Charles Hardin Holley was born in Lubbock, Texas on September 7th, 1936, to Laurence and Ella Holley. As a child, he learned to play the violin and the piano, but soon discovered a preference for the guitar. By age 13, Buddy and his friend Bob Montgomery were playing a kind of music they called Western Bop, as well as mainstream Country songs which they performed at local clubs. The two became very popular in Lubbock and eventually landed their own half-hour radio show on KDAV-AM. The boys opened for the likes of Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins and Bill Haley at local shows. Eddie Crandall, the booking agent who arranged for their appearance with Bill Haley, liked Buddy enough to send some of his demos to Decca Records. From this, in early 1956, came Buddy's first recording contract offer. He signed it, even though to his chagrin, the contract left out his friend Bob, and misspelled his name as "Holly" (no 'e').
Buddy recorded a number of songs for Decca during 1956, of which "Blue Days, Black Nights" and "Modern Don Juan", were released. Neither record sold well and Decca brass advised him to return to Lubbock and keep working on his music. Holly followed the advice and with the help of some friends, formed his own band, The Crickets. Buddy was the group's guitarist and vocalist and was accompanied by Jerry Allison on drums, Niki Sullivan on guitar and Joe Mauldin on bass.
The next set of demo records Buddy made were with producer Norman Petty of NorVaJak Studios in Clovis, New Mexico. The February, 1957 sessions included a song called "That'll Be The Day", which caught Decca's attention once again. The group was signed to Decca's subsidiary, Brunswick and "That'll Be The Day" was released in June of the same year. This time, they had chosen the right material and by August, the group had the number one song in the nation. As the Crickets did not sing, backing vocals for the record were provided by Gary and Ramona Tollet.
As Buddy Holly and The Crickets, the band continued their success with "Oh Boy!" (#10) and "Maybe Baby" (#17). Both recordings were made with the help of a seldom credited vocal group called The Picks, who were John Pickering, Bill Pickering and Bob Lapham. The Crickets toured extensively in the States, Australia and England and in December 1957, American television audiences got their first look at their new four-eyed idol when the Crickets sang "That'll Be The Day" and their new hit, "Peggy Sue" (#3) on The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed also interviewed Buddy on the air, giving Americans their first taste of his amazing West Texas accent.
Holly and the Crickets entered areas of music such as Rhythm and Blues, which until then, had been exclusive to Black artists. Once, they were even mistaken for a Black group and booked to perform at the Apollo Theater for a mostly Black audience. Although at first the band was booed, by their third day performing, they had become accepted. By the Spring of '58, The Crickets began to have a little trouble making another big hit, as "Rave On" could climb no higher than #37 on the Billboard chart.
One day in July, Buddy stopped by his publishers' office in New York to discuss some business. At the receptionists' desk was pretty Maria Elena Santiago and according to legend, it took Buddy less than thirty seconds to ask her for a date. Within days, Buddy (who had, ironically recorded "Take Your Time" not six months before) had asked her to marry him. After their wedding in August, the relationship between Buddy and the other Crickets began to disintegrate. Newly married Buddy became displeased with his friends' rowdiness, and producer Norman Petty made no secret of his displeasure at the marriage (even suggesting that Maria Elena masquerade as the Crickets' secretary to avoid alienating female fans).
Two more releases made the US top 40 that Summer, "Think It Over" (#27) and "Early In The Morning" (#32), but internal strife was tearing the band apart. Feeling that The Crickets could produce their own music, Holly broke relations with Petty. However, the rest of the group didn't agree, causing Holly to leave the group. Soon afterwards, Buddy and Maria Elena moved to New York to pursue a solo career.
In January 1959, Buddy embarked on the now-infamous Winter Dance Party tour, along with Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens and fellow Texan J. P. Richardson (known as the Big Bopper). The tour bus developed heating problems and Buddy's drummer, Carl Bunch, came down with frostbite in his foot. When they arrived at the 11th date on the tour, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2nd, they were cold, tired and disgusted. The musicians performed that night in front of 1,000 teenagers and Buddy Holly sat in on drums for several of the other acts.
After their performance, the manager of the Surf Ballroom, Carroll Anderson, made arrangements for Buddy and his remaining backup musicians - Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup - to fly on to the tour's next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota. Jennings gave his seat up to J.P. Richardson, who was running a fever and had trouble fitting his stocky frame comfortably into the bus seats. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn't going to fly, he said, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." This friendly banter of friends would haunt Jennings for years. Tommy Allsup told Ritchie Valens, "I'll flip you for the remaining seat". On the toss of a coin, Valens won the seat and Allsup the rest of his life.
