Buddy Holly: Remembering the music
Thursday, February 9, 2017 5:24 AM
“February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver. Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step. 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.”
– From the Don McLean song “American Pie”
Ladies and gentlemen, since we talked last time, we’ve passed Groundhog Day and the “day the music died.”
I’ve spoken at length in the past about Groundhog Day, so I won’t this year, other than to say I think the predictions of six more weeks of winter by Punxsutawney Phil and Buckeye Chuck are wrong.
Let’s move on to the music. On a cold February night in Iowa 58 years ago, singers Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly, Richard Steven Valenzuela, also known as Ritchie Valens, and Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson, also known as The Big Bopper, perished in a plane crash after a show in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Holly was 22, Richardson was 28 and Valens was just 17.
As the story goes, the singers’ tour bus was unheated and having problems, so Holly chartered a flight for himself and his bandmates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup – but Allsup lost a coin flip with Valens for a seat on the plane, while Jennings voluntarily gave up his seat because The Big Bopper had the flu bug.
Valens reportedly said after the coin flip, “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.” Holly was surprised his bandmates gave up their seats and joked, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up again,” and Jennings jokingly replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”
Those words haunted Jennings the rest of his life.
None of Holly’s songs were played at his funeral because his Baptist family never approved of his music, and the family never held a memorial service for his fans. It’s probably safe to say that Buddy Holly died not knowing the legacy he left.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked Holly at No. 13 in its list of “100 Greatest Artists,” ahead of Prince (28), Michael Jackson (35) and John Lennon (38), just to name a few. Holly was a major influence on later artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elton John and Bobby Vee.
And, of course, he was an influence on McLean, who penned “American Pie,” which repeatedly referred to the 1959 plane crash. When asked what “American Pie” meant, McLean jokingly replied, “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.”
Later, McLean revealed, “It was an indescribable photograph of America that I tried to capture in words and music. … Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense.”
That may sound a bit gloomy, but in a way, I agree.
A long, long time ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me smile.
When I was young, I always preferred the “oldies” over the new hits. I remember all the hours on the tractor, wearing clunky ear protector headphones and listening to the music. I had a Walkman cassette player and would unsnap the earphones and slip them under the hearing protectors.
I remember the days when I’d slide a cassette tape in the tape deck of my old Ford Thunderbird while driving back to Ohio State or to my summer job as a lifeguard at Woodland Lake.
These cassette tapes were tapes like a lot of youngsters had “back in the day.” We’d listened to the radio, and when a song came on that we liked, like, say, “True Love Ways,” “Donna,” Chantilly Lace” or “American Pie,” we’d quickly hit the record button and compile a playlist.
I remember the time I called in to the oldies radio station because I wanted them to play the song “Devil or Angel” so I could record it. At the time, I preferred The Clovers’ original version, but the DJ played the cover by Bobby Vee.
Today, I still prefer the old songs, from Buddy Holly, to The Beatles, to The Beach Boys, to The Statler Brothers, to the crooners like Frank, Dean and Bing, to the doo-wop groups and so on and so forth.
The majority of the time, I listen to the music on my smartphone, but just for old time’s sake, I might have to do a little digging and see if I can find the old cassette tapes.
“They were singin’ bye-bye, Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey ’n’ rye and singin’ ‘This’ll be the day that I die.’”
Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press.