Sunday, 13 May 2012
ELDER MUSIC: Buddy Holly
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Self indulgence time today (as if all these columns aren’t just that).
BUDDY HOLLY was the most famous musician to come from Lubbock, Texas, and yes, there were others.
Born Charles Hardin Holley, he always claimed to be related to the notorious gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. I won’t go into whether that’s so or not as it’s really irrelevant to what we are about today - and that is music. No gunplay will be in evidence.
Buddy has been described as "the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll" and I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.
He defined the genre by writing the songs himself, having a self contained band, The Crickets, in which he played guitar and sang, produced his own records, and recorded them at his own speed without record company interference, utilizing unorthodox instruments in his songs.
You could almost be describing The Beatles upon whom he had an overwhelming influence. This wasn’t obvious at the time; it’s only in retrospect that this became clear.
There are a number of songs that are so iconic I don’t need to mention them. I won’t be featuring them today. Well, not many of them. I just want to show that there was more to Buddy than the hits.
Indeed, the progress he showed in the last year of his life in songwriting, producing and general musicianship is remarkable and, of course, it raises the “what if?” question. Buddy was 22 when he died. We’ll never know the answer so I’m not going to dwell further on that.
Due to all sorts of legal shenanigans, Buddy was contracted to two separate record companies, one as himself and another as a member of The Crickets. Thus, twice as much music was released at the time which was good for us but led to problems down the track. I won’t bother you with that, I’ll just get into the music.
The second album I bought with my own money was “The Buddy Holly Story, Volume 2” (Volume 1 was the first, although it didn’t have the “Volume” on it).
This second one was rushed out when the first sold a million or more. That first one contained all the hits that everyone knew. The songs on Volume 2 were what were then considered also-rans. They have proved to be some of his most enduring songs over the years. There will be a few from that one today.
So much for my initial premise of only having lesser known songs - here’s one of Buddy’s most famous. It was originally called Cindy Lou after Buddy’s niece - the name was later changed to Peggy Sue. This was the name of Jerry Allison’s girl friend and later, wife. Jerry was the drummer in The Crickets and he produced that wonderful rolling drum beat throughout the song.
Buddy kept the story of Peggy Sue going with this next song. There were various versions of Peggy Sue Got Married released after he died. This is the first I encountered on the album “Volume 2”.
It was overdubbed, but not as badly as some other versions of the song that had different additions to it. There is Buddy’s original version out there, the one he recorded in his apartment in New York and that’s really the pick of the bunch.
I have used that one before and you can find it in a column called Singer Songwriters. Here’s the version I first heard when I was young.
Listen to Me sounds to me rather like a calypso song. Calypso music was big around then, so I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s also Buddy’s distinctive Stratocaster guitar playing throughout and even a talky bit to add a touch of country.
Crying, Waiting, Hoping seems to be the song that has had the most overdubs on various releases over the years. None of these is very good and some are atrocious.
Given that, I’ve selected the version with just Buddy and acoustic guitar that he recorded in his apartment in New York before going on the last tour.
A song that wasn’t a big hit in its time is Not Fade Away. It was the flip side of Rave On, a 45 I bought as a whippersnapper. The Rolling Stones covered the song early in their career and made it a hit.
Buddy’s version beats the Stones’ version easily. Buddy usurped the Bo Diddley beat as did the Stones in a lot of their early records. Bo said that if he could have copyrighted that he’d have made a fortune. He probably wouldn’t have as he didn’t get much from the songs he wrote either.
However, Bo remained a great performer for the rest of his life. This is about Buddy though.
Words of Love was a song The Beatles covered in their early recording days. Their version wasn’t bad but not as good as Buddy’s.
Valley of Tears was written by Fats Domino and is a rare cover from Buddy. Fats had a minor hit with the song in 1957. I prefer Buddy’s version, but not by much.
I first discovered Well, All Right on my album of “Volume 2”.
Here it is as I heard it as a callow youth.
Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues is a fine example of the “hiccup” style of singing for which Buddy was renowned. He said that this was just a Texas way of singing. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask some Texans. However it came into being, I like the song.
Okay, here’s another famous one. As I mentioned up above, this was the single I bought that had Not Fade Away on the flip side. I didn’t know about that song when I first got it but I sure knew about this one, Rave On.