Buddy Holly was a rock pioneer. He wrote his own material;
used the recording studio for doubletracking and other advanced
techniques; popularized the two guitars, bass, and drums
lineup; and recorded a catalogue of songs that continue
to be covered: "Not Fade Away," "Rave On,"
"That'll Be the Day," and others. His playful,
mock-ingenuous singing, with slides between falsetto and
regular voice and a trademark "hiccup," has been
a major influence on Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and numerous
imitators. When he died in an airplane crash at 22, he had
been recording rock & roll for less than two years.
Holly learned to play the piano, fiddle, and guitar at an
early age. He was five when he won $5 for singing "Down
the River of Memories" at a local talent show. In the
early '50s he formed the country-oriented Western and Bop
Band with high school friends Bob Montgomery and Larry Welborn.
Between late 1953 and 1955 they performed on local radio
station KDAV and recorded demos and garage tapes, several
of which were posthumously released as Holly in the Hills.
By 1956 (after Holly had dropped the e from his last name),
the group's reputation on the Southwestern country circuit
led to a contract to cut country singles in Nashville for
Decca. The label didn't think much of Montgomery, who graciously
bowed out, insisting that Holly accept the deal. With Sonny
Curtis and Bob Guess, Holly cut "Blue Days, Black Nights"
b/w "Love Me," billed as Holly and the Two Tunes.
Like subsequent pure country releases ("Modern Don
Juan," "Midnight Shift," and "Girl On
My Mind"), it went unnoticed. One of his last recordings
for the label (which Decca refused to release) was "That'll
Be the Day," a song that in a later rock version became
one of Holly's first hits. During this period, Holly began
writing prolifically. Typical of his romantic fare was a
song that began as "Cindy Lou" but was changed
to "Peggy Sue" at new Cricket Jerry Allison's
suggestion. ("Peggy Sue" was the future Mrs. Allison;
they've since divorced.) It eventually became one of Holly's
Following the failed sessions with Decca, Holly and his
friends returned to Lubbock. In 1956 and 1957 Holly and
drummer Allison played as a duo at the Lubbock Youth Center
and shared bills with well-known stars as they passed through
the area. Once they opened for a young Elvis Presley (Holly
later said, "We owe it all to Elvis"), who influenced
Holly's move into rock & roll.
On February 25, 1957, Holly and the newly named Crickets
drove 90 miles west to producer Norman Petty's studio in
Clovis, New Mexico, to cut a demo. Their rocking version
of "That'll Be the Day" attracted a contract from
the New York–based Coral/Brunswick label, and it rose
to Number One by September. As with many of Holly's early
hits, producer Petty picked up a cowriter's credit. The
song's success prompted the Crickets' first national tour
in late 1957. Several promoters (including those at the
Apollo Theatre in New York, where Holly and his group became
one of the first white acts to appear) were surprised that
the group was white.
Under a contractual arrangement worked out by Petty (who
quickly became Holly's manager), some discs were credited
to the Crickets, while others bore only Holly's name. His
first hit under the latter arrangement was "Peggy Sue"
(Number Three, 1957), which also became one of several big
hits in England, where he toured to much acclaim in 1958.
"Oh, Boy!," released at year's end by the Crickets,
hit Number 10. By 1958, Holly had reached the Top 40 with
"Maybe Baby" (Number 17), "Think It Over"
(Number 27), "Early in the Morning" (Number 32),
and "Rave On" (Number 37).
In October 1958 Holly left Petty and the Crickets (who continued
on their own), moved to Greenwich Village, and married Puerto
Rico-born Maria Elena Santiago after having proposed to
her on their first date. His split from Petty (who died
in 1984) led to legal problems, which tied up his finances
and prompted Holly to reluctantly join the Winter Dance
Party Tour of the Midwest in early 1959. He also did some
recording in New York; many of the tapes were later overdubbed
and released posthumously. During that last tour, Holly
was supported by ex-Cricket guitarist Tommy Allsup and future
country superstar Waylon Jennings (whose first record, "Jolé
Blon," Holly produced).
Tired of riding the bus, and in order to get his laundry
done, Holly, along with a couple of the tour's other featured
performers, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, chartered
a private plane after their Clear Lake, Iowa, show to take
them to Moorhead, Minnesota. Piloted by Roger Peterson,
the small Beechcraft Bonanza took off from the Mason City,
Iowa, airport at about 2:00 a.m. on February 3, 1959, and
crashed a few minutes later, killing all on board.