For music lovers of a certain age, February 3, 1959, was The Day the Music Died. Buddy Holly, age 22, Ritchie Valens, age 17, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, shortly after their Beechcraft 35 Bonanza took off from the municipal airport in nearby Mason City. Holly, Richardson, and Valens had chartered the plane to avoid another long trip on their cold, uncomfortable "tour" bus, which was really an old school bus that had been pressed into service when the heater on Holly's original tour bus failed, his drummer developed frostbite and other band members came down with the flu.
Pilot Roger Peterson was not qualified to fly in poor weather using instruments only, and he had not received up-to-date weather advisories for his trip, but he took off all the same, knowing that he was heading into light snow under a low cloud ceiling, according to Rich Everitt, author of Falling Stars: Air Crashes That Filled Rock & Roll Heaven.
In the snow and darkness, the Bonanza's wing somehow hit the ground and the plane flipped across a cornfield, killing everyone on board and ending up in pieces up against a wire fence. Just like that, Buddy Holly's meteoric, 25 hit record, 18-month musical career was over. The shocking news stunned rock and roll fans around the world.
Singer/songwriter Don McLean dedicated his album "American Pie" to Buddy Holly in 1971; many people believe that McLean's song of the same name is about the 1959 crash that cut Holly's career short and ended Valens' and Richardson's careers as well.
Lubbock's Buddy Holly Center is the perfect place to learn more about Buddy Holly's life and legacy. The Buddy Holly Center, a former railway depot, includes the Buddy Holly Gallery, the Fine Arts and Foyer Galleries, the J. I. Allison House, an educational space and a gift shop. The Center's courtyard is used for the annual Summer Showcase Concert Series, held on Thursdays.
The Buddy Holly Gallery's exhibits chronicle Buddy Holly's childhood in Lubbock, his rise to fame and his significant contribution to the development of rock and roll as we know it today. Maria Elena Holly, George McMahan, Sir Elton John and the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation have lent the Center artifacts from Holly's life, including a motorcycle Holly gave to Waylon Jennings, two of Holly's acoustic guitars and Waylon Jennings' Rolex watch. The exhibit also includes Holly's Fender Stratocaster guitar, clothing, photographs and documents from Holly's childhood and adult years and his iconic black glasses, which were found in a storage vault in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1980.
The J. I. Allison House, home of The Crickets' drummer during his teen years, was moved from its original location in Lubbock to the Buddy Holly Center in 2013. Buddy Holly and J. I. Allison wrote some of the band's most famous songs in Allison's home, including "That'll Be the Day."
Buddy Holly and The Crickets
Charles Hardin Holley, called "Buddy" by family and friends alike, grew up in Lubbock, Texas, as the youngest child in a musical family. He sang and played piano and violin at an early age. Later, when his brother took up the guitar, Buddy, too, wanted to play it.
Buddy quickly surpassed his brother's guitar skills and learned to play banjo and mandolin as well. He was in junior high school.
Buddy and his school friend Bob Montgomery formed a country group – sometimes with just the two of them, sometimes with other musicians. They played at gigs around Lubbock and hosted a local radio show. Buddy got his first break when Decca Records signed him to a contract in 1956. Decca misspelled Buddy's last name, leaving off the "e," and Buddy spelled his last name "Holly" for the rest of his short life.
Buddy Holly's career with Decca did not last long. He took his experiences and newly-gained recording skills back home to Lubbock and put a new band together. The Crickets included Buddy Holly, J. I. Allison, Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan (Sullivan left the group in late 1957).
Buddy Holly and The Crickets found a creative haven at Norman Petty's recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico, where they recorded "That'll Be the Day" and "I'm Looking for Someone to Love" in February 1957. By July of that year, Buddy Holly and The Crickets were performing in New York City and Washington, DC, and they appeared on American Bandstand that August. On December 1, 1957, Buddy Holly and The Crickets appeared on television's Ed Sullivan Show.
The band toured Australia, Florida and the United Kingdom in early 1958. A young musician named Paul McCartney later recounted how he and John Lennon carefully observed Holly and The Crickets, looking for the secrets to the band's sound and commercial success. Buddy Holly and The Crickets continued recording and touring for the rest of the year. On August 15, 1958, Buddy married Maria Elena Santiago; Buddy had proposed to Maria Elena on their first date. Later that autumn, Buddy Holly and The Crickets decided to break up their band.
In 1959, Buddy Holly accepted an invitation to tour with the Winter Dance Party, joining Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Sardo, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens on a concert swing through the frozen Midwest. On February 2, 1959, Buddy decided to charter a plane instead of riding on the group's bus, and the music world would never be the same.
Just across the street from the Buddy Holly Center stands Lubbock's tribute to the city's most famous native son. The statue is the centerpiece of the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza. Behind the statue stands a tan wall with plaques honoring West Texas Walk of Fame inductees. Honorees include Buddy Holly, Mac Davis, Waylon Jennings, Tanya Tucker, Roy Orbison, the Gatlin Brothers and many more performing and visual artists who proudly called West Texas home.
Fans from around the world come to Lubbock's City Cemetery to pay tribute to Buddy Holly. His gravesite is just a short drive from the cemetery's 31st Street entrance, and the route is clearly marked. Holly is buried next to his parents, Lawrence Odell "L. O." Holley and Ella Holley. Take a close look at his headstone; visitors leave coins, guitar picks, flowers and other tributes.
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