This article gives my personal reminiscences about Buddy Holly and the influence he had on me. It also includes memories of my life and circumstances at the time I first discovered his music, such as reflections about life in the late 1950's.
It must have been in the summer of 1958 when I was on a family holiday in the seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset. I would have just turned 14 and certainly didn't want to spend much time with my parents and 10 year old brother. So I spent most of my time in the various amusement arcades, including one on the pier (since demolished). They all had jukeboxes, which was one of their main attractions to me, just hanging around listening to the new rock and roll music.
Suddenly I was absolutely bowled over by a record I'd never heard before, and rushed over to the jukebox to find out what it was. It turned out to be "Think it Over" by The Crickets, a group I'd never really heard of before (although I guess I had probably heard "That'll be the Day" previously). Anyway, it was "Think it Over" which did it for me, and I spent most of my pocket money for the rest of the holiday playing it over and over again on the jukebox.
When I got home after the holiday, I went out and bought this record, my first ever, and I didn't even have a record player to play it on! To put things into perspective, I was still at school and earning 15/- per week (15 shillings = 75P) delivering groceries by bike in the evenings and Saturday mornings, and the record cost about 6/3d (six shillings and three pence = 31P) so it cost nearly half my weekly income, but I just had to have it.
As I was only able to hear it on friends' record players, my next step was to get one of my own. All I could afford was a second-hand Philips turntable and pickup, without an amplifier. To make it work, it had to be plugged into the back of a radio. Most radios in those days were in large wooden cabinets and full of valves (USA = tubes) but they nearly always had a PU socket to plug in a record player pickup. At last I could play it over and over at home (and "over and over" is appropriately part of the vocal accompaniment of "Think it Over").
Obviously I then tried to find out more about The Crickets, but all I could find were the sleeve notes on their "Chirping Crickets" LP, which contained glaring errors (although I didn't know this then) such as that they came from Bullock, Texas (should be Lubbock).
But it provided me with the name of BUDDY HOLLY and I also found his LP of the same name.
This confused me even more. I was amazed when the "Chirping Crickets" cover showed two of the members wearing spectacles, this was unheard of for a rock group! But why was Buddy not wearing them on his own LP cover? In fact, he looked as though he should be. The truth is, I was very reluctantly having to wear specs myself permanently at this time, and seeing Buddy wearing them was actually a great psychological help, the ones on the "Chirping Crickets" cover were even the same as mine. So perhaps I could become a rock star after all! I even borrowed a guitar but soon discovered it was not as easy as it looked, despite my Bert Weedon's "Play in a Day" tutor book.
I couldn't afford either of the LP's which cost about 30 shillings each (£1-50), two weeks income. But I did buy more Buddy and the Crickets singles, although I can no longer remember which ones, as well as other records.
From September 1958 I was in my final 5th year in high school (now known as year 11) and playing records in various friend's houses was a big part of my life, and this was when I first heard "The Chirping Crickets" LP. Eventually the owner agreed to sell this to me for 10/- (50P) and said he would bring it into school for me the next day. It was to be my very first LP, and it was 3rd February 1959. I was really looking forward to getting it and was very disappointed the next day when I found he had forgotten it, but he promised to bring it the following day.
The next day I actually stood outside the school gates waiting for him to arrive on his bike, but it looked as if he had forgotten it again. In fact, he had it under his coat across his chest, which unfortunately badly creased the cover which still shows to this day. But his first words to me were "Do you still want to buy it now that Buddy is dead"?
I didn't know what he was talking about as my family didn't take a morning paper, so he explained that Buddy had been killed in a plane crash and it was on the front page of every newspaper. I was completely devastated, and could hardly wait until lunchtime when I rushed to the shop to buy the Daily Mirror with the news filling the front page. It really was true, not a cruel schoolboy joke by my friend.
