Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Not Fade Away

The story: tragic and familiar. Over the years it has transcended fact and and become woven into the tapestry of American legend. It was fifty years ago today, Buddy Holly, J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson and Richie Valens were killed when the single engine Beechcraft Bonanza they were traveling in crashed in a snow covered corn field shortly after takeoff from Mason City Municipal Airport near Clear Lake Iowa. The event would become known as 'the day the music died'. And as a matter of fact, the Don McLean songs sucks. Always has, always will. Now let's move on.

Having been born nine years after his death, I grew up a HUGE Buddy Holly fan quite accidentially, after stumbling across his music in my parents record collection and through repeated viewings of the wholly entertaining biopic, The Buddy Holly Story starring gonzo Hollywood legend Gary Busey.

The film was one of the first I can remember on the fledgling pay television service WHT (Wometco Home Theater). Back in the late 70's there was only one premium 'cable' channel, and on it the film was run ad nauseum. The movie, while not factually correct, did focus on Holly's unlikely rise to fame and more importantly, his amazing songwriting abilities. It should be noted that Busey and fellow actors Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith did a stellar job performing all the songs for the film.

IMHO, Holly was light years ahead of contemporaries like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and even Elvis. What he lacked in style he made up for with substance. One of Rock's first true singer/songwriters, his songbook runs rich and deep. Holly's catalog is still, over fifty years later, one of the most covered in Rock. He might not have invented three-chord rock, but he definitely perfected it. He and the Crickets were the first garage band, successfully combining simple chord progressions with catchy, accessible lyrics. Buddy Holly was the creator of the three minute pop formula that became the standard and has stood the test of time. As far as an influence, his legacy speaks for itself. If it weren't for the likes of Holly, it can be disputed there would have been no Beatles. Need I say more.

Not to discount the others who perished on that fateful night, I do, however, think they were novelty acts, as forgetful as the one-hit wonders the were peddling. Holly, on the other hand had already matured beyond the greasy kid stuff. His later work, albeit less edgy, displayed a brevity beyond his mere 23 years and showcased his prowess as a deft producer, allowing him to dress his sound in lush orchestrations. All from an artist that could not read or write music.

Who's to say Holly wouldn't have wound up a soft-rock pariah, but I think he was just hitting his stride when his life ended. Unfortunately, we'll never know. One thing is certain, Buddy Holly crammed a lifetime of amazing music into a very short lifespan.

Rave On
Rockin' Around With Ollie Vee
Well Alright
Not Fade Away
True Love Ways

Buddy Holly & The Crickets- Peggy Sue (Arthur Murray Dance Party, December 1957)

Buddy Holly & The Crickets- Oh, Boy! (Ed Sullivan Show, January 1958)

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Buddy Holly & The Crickets-Rock Around With Ollie Vee (1956)

Sir Paul, paying homage:
Paul McCartney- Words of Love (The Real Buddy Holly Story, 1985)

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