The plane, a red Beechcraft-Bonanza, number N3794N, hired from Dwyer's Flying Service at Mason City Airport, took off a little after 1 AM from Clear Lake. A cold North-East wind immediately gave way to a blinding snow storm which drastically reduced visibility. Encased in a sea of snow with only white below, pilot Roger Peterson seemed to become disoriented and flew the plane into the ground about 8 miles North-West of the airfield. One wing hit the frozen earth and the small plane tumbled over and over, coming to rest against a barbed wire fence at the North end of a corn field, killing the three musicians and the plane's pilot. The plane's owner, Jim Dwyer would find the wreckage around 9:00 AM the next morning, during an aerial search. As Don McLean would write years later, it was "the day the music died".
Holly's pregnant wife María learned of his death from the reports on television. Holly's mother, upon hearing the news on the radio at home in Lubbock, Texas, screamed and collapsed. Buddy's funeral took place the following weekend at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, with over 1,000 people attending. Buddy's pallbearers were Joe Mauldin, Jerry Allison, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis and Phil Everly. He was buried in Lubbock City Cemetery with a marker that spelled his family name correctly, with an "e". María did not attend the funeral and has never visited the grave site.
Deciding that the show must go on in Moorhead, the tour's producers looked for local talent to fill in. Just across the state line, in Fargo ND, they booked a 15 year old talent named Bobby Velline, who would go on to have a string of hit records as Bobby Vee.
Tommy Allsup would one day open a club named "The Heads Up Saloon," a tribute to the coin toss that saved his life. Waylon Jennings would become a popular Country singer, and Dion di Mucci would enjoy a long solo career.
Maria was pregnant at the time of Buddy's tragic death and miscarried after hearing the news. Years later, she remarried and raised three children. Maria would later move to Texas and become a beautiful, vibrant grandmother who toured the world promoting Buddy's legacy.
After Buddy's death, Allison and Mauldin continued on with The Crickets, adding their old friend Sonny Curtis as lead guitarist and vocalist. They went on to record an album called "In Style With The Crickets", in the same Clovis, New Mexico studio where they had made all their hits, with additional sessions in New York and Los Angeles. The Sonny Curtis composition "I Fought The Law", a 1965 hit for The Bobby Fuller Four and "More Than I Can Say", a 1980 hit for Leo Sayer, were introduced on this album. With a new recording contract with Liberty Records, as well as a shift in focus from touring to the studio, Los Angeles became home base for the group for the next 15 years. Drummer Jerry Allison soon became one of the industry’s top session players recording with Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Rivers, Waylon Jennings, Nanci Griffith, Paul McCartney and many others. Joe Mauldin became a recording engineer at Gold Star Studios, the legendary Los Angeles studio that became the hit factory for Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and other major Rock artists, including Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, the Baja Marimba Band, Leon Russell and Maureen McGovern. Sonny Curtis enjoyed success as a solo artist and as one of Nashville’s most respected songwriters. Among his most recognizable songs are "Love Is All Around" (the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show which Sonny also sang on every opening segment), "I Fought The Law", "Walk Right Back", a #7 hit for the Everly Brothers and his own hits "The Real Buddy Holly Story", "Good Old Girls" and "Cowboy Singer".
In the mid 70s, The Crickets moved to the Nashville area and began a long association with Waylon Jennings. The group also continued to record, issuing albums throughout the '80s and '90s. In April of 1995, they released "Not Fade Away" with Levon Helm and The Band for a critically-acclaimed musical tribute to Buddy Holly entitled "Not Fade Away". Over the years, The Crickets have appeared in motion pictures and numerous documentaries, as well as top television shows including The Ed Sullivan Show, Sunday Night At The London Palladium, American Bandstand, The David Letterman Show, CNN, America’s Talking, Westwood One Radio syndicated specials and a two-hour Nashville Network special shown worldwide. As the new millennium approached, the Crickets were again in the studio with Grammy-award-winning producer Greg Ladanyi to record what may well be their most memorable album, "The Crickets and Their Buddies". The album featured 15 new tracks of the band's classic hits, joined by their "buddies" Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, John Prine, Rodney Crowell, Albert Lee, Nanci Griffith, J.D. Souther, Johnny Rivers, Phil Everly, Vince Neil, Bobby Vee, Tonio K. & Peter Case, and Waylon Jennings (one of his last recordings).
The Crickets' bassist, Joe Mauldin died of cancer on February 7th, 2015. One month later, The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that they were reviewing a petition asking them to consider reopening the investigation into the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. The petition, submitted by New England pilot L.J. Coon, asked the NTSB to consider factors other than pilot error when determining what caused the crash.
Tommy Allsup, the guitarist who famously avoided "the day the music died" after losing his plane seat in a coin toss to Ritchie Valens, died following complications from a hernia operation on January 11th, 2017 at the age of 85. In the nearly 58 years after that fateful day, Allsup went on to perform with Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Merle Haggard and Bob Wills.
Buddy Holly was among the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The rest of The Crickets were enshrined in 2012. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly as #13 among The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time. Despite a rather short music career, Buddy Holly's innovative music style, as well as his enthusiastic and energetic performances, made him one of the most popular singers in music history.
For an inside look at The Crickets career, be sure to read Gary James'
Interview With Jerry Allison