Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), better known as Buddy Holly, was an American singer, songwriter, and a pioneer of Rock and Roll. The change of spelling of Holley to Holly came about because of an error in a contract he was asked to sign, listing him as Buddy Holly. That spelling was then adopted for his professional career. The original spelling of "Holley" was engraved on his headstone (see photo).
Buddy Holly is considered one of the founding fathers of rock 'n roll and one of its most influential. Although his career was cut short, his body of work is considered among the best in rock music history and his music would influence not only many of his recording contemporaries, but also the future direction music would take.
Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas to Lawrence Odell Holley and Ella Pauline Drake. The Holleys were a musical family and as a young boy, Holley learned to play the violin (his brothers oiled the strings so much that no one could hear him play), piano and guitar. In the fall of 1949, he met Bob Montgomery at Hutchinson Jr. High School. They shared a common interest in music and soon teamed up as the duo "Buddy and Bob". Initially influenced by bluegrass music, they sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows.
Holly turned to rock music after seeing Elvis Presley sing live in Lubbock in early 1955. A few months later, he appeared on the same bill with Presley, also in Lubbock. Holly's transition to rock was finalized when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local rock show organized by Eddie Crandall, who was also the manager for Marty Robbins. As a result of this performance, Holly was offered a contract with Decca Records to work alone, which he accepted. According to the Amburn book (p.45), his public name changed from "Holley" to "Holly" on February 8, 1956, when he signed the Decca contract. Among the tracks recorded for Decca was an early version of "That'll Be The Day", which took its title from a phrase that John Wayne's character said repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers.
Back in Lubbock, Holly formed his own band, The Crickets, and began making records at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Among the songs they recorded was what became the hit version of "That'll Be the Day". Norman had music industry contacts, and believing that "That'll Be the Day" would be a hit single, he contacted publishers and labels. Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed Buddy Holly and The Crickets. This put Buddy in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time. Before "That'll Be The Day" had its nationwide release and became a smash hit, Holly played lead guitar on the hit-single "Starlight", recorded in April 1957, featuring Jack Huddle. The initial, unsuccessful version of "That'll Be The Day" played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the hit version.
Holly's music was sophisticated for its day, including the use of instruments considered novel for rock and roll, such as the celesta (heard on "Everyday"). Holly was an influential lead and rhythm guitarist, notably on songs such as "Peggy Sue" and "Not Fade Away". While Holly could pump out boy-loves-girl songs with the best of his contemporaries, other songs featured more sophisticated lyrics and more complex harmonies and melodies than had previously appeared in the genre.
Many of his songs feature a unique vocal "hiccup" technique, a clipped "uh" sound used to emphasize certain words in any given song, especially the rockers. Other singers have used a similar technique, though less obviously and consistently. An example is the start of the raucous "Rave On": "Weh-UH-eh-UH-ell, the little things you say and do, make me want to be with you-UH-ou...". Or this, from "That'll Be the Day": "Well, you give me all your lovin' and your UH-turtle dovin'..."
Holly also managed to bridge some of the racial divide that marked rock, notably winning over an all-black audience when accidentally booked at New York's Apollo Theater (though, unlike the fictional movie biography, it took several performances for audiences to be convinced of his talents).
After the release of several, highly successful songs, in March 1958, he and the Crickets toured the United Kingdom. Contrary to popular belief, teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not attend a concert of Buddy Holly's, though a school friend of McCartney and George Harrison, Tony Bramwell, did so. Bramwell met Holly, and freely shared his records with all three. Lennon and McCartney later cited Holly as a primary influence (their band's name, The Beatles, was later chosen partly in homage to Holly's Crickets). The Beatles did a cover version of "Words of Love" that was an almost perfect reproduction of Holly's version. The Rolling Stones covered "Not Fade Away".
The group, The Hollies, were conventionally thought to have been named in homage, and various rock and roll histories have asserted this as fact. According to the band's website,  although the group admired Buddy Holly (and years later produced an album covering some of his songs), their name was inspired primarily by the sprigs of holly in evidence around Christmas of 1962, when they re-formed their previous band (the Deltas) and had to come up with a new name. The site also admits to a degree of uncertainty about that story, so it is possible that they have disavowed any reference to Holly in order to avoid legal or copyright issues.
Holly's personal style, more controlled and cerebral than Elvis' and more youthful and innovative than the country and western stars of his day, would have an influence on youth culture on both sides of the Atlantic for decades to come, reflected particularly in the New Wave movement in artists such as Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw (who portrayed Holly in the Richie Valens biopic La Bamba), and earlier in folk rock bands like The Byrds and The Turtles.
He married Maria Elena Santiago on August 15, 1958.
In 1959, Holly split with the Crickets and began a solo tour with other notable performers, including Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper".
Following the February 2, 1959 performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new Crickets band (Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota. J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper" came down with the flu and didn't feel comfortable on the bus, so Jennings gave his plane seat to him. Ritchie Valens had never flown on a small plane and requested Allsup's seat. They flipped a coin, Valens called heads and won the toss. The four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off into a blinding snow storm and crashed into Albert Juhl's corn field several miles after takeoff at 1:05 A.M. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson, leaving Holly's pregnant bride, Maria Elena Holly, a widow (she miscarried soon after).
Although the crash received a good deal of local coverage, it was displaced in the national news by an accident that occurred the same day in New York City, when American Airlines Flight 320 crashed during an instrument landing approach at LaGuardia Airport. In that crash, 65 died and 8 survived.
