10 Fascinating Facts About Buddy Holly

If Buddy Holly was still alive, he’d be 82 years old today. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, on September 7, 1936 with a slightly different name: Charles Hardin Holley. On his first record contract, his name was misspelled as “Holly,” and he liked it that way. When Holly died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, he was only 22 years old, but he has had a lasting impact on music history. Here are a few things you might not know about Holly, and his music.

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 ONLY 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’D 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” IN “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.

Los Angeles Philharmonic to Perform a Piece of Music that Involves Dropping Melons on the Ground

iStock/VinokurovYury
iStock/VinokurovYury

This weekend, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will perform a piece of music that involves dropping melons from a great height and listening to the sound they make.

That’s nearly a word-for-word description of the performance instructions for Ken Friedman’s 1966 piece, Sonata for Melons and Gravity, which will be performed on Saturday, November 17. The instructions simply say: “Drop melons / from a great height. / Listen to the sound.” [PDF]

The performance is part of the L.A. Philharmonic’s Fluxus Festival. Staged in collaboration with the Getty Research Institute, the melon-fueled Fluxconcert will be “one of the largest Fluxus events ever to be put on by a major symphony orchestra,” according to a press release.

Fluxus defies definition. The progeny of Dada—the anti-art bad boy of the early 20th century—Fluxus was a rebellious experimental art movement that took pleasure in mocking the idea of “high art.” Generally, it employs mixed media and absurd humor to challenge ideas of what is, and isn’t, art. (Case and point: Fluxus co-founder George Maciunas once composed a piece entitled Solo for Balloons.) More than make you giggle, these irreverent works aim to break down the stuffy boundaries between everyday life and the concert hall.

With that spirit in mind, the L.A. Philharmonic is the perfect place for a Fluxus concert. The Philharmonic is an institution known for breaking the barriers of what an orchestra can and should be doing. For the past few years, the group has been defying the stereotype that an orchestra is a domain dedicated to the desiccated works of dead men: This season, the L.A. Philharmonic will feature works by 61 living composers—including more than 50 entirely new pieces—plus 22 works by women.

(For comparison, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's current season is programmed to include pieces by just four living composers and a total of zero women. Brian Lauritzen of Classical KUSC points out that, in 2017, the L.A. Phil programmed more compositions by women than the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra combined.)

In addition to the melon drop, there will be a performance of Alison Knowles’s Wounded Furniture, Shoes of Your Choice, and Nivea Cream Piece as well as George Maciuna’s Solo for Conductor. And while there’s no word what kind of fruit will be used for Sonata for Melons and Gravity, we’re placing bets on honeydew.

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

There was a surprise waiting for Canadian buyers of The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979, a greatest hits collection by the musician that was released in the summer of 1998. Inside the package was a notice announcing the arrival of BowieNet, a major undertaking spearheaded by the legendary musician that promised a unique portal to the internet. For $19.95 a month, users could access BowieNet in the same way that they logged on to America Online, signing on via a dial-up connection to gain access to the web, email, and a variety of perks for devoted Bowie fans.

The news was a little premature. The Canadian version of the album had been released too early, and BowieNet wasn’t yet up and running when fans first read the news. But by September 1 of that year, Bowie had launched a pioneering effort in the intersection between music, the internet, and fandom. In many ways, BowieNet anticipated the concept of social networking five years before MySpace debuted and six years before Facebook came into existence. It was a fitting accomplishment for an artist who spent his entire career looking for revolutionary ways to share his work.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

Bowie, who first rose to fame during the 1970s glam rock era, had long been fascinated by the promise of digital connectivity. He was reportedly using email as early as 1993. In 1994, he released a CD-ROM of his single, “Jump, They Say,” that allowed users to edit their own music video for the song. In 1996, he released one of the first digital singles, "Telling Lies," and sold 375,000 downloads in just two months. In 1997, Bowie presented a “cybercast” of a Boston concert, which ultimately proved to be too ambitious for the technology of the era (viewers of the live stream were confronted with error messages and frozen feeds).

Clearly excited by the unexplored possibilities these cutting-edge efforts offered, Bowie decided to stake out more digital real estate right around the same time he released "Telling Lies." In 1996, two internet marketers named Robert Goodale and Ron Roy approached Bowie with the idea of building an online fan club that would double as an internet service provider (ISP). In essence, Bowie would be offering online access via a dial-up number using a turnkey web design system from a company called Concentric Network Corporation. The site was developed by Nettmedia, which had worked on web content for the women-centric Lilith Fair music festival that had caught Bowie’s attention.

While users would be free to access any part of the internet, their default landing page would be DavidBowie.com, a place to access exclusive Bowie photos and videos, as well as a unique @davidbowie.com email address and 5 MB of storage space so that they could create their own content. If they wanted to remain with their current internet service provider, they’d pay $5.95 a month for membership.

Bowie liked the idea and became the first investor in UltraStar, Goodale and Roy’s company. More than a figurehead, Bowie actively helped to conceive of BowieNet as having a unique identity. Whereas America Online was a little sterile, Bowie’s aesthetic was more experimental. There were 3D-rendered environments and Flash animation sequences. The CD-ROM sent to subscribers included a customized Internet Explorer browser and music and video tracks, including encrypted material that could only be unlocked online.

More significantly, Bowie used his branded portal to interact with fans. Posting as “Sailor” on the BowieNet message boards, Bowie regularly logged on to answer questions, debunk news reports, or comment on ongoing conversations. He also hosted online chats in real time. In 2017, Newsweek shared excerpts of one 2000 session:

gates asks: "do you gamble in casinos Dave?"
David Bowie answers: No, I only do cartwheels—and don't call me Dave!

queenjanine asks: "Is there anyone you haven't worked with (either dead or alive) that you wish you could?"
David Bowie answers: I love working with dead people. They're so compliant, they never argue back. And I'm always a better singer than they are. Although they can look very impressive on the packaging.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

In his loose interactions with fans, Bowie and BowieNet anticipated the explosion of social media. It was an area that interested Bowie, as he often spoke of the idea of art being unfinished until an audience provided their reaction.

“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here—the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the gray space in the middle,” Bowie told the BBC in 1999. “That gray space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”

With BowieNet, the artist was helping to facilitate that response, in one instance even soliciting a co-creator relationship. In 1999, Bowie took lyrics from an online songwriting contest to help create “What’s Really Happening,” which he put on an album released that same year. He also planned on having a working webcam that peered into his recording studio (though it’s not quite clear whether he achieved it). Ultimately, it was the advancement of internet technology that led to BowieNet's downfall.

With the dissolution of dial-up, BowieNet went from a high of 100,000 subscribers to becoming largely irrelevant in the early 2000s. In 2006, UltraStar’s assets were sold to Live Nation and BowieNet was quietly shut down—though it would take another six years for Bowie to actually announce that fact, via his Facebook page of all places.

But for the 10 years it lasted, BowieNet was the artist's strange, revolutionary predictor of the growing importance of fandom online.

“At the moment,” Bowie told CNN in 1999, the internet "seems to have no parameters whatsoever. It's chaos out there—which I thrive on.”

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