10 Fascinating Facts About Buddy Holly

On February 3, 1959, musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (along with pilot Roger Peterson) were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The date became known as "The Day the Music Died." Holly was only 22 years old at the time, but he has had a lasting impact on music history. Here are a few things you might not know about Holly and his music on the 60th anniversary of his death.

1. He opened for Elvis Presley.

By the time he hit high school, Buddy Holly was playing guitar; by 1953, when he was only 17, he was playing regularly on radio in the country-and-western duo Buddy and Bob (Bob was Bob Montgomery, a friend from elementary school). On February 13, 1955, at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Buddy and Bob opened for Elvis—with Holly borrowing Presley’s Martin guitar for the occasion. The pair would open for Presley twice more that year.

2. "Peggy Sue" was originally "Cindy Lou."

The single, released on September 20, 1957, first carried the moniker of Holly’s niece, Cindy Lou Kaiter. But Jerry Allison, The Crickets’s drummer who co-wrote the song (with Holly and Norman Petty), prevailed upon the others to name it after his girlfriend, Peggy Sue Gerron. Happy ending: Allison and Peggy Sue got married. Unhappy: they divorced in 1965.

“Peggy Sue” hit number three on the Billboard singles chart, and in 2011 Rolling Stone ranked it 197th on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

3. "Rock & roll as we know it wouldn't exist without Buddy Holly."

The source of the above quote is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which should know. But their opinion is widely shared. Bruce Eder, writing at AllMusic.com, called Holly “the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll.” In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked him 13th on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”—extraordinary, especially when you consider that he died at age 22, after a recording career that lasted less than two years.

4. He had just one number one hit.

It’s hard to imagine, because so many Buddy Holly singles are classics, but only one topped the U.S. charts: “That’ll Be The Day,” in 1957. It also hit the top spot in England, and not long after, The Quarrymen covered it, in their first recording. You can hear it on The Beatles Anthology.

5. If not for Holly's band, The Crickets, there would be no Beatles.

John, Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe (who played bass for the band during the Hamburg days) were all huge Buddy Holly fans. When trying to come up with a new name for their band (The Quarrymen, their original name after the school they went to, was growing long in the tooth), they thought of the Crickets. Then insects. Then beetles. Then eventually, after several variations, as a pun … Beatles.

"It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music,” John Lennon explained in 1964. 

6. He turned down Ed Sullivan.

Well, the third time, at least. In 1957 and 1958, Holly and the Crickets were workaholics on the fast track, touring constantly and recording whenever they had a chance. They played on Ed Sullivan’s popular variety show twice, but, before the latter appearance, had a disagreement with Sullivan, who said they shouldn't play “Oh Boy!” (he thought it was too rowdy). They played it anyway, with great success. When they were invited back to play the TV marquee again, “Buddy told Sullivan’s people to forget it. The Lubbock boys didn’t need him anymore,” Robert Draper wrote in Texas Monthly.

Holly and Sullivan had clashed during the show’s rehearsal. Holly’s band went AWOL, temporarily. “I guess the Crickets are not too excited to be on The Ed Sullivan Show,” the host said. “I hope they’re damn more excited than I am,” Holly replied.

7. His glasses made him a fashion trendsetter.

A sculpture of Buddy Holly's glasses in Lubbock, Texas
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

When Holly started out, he wore nondescript plastic and wire-framed glasses, but his eye doctor—inspired by Phil Silvers’s character, “Sergeant Bilko”—convinced him to switch to horn-rimmed models. These would soon become popularized as “Buddy Holly Glasses.” “It was Buddy’s perception that the glasses helped make him,” his optometrist, Dr. J. Davis Armistead, said. “He was really pleased.” 

He needed the glasses, because he had 20/800 vision.

If you’re ever in Lubbock and want to find the Buddy Holly Center, just look for a giant pair of horn-rimmed glasses: A 5-foot tall, 13-foot wide, 750-pound sculpture of the glasses, created by Lubbock artist Steve Teeters, was installed there in 2002.

8. He was the prototypical singer-songwriter.

Before Holly came along, pop music performance and songwriting were, for the most part, separate businesses; composers crafted tunes in places like New York’s Brill Building, and performers picked from among those songs to record and sing in concert. But Holly and the Crickets wrote most of their own material, which didn’t go unnoticed by the next generation of rock and rollers. “The fact that the group relied on originals for their singles made them unique and put them years ahead of their time,” Bruce Eder wrote at Billboard.com, noting that the group’s first three big hits—"That’ll Be The Day," "Oh Boy!," and "Peggy Sue"—were originals, a stark contrast to Elvis Presley, who didn't write his own tunes.

