Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Day The Music Died

He was only 22 years old when he stepped onto a Beechcraft Bonanza airplane that was going to take him and his fellow performers, J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens, to Fargo, North Dakota, to play their next gig on the Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959. Despite reports of a snow storm, all believed that the flight would be uneventful. The flight took off at 12:05 A.M., February 3. Several hours later, the wreckage was discovered by the plane’s owner some eight miles from the airport. All on board had perished in the crash, including the 22 year old whose name was Charles Hardin Holley – AKA Buddy Holly.

While relatively short in its length – just under two years - the career of Buddy Holly was exceptional. He was among the most gifted and influential singer/songwriters, not only of the 1950s, but of all time. Between August 1957 and August 1958 Holly and his band the Crickets charted seven top 40 hits, including “That’ll Be The Day,” “Maybe Baby,” “Oh Boy,” and “Peggy Sue.”

Holly was an innovator who wrote his own material and was among the first to exploit such advanced studio techniques as double-tracking. He pioneered and popularized the now-standard rock-band lineup of two guitars, bass and drums. In his final months, he even began experimenting with orchestration. Though Holly lacked the animal attraction of Elvis Presley, he nonetheless was an engaging, charismatic figure with his trademark horn-rimmed glasses and vocal hiccup. His creative self-reliance and energetic, inspired craftsmanship predated the coming wave of rock and rollers in the '60s. Holly was a profound influence on the Beatles and Hollies (both of whom derived their names from his). Even the Rolling Stones had their first major British hit with Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Had he lived, he would’ve been 72 years old, and undoubtedly would’ve been one of the few legends of the ‘50s who could’ve successfully transitioned into the ‘60s, perhaps even the ‘70s, such was the timeless nature of his music.

For my part what has impressed me most is how relevant Holly remains, even during periods and fads that pushed the musical envelope; i.e. the techno faze of the ‘80s. While so many of his contemporaries faded into the woodwork, Holly’s music endured, not because of its complexity and flamboyance; but because of its simplicity and unpretentiousness. It was vulnerable without being corny; catchy without being trendy; innocent without being naive. Check out Marshall Crenshaw, circa 1982 & ’83, for example. Few artists have survived so intact as Buddy Holly. Fifty years later, he sounds as fresh and as significant as he did the day he stepped onto that plane. That he was taken from us way too early was the ultimate injustice; that he would’ve made a significant contribution to rock and roll for years to come is obvious.

What he has left us with is an incredible, if somewhat short, catalogue of masterpieces; sadly, that will have to do. Rest in peace, Buddy!

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