One of the worst aspects was that there would be no more of his great records coming out, so I then set myself the quest of buying as many as I could of all his records before they were deleted. This was quite difficult as there was no list of them, it involved a lot of detective work asking around in all the record shops for months to come. I even had to buy "Blue Days, Black Nights" on a 78 as I couldn't get a 45 version. Not long afterwards, I remember seeing an advert in the "DISC" music paper (which I bought every week) which was something like this:
From this, I thought that the new record was "Got Married" but I decided to buy it even though I would be duplicating "Peggy Sue". I was over the moon when I discovered that it was actually "Peggy Sue Got Married" which turned out to be one of my most enduring favourites, and with a great B side "Crying, Waiting, Hoping".
I also distinctly remember buying Heartbeat (the A side) and being completely "knocked out" by "Well . . . All Right", another long-term favourite, also buying "True Love Ways"/"Moondreams" with my best friend, who came back to listen to it. Although he was not a true fan, he was bowled over by TLW and wanted it played over and over again, and he begged me to lend it to him (but I'm afraid I would not let a Buddy Holly record out of my hands). Among the records I bought at that time were these 3 EP's.
Going back once again to 1958, as records were still an expensive item in my budget, I bought a tape recorder instead, a very rare item in those days. It was a Walter 101, the cheapest machine available at 29 guineas (£30-45) with 5-inch reels and valves (long before the invention of the cassette recorder). I bought it on hire purchase (in my parent's names) so half my income was gone for the next year or so! But it was worth it to be able to record songs from the radio, although the quality was very poor (AM) and there was only one "chart" programme on BBC, "Pick of the Pops" with David Jacobs from 11pm to midnight on Saturday nights.
But my other best friend lived above a real hi-fi shop (which his father managed) so we were able to use their equipment to record (including the new FM radio transmissions). The only other source of rock music was Radio Luxembourg with terrible reception, but at least I heard the latest records from there (a bit like Buddy having to listen to a radio station a thousand miles from his home in order for him to hear the latest sounds).
In 1958 I was watching Jack Payne's TV show "Off the Record" when, without any warning, Buddy and the Crickets suddenly appeared. I remember that I was extremely impressed, and have always regretted that I didn't get chance to tape record them (which I would have done if I'd known they would be appearing). This would have truly been an important collector's item, and in fact it is only recently that an audio recording has been discovered which proved that he sang "Maybe Baby" live and didn't mime it. I also regret not seeing Buddy when he visited my home city, but I was probably too young at 14 to be allowed to go, and in any case I can't actually recall knowing anything about his visit at the time.
Now back to 1959 and the early 60's, and as far as I remember, having obtained all the Buddy and Crickets records I could find, there was then a lull, mainly because there was still hardly any information about him and his music.
I started work in summer 1959 and built myself an FM radio from scratch. There is no doubt that Buddy's music started my interest in hi-fi, particularly when I discovered in the hi-fi shop that his records had bass notes on them! Making the FM tuner included making the chassis out of copper and drilling all the holes for the valves and coils etc. The most difficult part was winding the IF coils as I couldn't afford to buy them (I earned less than £4 per week).
Although the following few paragraphs are not related to Buddy Holly, I think it paints a picture of life in the late 50's and early 60's. For the princely wage of under £4 a week, I had to work the then "standard" working week of 44 hours, not including my half-hour lunch breaks, so I was actually at work for 46½ hours. In addition to this, I had nearly 3 hours travelling a day. I used to leave home about 0630 with a 10 minute walk to catch a trolley-bus for the first two miles of the journey.
Then there was a six-mile journey by double-decker bus, followed by a one-mile walk (in all weathers) up a very steep hill in the middle of the country and through a farmyard, to arrive by 8-12am. At the time I worked in a "hush-hush" radio research laboratory run by Post Office Telephones (now BT) which needed to be located high up on a hillside in an isolated place. When I finished work at 5-30pm there was then the return journey, getting home over 12 hours after leaving in the morning.
But at least I had finished school and studying for good, or so I thought! But my boss had different ideas, and told me I had to continue studying and obtaining more qualifications at technical college and night school. So I ended up spending one day a week and three evenings a week (from 6pm to 9pm) at college, as well as working. To make matters worse, one of the evenings coincided with the day, so I was at college from 9am to 9pm, which I found particularly gruelling. But at least I had a day off work and was allowed to leave a bit early twice a week to get to college in time, and the college was only a two-mile cycle ride away.