9. He "discovered" Waylon Jennings.

Holly and Jennings had met in Lubbock, Texas, their hometown, and Holly took Jennings under his wing. Among other things, Holly set up Jennings’s first recording session—and played  guitar on two songs laid down that day, "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)."

After the Crickets broke up in late 1958, Holly recruited guitarist Tommy Allsup, drummer Carl Bunch, and Jennings to form his new band. (Jennings played electric bass.)  The four would be the headline act on the “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest, which began on January 23, 1959. The acts traveled the 24-city route by bus, but the brutally cold weather and long distances between nightly gigs proved to be such a problem that Holly chartered a plane from a tour date in Clear Lake, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota, which was close to the next scheduled venue.

It was a small plane, and Jennings originally had one of the seats, but gave his spot to J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper).

The plane crashed in a windy snowstorm shortly after takeoff, killing Holly, Richardson, and Ritchie Valens, along with the pilot. The “Winter Dance Party” tour continued, without its headliners—with Jennings singing Holly’s vocals.

Jennings felt guilty about the accident for the rest of his life. As he told the story in Waylon: An Autobiography, before the plane took off, he and Holly had bantered: "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up,” Holly said, to which Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes.

10. The "widowed bride" referenced in Don McLean's "American Pie" was Holly's wife.

View of American rock and roll musician Buddy Holly's gravestone in Lubbock, Texas, 1975
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Don McLean’s 1971 classic is all about that fateful plane crash. In the third verse, he sings, “I can't remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride.” 

The bride was María Elena Holly (née Santiago), who Buddy wed just two weeks after meeting her at a music publisher in New York, where she worked. She was pregnant when he died, but suffered a miscarriage a few days later. Santiago-Holly still controls much of the continuing business related to Holly’s music, but doesn’t own the songs—they’re held by Paul McCartney.

In 2009, Santiago-Holly told MassLive.com that she liked “American Pie” but disagreed with its central premise. "Buddy may not be here, but the music has not died," she said. "It is still alive and well."

This article originally ran in 2016.

How Science—and a Broken Heart—Helped Identify Titanic Bandleader Wallace Hartley's Lost Violin

Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

In the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, as the R.M.S. Titanic was continuing its descent into the chilly, unforgiving waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, bandleader Wallace Hartley urged his seven musicians to continue playing.

The apocryphal version has Hartley tucking his violin under his chin and leading them in a rendition of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" as the ship sank. While it makes for a poignant finale, it's more likely that Hartley played "Songe d'Automne," a slow waltz that scored the untimely demise of more than 1500 passengers, including Hartley and all his bandmates.

When bodies began to be recovered in the days to come, authorities took inventory of any personal effects that were found. In this official registry of Hartley, a.k.a. Body 224, no mention was made of his violin, his bow, or its case. He had been in the water for 10 days. The German-crafted wooden instrument was largely believed to have been lost to the sea.

Nearly 100 years later, a UK-based auctioneer named Andrew Aldridge received a phone call from a man with a strange story to tell. Up in his late mother's attic, he told Aldridge, was a small collection of items he believed would be of interest to Titanic historians and collectors.

When Aldridge visited his caller in 2006, he was shown several items that purportedly belonged to Hartley, including sheet music and a leather valise with the musician's initials. But Aldridge's attention was drawn to a violin: It was cracked and weathered, with only two strings remaining. A silver plate on the tailpiece read:

For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria.

Aldridge felt a surge of excitement. He had facilitated the sale of several Titanic relics, but nothing had ever compared to the holy grail of the Hartley violin. If this truly belonged to the musician, it would be one of the most important discoveries from the ship in history. And if it was the violin he played as the ship went down, it would be the most valuable.

But how had the violin survived immersion? And if Hartley secured it to his body before going into the water, why wasn't it listed among his personal effects?

It would be seven years before Aldridge had his answers.

 

A close-up of the engraved silver plate on the Hartley violin
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

For decades, collectors and researchers had debated the existence of the Hartley violin. Some believed Hartley would be too panicked to bother securing his violin in its case and strapping it to himself before he was forced to go into the water; others pointed to contemporaneous news accounts which mentioned Hartley's violin had indeed been recovered during the salvage operation.

