Buddy Holly The Levee Isn’t Dry and the Music Didn’t Die

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Submitted by Don Graham

It’s over half a century since that fateful winter night in Iowa when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens fell from the cold sky and into rock ‘n’ roll pop culture mythology.  It’s hard to believe that 54 years have passed since Buddy contacted Dwyer Flying Services and rented the plane for $36 a person. This event is still shrouded in lies, rumours and Hollywood drama.
We will likely never know all the facts. Was Maria Elena really pregnant? People on the tour say Buddy never mentioned it and there are no doctors reports to verify it. Did Buddy need cash because Norman Petty was withholding money? Not likely, He had received over $20,000 in royalties not long before his death. And that’s $ 20,000 in 1959 dollars, when a bottle of coke was a nickel and the admission to the Surf Ballroom that night was $1.25.

The Big Bopper was found some 40 feet from the plane causing speculation that perhaps he had survived the crash and went looking for help? In March 2007 his body was being moved and his son requested an autopsy to see the cause of death. It was determined that every bone in his body was broken and he died instantly. His weight likely propelled him from the plane. 

Lots of urban legends and myths exist. The Surf Ballroom has a plaque by the payphone that Buddy and Ritchie apparently made phones calls from the fateful night Buddy and BobBuddy and Bob Myth or fact? As Buddy’s last release said ‘It Really Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ but makes an interesting story.

Then there is the so called ‘Curse of Buddy Holly’ involving many including, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Cochran had recorded ‘Three Stars’ in honour of  Holly,Valens and Richardson. Cochran was slated to have been on the Winter Party Dance Tour. When he heard of the crash, Cochran felt as though he had cheated death. But not for long. A little more than a year later, on April 17, 1960, Cochran, his girlfriend, hit songwriter Sharon Sheeley  who had written Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool," Ritchie Valens's "Hurry Up", and  Gene Vincent’s "Be-Bop-A-Lula" were heading to London's Heathrow Airport for a return flight to the U.S. The Ford Consul they were riding in blew a tire. Vincent injured the knee that had previously been hurt in a motorcycle accident. Sheeley suffered a broken neck and back. Cochran was thrown from the vehicle and rushed to St. Martin's Hospital, where he was visited by the original Crickets bandmembers Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis and Joe B. Maudlin, who were touring in England at the time. He died the next day of massive head injuries. He was 22. The last single released by Cochran was ‘Three Steps to Heaven’. The Crickets were the backing band. Curse? Not likely but interesting coincidence.

The 1978 movie, The Buddy Holly Story,the insanely inaccurate bio pic, had some strangeness attached to it as well.  Besides the names of the Crickets, Jesse instead of J.I.? Ray Bob instead of Joe Bob?? At the roller rink, Buddy is playing a Fender Bronco that wasn’t manufactured until the 70’s. And the Ludwig logo on the drums wasn’t used until the 60’s. Buddy never toured with Sam Cooke. The full orchestra that plays ‘True Love Ways’ in Clear Lake? Nope! Buddy, Carl Bunch, Tommy Allsup and Waylon. That was the band.

Not long after the movie came out, Gary Busey was involved in a serious motorcycle crash the almost killed him. The writer of the film Robert Gittler would kill himself shortly before the movie’s release.

But more importantly, what would have been different had this accident not occurred? I’m not sure that J.P. Richardson would have done much more to change the landscape of pop music. His novelty songs are classic to be sure, Chantilly Lace, and of course his songwriting. J.P. Richardson wrote ‘Running Bear’ for Johnny Preston and ‘White Lightning’ for George Jones but nothing earth shattering. Ritchie Valens? Same deal from where I sit. Although he was only 17 years old I’m not sure the course of modern music would have changed much with his input.

But Buddy Holly?  From my  point of view, I think that’s a little different. Although he was only 22 years old, Holly was a groundbreaker and always looking for something new, in songs and production and presentation. There was talk that Buddy was thinking of adding steel guitar to some of his work. Growing up in Lubbock that would make sense. Maybe country rock would have happened in 1959 instead of years later?

Growing up one of Buddy Holly’s first bands, as witnessed on the business card, was “Buddy and Bob” Surf PhoneSurf PhoneThe Bob was Bob Montgomery who  wrote Wishing and Heartbeat for Buddy and who would go on to write Back in Baby’s Arms for Patsy Cline and Misty Blue for Dorothy Moore. Bob Montgomery would  produce Bobby Goldsboro, Reba McIntyre, Suzy Boggus and others. Bob’s son, singer/songwriter/ adventurer Kevin Montgomery was reached in England where he is gearing up for yet another UK tour. He had this say about Buddy Holly  "there is no doubt that Buddy would have gone on to do even greater things as a performer, songwriter, and producer. His music shaped a generation of music. We lost him early, but his influence will be felt for generations to come. R.I.P."

Big Bopper, Valens and HollyBig Bopper, Valens and HollySo did the music die that February night?  Of course not! Wasn’t Paul McCartney famously quoted as saying “If there never had been Buddy Holly there never would have been the Beatles.”
Sonny Curtis who worked with Buddy as a guitarist and songwriter (he wrote my favourite Holly track, Rock Around  with Ollie  Vee) said it best when he wrote: “The levee isn’t dry and the music didn’t die, cause Buddy Holly lives every time we play rock ‘n’ roll.”

So I won’t say rest in peace to Charles Hardin Holley, instead I would rather say ‘Keep on rockin’ Buddy!  Keep on rockin’ !

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Editor’s Note:
The Day the Music Died, dubbed so by Don McLean's song "American Pie", was an aviation accident that occurred on February 3, 1959, near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing rock ‘n’ roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and the pilot Roger Peterson. The anthem song “American Pie” was inspired by McLean’s memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly.