by Pete Clemons
One of the more enduring memories of my childhood, as far as listening to music is concerned, is that of an old 1950s style radiogram which had a good few 45s stored away in it. For those who do not remember radiograms, they were essentially a radio and record player within a piece of furniture that also had space for a few records.
They were not my records but I was forever playing those 45s and 78s regardless of who they were by. I am guessing that I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time. I doubt very much if I had developed my own personal taste in music at that time.
But one record in particular, that seemed to grab my attention more than most, was one that had a triangular centre. Almost all of the other records in this collection had circular centres. And for some reason it used to fascinate me.
The disc itself was called ‘Maybe Baby’ by The Crickets. It was on the black Coral record label. And I must admit that I listened to ‘Maybe Baby’ and its flip side ‘Tell Me How’, an awful lot back then. I can’t imagine if I knew anything about the incredible story of The Crickets as a band and Buddy Holly as a person. I’m not even sure if I was even aware that guitar player and vocalist, Buddy, had been killed a few years earlier in a plane crash.
Buddy Holly’s music career began as a duo at school called Buddy and Bob. The Bob in this duo, Bob Montgomery, would later go on to write for Buddy. Watching them perform at school was drummer Jerry Allison. A little later Bob and Jerry would become firm school friends and listen to rock and roll radio becoming inspired by the likes of Elvis Presley who Buddy and Jerry had seen play live.
Buddy and Jerry secured their first record deal with Decca Records during January 1956. The story goes that the Decca contract misspelt Buddy’s name incorrectly as Holly. It should have read Holley but Buddy decided to stick by the new spelling.
The pair had their first sessions in Nashville where they recorded several songs including the first song ever written together by Holly and Allison called ‘That’ll Be the Day’. The results of these sessions led to their short lived contract being terminated just over a year later.
February 1957 saw Buddy and Jerry then team up with producer Norman Petty who allowed Buddy to flourish and do his own thing. And it was the 1957 re-recorded version of ‘That’ll Be the Day’, with his new band The Crickets and released on Coral in the UK (Brunswick in the US), that set Buddy on the way to immortality.
The Crickets had come together at Norman Petty’s studios. According to a Jerry Allison interview it was a joint effort choosing the name, but the band was a necessity to overcome recording legalities. Completing the band was Joe B. Maudlin on bass and Niki Sullivan on guitar.
The success for Buddy and the Crickets came almost overnight. Five top ten hits including a number one in US and UK during their first year together.
Norman Petty’s studio’s allowed Buddy to develop his unique guitar style for that time. Guitar solos on recordings, for example, was very unusual. As was hearing a guitar up front on recordings, as quite often, the guitar was kept in the background. Buddy had this unusual ‘hic cup’ in his singing voice.
And every song Buddy was involved with just sounded very different ‘Peggy Sue’, released under Buddy’s own name had a complicated drum pattern. Incidentally, ‘Peggy Sue’ started as a song about Buddy’s niece but the songs title was changed to feature Jerry’s then girlfriend.
At one session Jerry Allison was slapping his hands and knees to the beat of a new song in preparation and anticipation of recording it. Norman Petty recorded the slapping instead and this is what can be heard on the B side of ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘Everyday’.
Another song ‘Not Fade Away’ had Jerry Allison playing on a cardboard box rather than drums. ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Rave On’ had started life as country type songs and these were re-interpreted by Holly’s unique style. And so it went on.
And then we have ‘Maybe Baby’ recorded toward the end of 1957 and the song that inspired me to write this piece. This was another hugely unique song due to the fact that it had a guitar introduction, before Buddy’s voice was even heard. It also has the most incredible harmony parts in it.
Where Buddy found the time to write his music is also a wonder. His touring schedule from the beginning of 1958 appeared to be arduous. January saw him playing the US and Canada. February Australia and back to the US again. While the whole of March he was in the UK.
Mid 1958, and back in the US again, Buddy Holly effectively went solo. After touring with The Crickets Buddy stayed on in New York to visit publishers while the band went home. He also, apparently, stayed on to get to know the New York music scene better. It was while there that he famously met and proposed to his future wife on the same day. Nothing stayed the same between them after that tour according to Jerry Allison. And Jerry Lee Lewis, who was a confidante of Buddy’s, tells a story of how Buddy had phoned him for advice on the matter of marriage.
After he married Buddy began to record with strings. Buddy’s last recording sessions were held in New York during October 1958, recorded under his own name and accompanied by an orchestra. The classics continued by way of songs like ‘True Love Ways’ and ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’.
Here in the UK Buddy’s music influenced the music scene with bands like The Quarrymen, later The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones both covering Buddy Holly songs early in their careers. And in 1959 Hank Marvin of The Shadows was inspired to keep wearing his thick rimmed glasses despite advice to the contrary. And The Crickets were arguably the template for the line-up that bands use even today.
Remarkably, it had been less than two years between the release of ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and Buddy’s fatal plane crash. After the crash, rock and roll became very different in the U.S. of A. That was until the British invasion, led by The Beatles, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, The Dave Clark 5 and others, shook things up again. The Hollies acknowledged Buddy's influence in their took their name name.
And now we are almost 60 years on from Buddy’s death. Over time, I have learned a bit more about Buddy and the Crickets. At least a bit more, than when I first heard ‘Maybe Baby’ on that radiogram, all those years ago. Not sure if I am as fascinated by the actual record itself but I do know that I still love the music that was on it. No wonder Don Maclean wrote ‘American Pie’ and about the day the music died. It really must have seemed like it at the time.