"At that point [in 2006], I think the collecting community generally believed it did not exist," Craig Sopin, an attorney and Titanic memorabilia expert who consulted with the Aldridge & Son auction house, tells Mental Floss. "But a lot of us hoped it did."

Four newspapers at the time reported Hartley had been found with the instrument strapped to him, but those were challenged by more conservative historians who cited the official inventory and its list of items that were returned to family members. These logs noted that Hartley had a fountain pen, money, and a cigarette case, but made no mention of the violin. "There was just no hard evidence," Sopin says.

Hartley himself had been something of an enigma. Born in 1878 as the son of a choirmaster, the bandleader had been a bank teller before pursuing his passion for music. Hartley had been on well over 80 sea voyages before he was hired to lead the musicians on the Titanic. It's likely he perceived the highly coveted job as a chance to make some good money. In a letter written to his parents the day of the April 10 launch, Hartley implied that wealthy passengers might offer tips.

"It was a feather in his cap," Sopin says. "He was fortunate at first, although not fortunate at all in the end."

An avowed ladies' man who fancied himself a bit of an early-century hipster—he referred to himself as "Hotley" in correspondence—Hartley had seemingly abandoned his bachelorhood for Maria Robinson, the daughter of a cloth manufacturer. The two were scheduled to be married just months after Hartley's expected return, with Hartley looking to support his wife-to-be with more bookings at sea.

While Hartley's fate became part of a great 20th century tragedy, Robinson's personal anguish was never heavily publicized. She wrote letters to authorities in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which had jurisdiction over the wreck, requesting all of Hartley's personal belongings be returned to her. In a diary entry dated July 1912 and uncovered during the investigation into the instrument's history, Robinson drafted a note thanking them for returning the violin. So why didn't the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, tasked with recovering bodies, make any mention of it?

"That turned out to be the easiest hurdle to knock down," Sopin says. "What we learned is that there were many personal items not logged but returned to family, and their inventory was just not very detailed." Almost every body had been recovered wearing a life jacket, Sopin says, and almost all went unreported.

Like the life jackets, Hartley's valise that he kept his violin in would have been strapped to his body, opening up the possibility that the recovery team ignored items worn by the corpses. "It wasn't something he could put in his pocket," Sopin says, "so it may not have been considered a personal effect."

The paper trail assembled by Sopin and other researchers provided further credence to the theory that Hartley had taken the violin with him. When Maria Robinson died in 1939, her sister Margaret was charged with handling her personal possessions. The violin was given to Major Renwick, a bandleader with the Bridlington Salvation Army who also taught music. He gave it to a student of his, a woman stationed in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. She later wrote of the gift that it had suffered damage and was not playable due to having "an eventful life."

It remained in her possession for close to 75 years. The call Aldridge received was from the music student's son, who had been responsible for sorting his mother's belongings following her death. (The seller, wishing anonymity, has not disclosed the family name.)

The story was reasonable, but none of it offered conclusive proof that the violin in the attic was the same violin played on the outer deck of the ship during the commotion. For that, Aldridge would turn to experts in the fields of corrosion, silver, and musical instruments to determine if the violin had been in the water the night of April 15, 1912.

 

The valise and straps used as a carrier for the Hartley violin
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

"The best way to describe the research was like a jigsaw puzzle with numerous component pieces," Aldridge tells Mental Floss. "Each one had to fit together, whether it be scientific, historical, or research."

To date the violin to the night of the wreck, Aldridge first approached the now-defunct UK Forensic Science Services and their trace analysis expert, Michael Jones. (Citing confidentiality clauses with his former employer, a representative for Jones declined to comment for this story.) Performing a salinization test would determine whether the instrument had ever been submerged in saltwater. "If that had been negative, the investigation would have ended there," Sopin says.

It was positive. Jones could then examine the metal portions of the violin, including the engraved tailpiece and the lock on the valise, and compare the corrosion to other metal items recovered both from Hartley and from other victims that were in the hands of private collectors. "It was not a quick process," Aldridge says. "These are not the sorts of items that are easily obtained."

Eventually, Jones was able to determine the deposits were consistent with those found in items definitively known to be recovered from the site. He also tried examining algae on the violin to see if it was consistent with the part of the North Atlantic where the ship struck the iceberg, Sopin says, but results were inconclusive.