By about 1960, as well as the FM tuner I had also built myself a loudspeaker cabinet and an amplifier for my turntable, so I was just in the early stages of my life-long quest for hi-fi. By the way, all radio was in mono in those days, and most records were also mono, including all my Buddy Holly collection. Some were just beginning to come out in a choice of mono or stereo because hardly anyone had stereo equipment and a mono player would immediately ruin a stereo record. I remember taking part in the early BBC experiments of stereo radio which actually used the TV for one of the channels. TV was only black and white then, and as far as I remember there was only one channel (BBC) and this didn't broadcast for most of the day, so they did these experiments during the day at weekends.
I still had my Philips turntable, but because the actual turntable was so small, my LP's could only be played with the lid open (I'd also bought my second LP by then, "Buddy Holly"). This meant that as well as the sound coming from the speaker, there was also an annoying tinny sound from the record surface, which sounded much worse when playing records late at night in my bedroom with the volume turned down low so my parents wouldn't know (teenagers, huh).
It was probably in the 70's when I was in Oxford for a day (for a job interview) and looking around their record shops I found a 10 LP boxed set called "The Complete Buddy Holly Story". This not only had a booklet giving me more information about Buddy, but also far more of his music than I previously knew existed. At last I had everything, or so I thought (it was many years later that I discovered that I didn't, thanks to Pete Moorcroft).
Buddy's picture is actually made up of thousands
of minature photos.
It was about 1975 that I discovered the first biography of Buddy,
John Goldrosen's "Buddy Holly - His Life and Music".
Both the book and the boxed set rekindled my interest in Buddy, as have the various other books, which have appeared since. I have not seen or heard anything bad said about Buddy as a person, both in books and in the later TV documentaries, plays, and of course "Buddy" (the stage musical which STARTED in my current home city of Plymouth, so I was one of the first to see it at its pre-opening preview).
I just can't place the date (possibly the 70's), but when on holiday in Bournemouth I saw a stage play called "Buddy Holly at the Regal". This was way ahead of its time. It was set in 1958 during Buddy's UK tour, and featured a group of teenagers looking forward to his forthcoming visit to their local Regal theatre, and reflecting on the times etc. Best of all, it actually featured Crickets "look-a-likes" who played their music throughout the play, and as far as I remember they were very good. Since then, similar plays have been produced such as about Billy Fury and the latest, current play about Dusty Springfield (all of these were not biographical plays like "Buddy"). If anyone can provide any other information about this play, or remembers seeing it, I would be very grateful to hear from you.
Of course, in about 1982 CD's appeared in the UK, so I then set about trying to obtain all Buddy's material on CD, starting with "From the Original Master Tapes". It was great to hear his music without the scratches, clicks and pops! I am still waiting for an official CD release of the undubbed "Apartment Tapes" which Buddy made in the last months of his life. Like many fans, I simply cannot understand why these haven't been released, especially as bootleg versions are available. The final songs he taped, with just his own guitar accompaniment, are absolutely superb, far better than the dubbed released versions, and really showing the potential which was never to be realised.
So, one way or another, Buddy and his music have influenced me for over 40 years. Many of his records are associated with events in my past, including listening to them with various girlfriends whose names I can no longer remember! I have a very varied taste in music and a collection of about 300 CD's of all types, but it is Buddy's music that I keep coming back to. I have even recently re-started learning the guitar (a Strat, naturally) and am struggling with some of his solos, mainly with the help of a mini-disk player which can slow them down and play them over and over again (there's that phrase again which applies to so many of his records). I even managed to get my 2nd record player (which had an autochanger) to play the same record over and over again. And even now, I am learning more about Buddy and his music, these days through the internet and particularly this website and Pete Moorcroft's encyclopaedic knowledge. There are still many of his records played on national BBC Radio 2, and even a new TV documentary "The Final Day" was broadcast recently.