bus with its malfunctioning heating. Jennings was originally scheduled to be on the flight but he gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had flu. In the joshing about before the plane left – it was to crash only a few miles away – Buddy said to Waylon “I hope your ass freezes on the bus” and Waylon responded with “I hope your ol’ plane crashes”. That’s the way Waylon used to tell the story. 17 years later, Waylon released an album titled Are You Ready For The Country. Tucked away on it was a song called Old Friend. The last line of the first verse told you who the friend was:

Was it really years ago
It seems like only yesterday
The last time that I saw
You laugh at me and fly away

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Remembering Buddy” by John Goldrosen and John Beecher (1994 – most recent edition). By far the best in my view though I have to add that I’ve by no means read everything.

“Buddy Holly” by Dave Laing (1970 – but a newer edition is available). I don’t know where my copy’s gone but I well recall Laing attempting to break down the structure of Holly songs, which is quite a lot more than most of the other biographers have attempted to do.

“Not Fade Away: The Life And Music Of Buddy Holly” by John Gribbin (2012). An admittedly personal reaction but the key facts are all there. The author has also familiarised himself with many of the earlier books on the subject.

“Rave On: The Biography Of Buddy Holly” by Philip Norman (1997 – but there is a 2014 edition). Have only investigated a Kindle sample so cannot really offer an informed opinion, however Amazon reviewers have rated this highly.

“American Legends: The Life Of Buddy Holly” (Charles River Editors).
Have only sampled but, while it’s brief (and cheap), it does make some good points.

“Rock Diary: Buddy Holly” by Luke Crampton & Dafydd Rees (2nd ed. 2010). Very very brief. I only include here because I’ve quoted the book in a footnote.

The website, Buddy Holly: The Complete Works (see link below), contains the most detailed register of all of Holly’s recording sessions that I’ve seen.

 

Buddy Holly (1936-1959)
Charles Hardin Holley was born in Lubbock, Texas on 7th September 1936. He died on 3rd February 1959 when the plane he was travelling in with fellow musicians, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, soon after take-off.

Joe B. Mauldin (1940–2015)

Niki Sullivan (1937–2004)

Tommy Allsup (1931-2017)

 

Buddy Holly: The Complete Works

Buddy Holly Educational Foundation

The Buddy Holly Center, Lubbock

Buddy Holly facebook

Buddy Holly discography

Buddy Holly Lives – tributes, info, blog

The Crickets official website

Sonny Curtis official website

The Day The Music Died (Wikipedia)

Buddy Holly biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens had a long career in IT – programming, consultancy, management etc. – before retiring in 2007. After spending time on the usual retiree type activities he eventually got round to writing on one of his favourite subjects, popular music, particularly, but not only, the sort that was around in his youth. He gained experience at ‘the writing thing’ by placing CD reviews on Amazon. This led to his first book “RocknRoll” which was published for Kindle in 2015. He followed this up with “London Rocks” in July 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #543

10 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Aug 14, 2016

    Dave – thanks for this brilliant list and fascinating read. Glad to see “Mailman’ in here – it’s my favourite Buddy record and one of my all time favourites. Thanks again…

    • Dave Stephens
      Aug 15, 2016

      Many thanks Andrew – it’s you and Michael Gray who go for the mailman – and it was Michael’s love for it that caused me to revisit the track (though I used to know all the words to all the songs on the two Holly albums released (here) in his lifetime!)

  2. David Lewis
    Aug 18, 2016

    I would have put Everyday in the main list if only for ‘a hey ahey hey’. But that minor quibble aside I’d been looking forward to this and you didn’t disappoint.

    • Dave Stephens
      Aug 19, 2016

      Thanks David. Another day and Everyday would have been in – pun unintended. Almost every song from That’ll Be The Day (another “day” song) onwards demands inclusion. Consequently I was expecting some disappointments amongst readers.

  3. Peter Viney
    Aug 19, 2016

    What a wonderfully comprehensive article, and worth the long wait for Buddy Holly. When I started going to youth clubs, one lad had every Buddy Holly EP, and Buddy Holly is (another) artist whose early 60s continuation was heavily EP based. Those Buddy Holly Eps are still around in large quantities. One of the great double-sided singles was the pair of overdubbed posthumous covers: Brown Eyed Handsome Man / Slippin’ And Slidin’. I just bought my third copy of the 45 because it was just about mint. I’d take Buddy’s (dubbed) version of Slippin’ and Slidin’ over the Little Richard version or The Band version. So Slippin’ and Slidin’ (as on the single) is my “What no …?” choice. As for covers, Raining in My Heart as sung by Rick Danko on the Ringo Starr & His All Starrs’ album.

    • Dave Stephens
      Aug 19, 2016

      Ah, EP’s! Brings back a key memory. I purchased a Crickets EP very, very early in my career (?) in records acquisition. There then followed a period that I can only describe as near existential as I debated whether to buy the Chirping Crickets LP – there was a big difference between EP and LP prices in those days not to mention the complete duplication of tracks. Sheer need won out and I never regretted it. Agree re the dubbed version of Slippin’ And Slidin’ over the master. It’s strange how some of those dubbed versions still live with us even when the marvellous original Apartment Tapes are now available. Agree re Danko and Raining In My Heart and many thanks for your kind comments Peter.

      • Peter Viney
        Aug 21, 2016

        The posthumous overdubs LP, Reminiscing, was such a big UK hit (#2), so I guess those versions and in that running order stuck in the mind. The Fireballs who did the overdubs were a good guitar instrumental band, and in my recall it was harder to play their stuff than The Shadows.

        • Dave Stephens
          Aug 21, 2016

          Fabulous LP from the sleeve image onwards. Still have it and I recall that it yielded surprises for those of us who thought we knew Holly.

  4. John Denton
    Dec 20, 2016

    May I append an honorable mention for Rock Around with Ollie Vee which I consider a tremendous rocker from the golden period.
    I had the pleasure of meeting J.I.Allison and asked him about a hitherto unitelligible lyric in that song (all the net lyric pages have it wrong). Jerry cheerily told me :
    “Well I’ll tell Mister Cop “whoa be!” tonight
    If he tries to put a stop to me tonight”
    Such lyrics (written by Sonny Curtis) deserve to be accurately preserved.
    I also would give a thumbs up to his rousing Ready Teddy ,although a telling guitar solo would’ve improved the track.
    I also think “Learning the Game” is worthy of consideration in Buddy’s Toppermost.
    Excellent to see Midnight Shift in the cut.
    The “Chirping Crickets” album is full of great stuff,let down a tad by questionable production including that backing vocal group.
    I may have omitted Words of Love from your list,although I know many love that track.
    My compliments to your selections.

    • Dave Stephens
      Dec 21, 2016

      Many thanks for your comments John. Picking up on some of your points:
      It was a toss up between Midnight Shift and Ollie Vee for the one that represented Buddy’s rockabilly period but I did regret losing the latter – one of the best intros in the whole rockabilly genre and the rest doesn’t disappoint.
      I’m highly jealous of you actually meeting J.I.
      Ready Teddy is one of Buddy’s most forceful tracks, more so even than the Richard original. I’d declare the two to be on a par and it’s rare that I’d say that about any Penniman covers.
      Learning The Game is another great track which almost got into the selections. I included the Rodney Crowell cover as a compromise.
      In, I think, the seventies, one of the music journals solicited Top Twenties from readers. I included “Chirping Crickets” (and “Two Steps From The Blues”) in my submission.
      I felt one of Words Of Love, or Listen To Me had be included though admittedly they’re almost identical – a chord sequence Holly loved. These two get closest to anything like a “Tex Mex sound”.

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