Because Aldridge's intent was to prove its provenance beyond all doubt, the authentication continued. The straps of the valise were measured and found to be 90 inches long, leaving plenty of give to tie the case around Hartley’s body. Aldridge also consulted with gemologist Richard Slater, who examined the engraved plate and found no evidence it had ever been removed or recently applied to the instrument.

Aldridge took it in for a CT scan at Ridgeway Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, which revealed stress fractures in the wood—the kind that may have rendered it unplayable according to Renwick's student—and a type of glue that would not have dissolved in seawater. (The heavy leather valise provided additional protection from the water.) Aldridge also consulted instrument expert Andrew Hooker, who held no opinion about the violin's connection to the Titanic but confirmed it was made in the late 19th century and was re-varnished and rebuilt, likely owing to the damage incurred after 10 days of immersion.

"The violin was nothing special," Hooker tells Mental Floss. "Just a cheap, factory-made German instrument."

Of course, the instrument's value was tied completely to where it was played, and by whom. By 2013, both Aldridge and Sopin—a notoriously skeptical collector who made for a strong litmus test—were convinced. After seven years and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, Aldridge believed he had his answer.

"I remained neutral until I didn't," Sopin says. "I believe the violin was on the Titanic."

 

The Hartley violin, more than 100 years after being recovered at sea
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

 

The owner's desire had always been to take the violin and the other Hartley items to auction. Armed with reams of supporting evidence from forensic experts, that's exactly what Aldridge and Son did on October 19, 2013. TV satellites and media were parked outside the Devizes, Wiltshire, England facility, the site of the auction.

Behind the podium, Aldridge began the bidding at 50 pounds, or roughly $65. Bidders on the floor and via telephone quickly got down to business, taking bids from 80,000 pounds to 500,000 to 750,000. By the time Aldridge brought down the gavel a final time, the violin had sold for 1.1 million pounds, or $1.7 million. (The valise was sold separately for 20,000 pounds, or $26,000.)

As is often the case with big-ticket auction items, the buyer has no desire to be named—although it's probably not Sopin. "I would have considered paying something," he says, "but not $1.7 million."

Sopin believes the buyer is male and resides in the UK. It's also known that he allowed the violin to go on display at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, as well as its sister location in Branson, Missouri, in 2016.

As of now, no other Titanic artifact has come close to realizing a similar sale price, a testament to the emotional impact of what would otherwise be an unremarkable instrument. In playing for terrified passengers, Hartley and his band used their talent under extreme duress to maintain a sense of order and civility, likely saving lives in the process. His funeral was reportedly attended by 30,000 to 40,000 people.

While Aldridge performed his due diligence above and beyond reasonable doubt, some historians still question why a distressed Hartley would have bothered with the violin at all. "Hartley's mother commented on this," Sopin says. "She thought if he felt there was any hope at all of getting off the ship, he would have taken the violin."

Additional Sources: Auction Background [PDF].

Why Did We Evolve To Like Music?

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Suzanne Sadedin:

Existing theories seem incomplete, so here's another one. I think music is a side effect of the evolution of self-awareness and love.

Music does have a lot of features we associate with sexual competition. It's (historically speaking) an honest display of abilities, it exploits supernormal stimuli, and it's sexy. But if those things were sufficient for its evolution, it would be widespread in other species. Instead, music seems to be nearly unique to humans.

In most species, displays are simply flamboyant exhibitions of individual prowess. Every peacock aims to have the biggest, flashiest tail; there is none of the complexity or diversity we associate with music. Guppies appreciate novel colors in their mates, but they do not evolve increasing complexity.

Closer to human music are the songs of certain birds. While nobody would deny that most bird song is some sort of sexual competitive signal, song complexity isn't consistently linked to sexual selection at all. And relatively complex and varying birdsongs, such as those of the song sparrow, can be generated using simple algorithms. Nothing in the animal world even remotely approaches the complexity and diversity of human music.

It's also often suggested that music contributes to group bonding, which could be advantageous for a species like ours, where inter-tribal competition may have influenced evolution. And since humans are unusual in that sense, it also helps explain the uniqueness of music. There's plenty of evidence that music does play this role. However, group selection is typically a weak force, while music is a costly feature; it's hard to see how the former could be sufficient to account for the latter.

Perhaps music evolved as a sexually selected feature which was co-opted under group selection. But perhaps there's a bigger hole in our thinking.