Holly's funeral services were held at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, and his body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.
Holly's headstone carries the correct spelling of his name, Buddy Holley. It also features a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar. Downtown Lubbock has a "walk of fame" with plaques to various area artists such as Mac Davis and Waylon Jennings, with a life-size statue of Buddy, playing his Fender guitar, as its centerpiece.
The tragic plane crash inspired Mike Berry & The Outlaws' single Tribute To Buddy Holly (1961), and singer Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad "American Pie", and immortalized February 3 as "The Day the Music Died". Contrary to popular myth, "American Pie" was not the name of the ill-fated plane. The plane had no name, only a registration number N3794N.
The Surf Ballroom, a popular and old-fashioned dance hall that dates to the height of Big Band Era, continues to put on shows, notably an annual Buddy Holly tribute on the anniversary of his last performances.
In 1988, Ken Paquette, a Wisconsin fan of the 1950s, erected a stainless steel monument depicting a steel guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of each of the three performers. It is located on private farmland, about one quarter mile west of the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, approximately five miles north of Clear Lake. He also created a similar stainless steel monument to the three musicians near the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.
The dramatic arc of Holly's life story inspired a Hollywood biography The Buddy Holly Story, for which actor Gary Busey received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Holly, as well as successful Broadway and West End musicals documenting his career. The West End musical, Buddy, ran for seven years. The movie, while entertaining, received wide criticism from the rock community for its wild inaccuracies. This led Paul McCartney to produce and host his own tribute to Holly, titled "The Real Buddy Holly Story." This authoritative video includes interviews with Keith Richards, Phil and Don Everly, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Holly's family, and McCartney himself, among others.
The science fiction novel Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, by Bradley Denton (ISBN 0-688-10822-9 and ISBN 0-380-71876-6), begins when television sets throughout the world suddenly begin broadcasting a concert by an apparently living Buddy Holly, who says he is on Ganymede.
Terry Pratchett's novel Soul Music features a protagonist whose name, Imp Y Cellyn, translates to "Buddy Holly".
"Oil", an episode of The Young Ones features Mike (Christopher Ryan) discovering Buddy Holly, alive and well and tangled in parachutes, in the attic of a house in London. Holly comments that he loves "your British beetles", as he has been eating them since the plane crash. Mike asks Holly if he has come up with any new material, and Holly plays a brief song about eating crickets...then his parachute strap suddenly breaks, slamming him into the floor and killing him. Mike later hands off a duffel bag containing Holly's corpse to two minor characters, asking them to "take care of my Buddy."
A fictional version of a young pre-fame Buddy Holly appears in an episode of Quantum Leap, working as a veterinarian's assistant.
Buddy is also one of the evil citizens that exists in the town of "Rock N' Roll Heaven", a community inhabited by deceased music legends in Stephen King's short horror story You Know They Got a Hell of a Band. He was portrayed by Australian actor Kristian Schmid in the television version on the Nightmares & Dreamscapes television mini-series.
The 1998 film "Six-String Samurai," a surreal romp through an alternate-timeline post-apocalyptic America (Russia bombed and then invaded the United States in 1957), features a rock-and-rolling martial arts hero named "Buddy" who sports familiar black horn-rimmed glasses and a tuxedo. The film follows Buddy's journey to "Lost Vegas", the last outpost of freedom in the world, to claim the crown of the recently-deceased King Elvis.
Buddy Holly was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its formation in 1986. His pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
The Smithereens' song "Maria Elena" is a Buddy Holly tribute as sung to his widow.
On the infamous Gunfight at Carnegie Hall album, Phil Ochs famously sang a long tribute to Buddy Holly, while dressed in an uncharacteristic shiny gold suit. The album also includes a long Elvis Presley medley.
Paul Simon's song "Old" references his early influences, including Buddy Holly, including the line "Buddy Holly still goes on, but his catalog was sold."
The Dixie Chicks recently recorded the song "Lubbock or Leave It" which references Buddy Holly's death by airplane crash, and the statue that was erected in his hometown after his death.
In an interview with Alan Freed, Holly and Freed mentions Cricket bass player Joe Mauldin's nickname "Joe Buy-Us", as in "Go buy us a coke". This was replayed in the TV series Arrested Development, where the character GOB (George Oscar Bluth) decides to start up a business with his brother-in-law Tobias in a collaboration named "Gobias Industries", which will deal in the sale of coffee. They then proceed to explain their reasoning behind the name, "Gobias, as in 'go buy us' a coffee".
Of the trio of musicians who died in the crash, he was the one mentioned in Billy Joel's history themed song "We Didn't Start the Fire".
In Pulp Fiction, Steve Buscemi plays a Buddy Holly lookalike waiter that serves John Travolta and Uma Thurman.
The comic maxiseries Batman: The Long Halloween features a character named Alberto Falcone, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Buddy Holly.
In a Simpsons episode, "Colonel Homer", the manager of the recording studio fondly recalled how "Buddy Holly stood on this spot in 1958 and said, 'There is no way in hell, I am gonna record in this dump.'" In a later episode, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper appear on an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon in which Scratchy is the pilot. Itchy sabotages the plane's engine, thus resulting all three musicians and Scratchy dying in the crash that ensues.
Since his death many bands and artists have covered Buddy Holly material such as The Beatles, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Linda Ronstadt, Humble Pie, Peter & Gordon, Rush, Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Blind Faith, Don McLean, John Mellencamp, Foghat, Pearl Jam and many others.