Stories: Not everything you hear is true
Every superstar must deal with mistakes, rumors, myths and innuendo, and Buddy Holly was no different.
Most of the questions arose after the well-mannered rock ‘n’ roller from Lubbock died at age 22 in the crash of a single engine aircraft in sub-freezing winter conditions outside Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959.
Maria Elena Holly, the musician’s widow, served as a consultant to the Hollywood producers of the 1978 movie “The Buddy Holly Story.”
Not even she managed to keep a plethora of mistakes from winding up on screen, including that mysterious mountain range that still can be seen from the Lubbock bus station in the film.
The first error
That said, Buddy did not even wait a full day before being associated with printed errors. Bill Griggs – music historian, publisher and deemed a “Holly expert” by Buddy Holly Center officials – said that Holly’s birth notice in the Evening Journal on Sept. 8, 1936, included no fewer than five errors.
The birth announcement for Charles Hardin Holley on Sept. 8, 1936, in the Lubbock Evening Journal stated: “A daughter weighing 8 and 1/2 pounds was born at 6:10 o’clock Monday afternoon at Clark-Key Clinic to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence O. Holley, of 1913 6th Street. Holley is associated with a tailoring establishment here.”
• Buddy was a son, not a daughter.
• Buddy was born at home, not at a clinic.
• That home was located at 1911 Sixth St.
• Griggs also learned from Buddy’s mother: “Buddy was born at 3:30 p.m., and he weighed 61/2 pounds.”
Buddy’s older brothers, Larry and Travis, definitely influenced Buddy. They each played guitar. Travis Holley taught Buddy his first guitar chords, and Larry took an intense interest in Buddy. He allowed Buddy to work for his tile company when he needed cash. He advised Buddy on songs at times, and loaned him $1,000 for clothes and his first Fender Stratocaster guitar, purchased at Lubbock’s Adair Music.
Larry and Travis still perform. Asked in January, the brothers said neither of them has been able to play one of their younger brother’s songs since the night he died.
Holly initially planned to take his band with him on the four-seat aircraft. He had Tommy Allsup playing guitar and Waylon Jennings playing bass, and offered both of them seats on the four-seater aircraft.
The coin flip
Bob Hale, a disc jockey at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, told reporters he flipped the coin that decided whether Allsup or teenage singer Ritchie Valens would have the last seat.
Actually, it was Allsup who pulled out a 50-cent piece and flipped it.
He lost the coin flip and was asked decades later by music historiam Bill Griggs what happened to the coin. Allsup said that he kept it. “It saved my life,” he told Griggs.
Jennings gave up his seat on the airplane because singer J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper, was fighting the flu and wanted to arrive early and rest at the next concert location. Jennings and Holly were close friends and their final banter now seems eerie.
“I hope your bus freezes,” said Holly.
“I hope your plane crashes,” replied Jennings.
At the crash site, Ralph E. Smiley, the acting coroner, found a wallet with $193 in cash in Holly’s possession. He included this in his official Coroner’s Report – even adding he’d removed his $11.65 fee before putting the wallet back.
Holly owned a pistol, which Griggs described as “a 22, just a Saturday night special.” The plane had crashed onto a snow-covered field. Holly kept the gun in a compartment at the bottom of his overnight bag, but the bag had been torn apart in the crash and the gun apparently flew out and was buried in the snow.
Weeks later, the snow melted and farmer Albert Juel began plowing the field. Along with numerous pieces of the plane, he found the gun and turned it in to the sheriff’s office.
Testing proved the gun had recently been fired. That had authorities confused, but only until the sheriff thanked the farmer for turning in the gun, and Juel said, “It even still works.”
It turns out that he had test-fired the weapon upon finding it.
The city of Lubbock eventually would pay $175,000 for the largest single collection of Buddy Holly Memorabilia.
The collection included Buddy’s Fender Stratocaster, an original itinerary from the final Winter Dance Party tour, a pair of maroon and black stage shoes, and Buddy’s lyrics book with handwritten lyrics and sketch notes.
The notebook includes the words for “That’ll Be the Day.”
The Fender Strat
Larry Holley told The A-J the city did not buy Buddy’s first Fender Strat. He said, “This isn’t that guitar. That first one was stolen.”
Actually, Holly’s Stratocaster was stolen twice, both times in April 1958, according to Griggs. The thefts took place in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, on April 9, 1958, and, after the first guitar was replaced, again later that month in East St. Louis, Mo.
Thus, the city’s Fender Strat is the third one Holly owned and played.
Griggs also pointed out Holly was not actually the first person to play a Stratocaster in Lubbock – just the first professional musician. Holly decided to buy the guitar only after seeing music store owner Clyde Hankins using it to give guitar lessons at Adair Music.
One of the bigger myths surrounding Holly is that he could read and write music. He could not. Even in his notebooks, one only sees lyrics.
As for his use of violins and strings in later recordings, Holly knew what he wanted to hear. It was his idea to add orchestral strings on his recordings. But it was Dick Jacobs who was responsible for the violin and other orchestral arrangements.
Holly also was not a drinker.
He suffered from a stomach ulcer, and drinking alcohol gave him painful stomach aches.
A long list of errors can be attributed to the 1978 film “The Buddy Holly Story,” which earned Gary Busey an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Holly. But consider:
• A mountain range is clearly visible from the Lubbock Bus Station. There are no mountains near Lubbock.
• The Crickets were shown backing Buddy Holly at a roller rink. (Lawson’s Roller Rink was not credited.) The Crick ets never played with Buddy at the roller rink. Those shows featured Buddy and Bob (Montgomery) or Buddy and Jack (Neal). The first concert by the Crickets was a Battle of the Bands waged between Buddy Holly & The Crickets and Tinker Carlen and the Cats in April 1957 at the Village Theater on 34th Street in Lubbock.
• The movie shows Buddy’s father driving a truck that says L.O. Holley & Son. L.O. Holley had three sons and none of them, certainly not Buddy, became business partners.
• Buddy Holly did disagree with the way that Decca Records tried to make him into a country singer in Nashville. But Holly never slugged or got into a fight with the Decca producer.
• The movie shows a New York City DJ playing “That’ll Be the Day” repeatedly for hours, locking the studio so no one could make him play other songs. The scene was inspired by a DJ named Guy King, who worked for a radio station in Buffalo, N.Y., and played “That’ll Be the Day” as the every third song for more than an hour.
• The movie never reveals Holly played a 25-day engagement in England, and also performed in Australia and twice in Hawaii. Holly just becomes an overnight star in the film.
• The movie reveals Holly worked with a record producer in Clovis, N.M. But never once was Norman Petty given credit. This could be because Maria Holly, not Buddy’s family, served as a consultant.
• The movie shows Buddy Holly singing “True Love Ways.” There is no indication Holly ever sang a ballad in concert. As Griggs put it, “Buddy knew what his fans wanted.”
The movie did depict the audience at the Apollo being surprised the Crickets were white. Holly’s music was loved, but there was no Internet and people in New York had never seen the band. Many thought Holly’s voice “sounded black” on the radio.
Plus there already was a black R&B group called The Crickets. Plus, only blacks had played the Apollo.
But Holly and the Crickets brought down the house.
Buddy Holly closed each concert with “That’ll Be the Day.” That is not a surprise. But Holly was said to have opened every concert with an old country song called “Gotta Travel On,” Griggs said.
Griggs asked drummer Jerry Allison why the band opened with that song.
“Because Buddy liked it,” said Allison.