What neither idea seems to explain at all is why music is, well, musical. Why should group or pair bonding involve the sort of fractal complexity, continual novelty, and specificity of taste that sets music apart from common birdsong?

 

Here's why—maybe.

Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid argues that consciousness is a recursive computational process. Self-awareness in addition implies that the conscious mind contains a model or representation of the self.

What is this model? Why represent yourself, when you can simply be yourself? The answer, presumably, is that most of the mind is not conscious, nor even accessible to consciousness. So to have insight into your own behavior, you mentally model yourself in much the same way you model other people.

You see the problem. Modeling other conscious, self-aware minds requires an internal conscious, self-aware mind for every mind you model. Each of these models must in turn have its own models of other conscious, self-aware minds … and so on to infinity.

Our brains do not have infinite capacity. So what do we do when we encounter an infinitely recursive process? Curl up in despair? No! We approximate. We gaze as deeply as we can into the fractal, stretching the limits of our cognitive capacity. And then we acknowledge and accept those limits. We marvel at the tininess of the self in the wondrous grandiosity of the universe. We are overcome with spiritual joy.

In other words, we congratulate ourselves on our willingness to face the limits of our comprehension. Why does this make us feel good? It's adaptive.

We are a highly social species. Many researchers believe that human cognition was, for much of our evolutionary history, stuck in a positive feedback cycle of social selection. That is, those of our ancestors who could better understand and predict others had greater evolutionary fitness, which made each succeeding generation harder to understand and predict than its parents.

So: it's advantageous to enjoy peering into the depths of interesting fractals, because that stretching of cognitive ability is precisely what's required to model minds better than our peers. And music is mostly interesting fractals.

I want to take things a little further. Let's talk about love.

We're not just social. Lots of animals are social, and most of them are utter jerks. Humans, along with many birds and a few mammals, have unusually strong, lasting cooperative relationships among unrelated adults. We have love and trust.

 

But how do you evolve trust? I've puzzled over this for years. We understand perfectly well how cooperative relationships can be adaptive; for example, if your partner is likely to punish your defection severely, and hiding defections is too hard. But that doesn't explain trust.

I trust you means, precisely, that I'm not policing your defections. I'm not monitoring the evidence to check if you've betrayed me. I'm not setting in place punishments for all the awful things you might do. I'm not even worrying about them.

And I think we all want trusting relationships. I don't know anybody who would be OK with believing that their partner's honesty was only a consequence of the fear of punishment—let alone their own.

Obviously, trusting saves a lot of effort and conflict in a relationship, which makes it adaptive. But it's also vulnerable to exploitation, hence the evolutionary problem. According to standard theory, the moment you know I trust you, your motivation should change to exploit me. But I should know this, and therefore not trust you in the first place.

A solution to this quandary is emotional commitment. Love in the form of emotional commitment is a self-modification that alters our cognitive payoffs to favor the interests of the other. If I love you, then I literally cannot hurt you without hurting myself. If I love you, then making you happy literally makes me happy. If love is mutual, then our interests become aligned. And that enables trust.

How do we create love? By a process of massive cognitive remodeling. Our brains must learn to respond to the stimuli of the other with extreme, unique pleasure, and they must learn how to likewise uniquely stimulate the other. To do that effectively, we create the most profound representation we can of the other, and imbue that representation with almost as much significance as we attach to our self-representation. And in a two-way relationship, that representation must contain a self-representation, containing an other-representation … and so on down the recursion rabbit-hole.

That, I think, is a big part of what courtship and friendship do in species with long-term relationships. It's an intimate mutual rewiring in which our brains gradually learn to play and be played; we allow the other unique insight into our self-model, so they can learn to uniquely reward us; and vice versa. Love makes us vulnerable and powerful at the same time. In keeping with this idea, pair-bonding, rather than simply social group size, is the most widespread predictor of brain size evolution in other species. Among primates, brain size and sexual competition are negatively correlated.

Our ancestors won their success in part because they were able to create and maintain trust. So they evolved to love, and loving required them to find unparalleled pleasure in the effort to contain an infinite depth that they could never really grasp.

So the sense of immersion in fractal depth feels like love, because that's what the experience of loving is. And when we encounter an audible fractal process that happens to stimulate our brains with a culturally attuned interleaving of familiar and foreign, self and other, we willingly immerse ourselves in it. We don't just like music. We love it.

So … music, love, and fractal representations of the other … what all that amounts to is an unprecedented excuse to link this Arcade Fire song:

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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