Feb. 3 marked the 24-year anniversary of the Texas singer-songwriter. Today, the Buddy Holly legacy lives on.
It typically takes a long, illustrious, and well-documented career for a musician or band to see just how much of an influence they had on the masses. But one person whose life tragically ended in 1959 made quite an impression on those musical legends we admire — and that’s Buddy Holly. The death of Buddy Holly is often referred to as “The Day the Music Died” when he, along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, died in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa.
But just how big of an influence was Buddy Holly’s music in the past and present?
The Life and Death of Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly, or Charles Holley, was born on September 7, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas. Early in his life, he had already been exposed to music and learned to play various musical instruments at a young age along with his siblings. He grew up playing and listening to gospel, folk, and country music. It didn’t take long for his innate musical talent to be put to use — he formed a band in high school, opened for other artists, and even for Elvis Presley.
Eventually, Buddy Holly was noticed by a record label. And in 1956, he recorded demos in Nashville with his band, “Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes” which was later renamed “The Crickets.” A year later, they recorded the song “That’ll Be the Day.” — one of the band’s many chart-topping hits. But soon after the band’s success, Buddy Holly separated from the band and moved to The Greenwich Village in NYC.
In 1959, Buddy Holly toured the Midwest with The Winter Dance Party. But given that it was February, the weather conditions were freezing, the buses they boarded kept on breaking down, and they had to endure the harsh temperature. Tired of this situation, Buddy Holly chartered a plane in Clear Lake, Iowa with fellow performer, Ritchie Valens — the successful 17-year-old singer who’s known for his hit, “La Bamba” — along with musician and disc jockey, The Big Bopper.
Sometime during the night of February 3, 1959, the plane that Buddy Holly and the other musicians boarded crashed within minutes after taking off. This tragic disaster killed everyone on the flight. Buddy Holly was only 22. And yet, the Buddy Holly legacy was only beginning.
“The Day the Music Died”
“A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died”
(Verse 1 of “American Pie” by Don McLean)
“American Pie” is the 1971 US Billboard chart-topping hit by Don McLean. The first verse of the song is said to be a reference to the plane crash of February 3 1959 in which Buddy Holly was killed. Don McLean recalls reading about the disaster in the newspaper as a kid and how it greatly impacted him. Since then, the tragedy has been commonly referred to as “The Day the Music Died” and the Buddy Holly legacy is forever rooted in this spectacular tribute.
The Impact of the Buddy Holly Legacy
Don McLean wasn’t the only one who had been inspired by Buddy Holly and his music. Despite his short yet successful career, a great number of musicians also credit Buddy Holly as one of their influences.
Other musicians that Buddy Holly inspired:
John Lennon and Paul McCartney claim that Buddy Holly was one of the musicians that inspired them to craft their own lyrics; they said they watched Buddy Holly on British television at the London Palladium. Paul McCartney once said, “Buddy Holly was completely different; he was out of Nashville, so that introduced us to the country music scene.” The English singer-songwriter also added, “John and I started to write because of Buddy Holly. It was like, ‘Wow! He writes and is a musician’.”
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature, he called Buddy Holly his “musical hero.” He said in his speech, “If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved — the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues.”
The Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door singer added, “Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs — songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great – sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.”
Buddy Holly wasn’t only influential in music — even his signature horn-rim glasses became somewhat of an iconic fashion accessory. In the book “The Buddy Holly Story” by John Goldrosen, Elton John notes that he “began wearing glasses when I was 13 to copy Buddy Holly.”
Other bands and musicians like The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, and many others often cite Buddy Holly as one of the most influential musical figures in their careers.
The life and death of Buddy Holly were ephemeral but his music seems to be unwavering and perpetually inspirational — not just to listeners but even to the most successful musicians in the industry. The death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper may often be referred to as “The Day the Music Died” but it seems paradoxical as the Buddy Holly legacy continues to live on.
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