A few years back I was given the job of tracking down and interviewing the people closest to and with Buddy Holly in the 24 hours before he died in a plane crash, in a blizzard in a frozen field in Iowa.
The aim was to make a documentary that pieced together in forensic detail Holly’s final day and at the same time dispel many of the myths that have inevitably grown around ‘this speccy boy from Texas, with bad teeth who had an amazing talent and a career that lasted only 18 months.’
Most people know that Buddy Holly had a band called The Crickets, not so many people will know that the band supporting Holly on his final tour were not the real deal. Despite being billed as Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the band was made up of some of Buddy’s musician friends from Texas, but more about them later.
The original Crickets were safe at home in Texas, they’d fallen out with their manager over unpaid wages so didn’t take part in The Winter Dance Party of 1959. This was a tour of concerts playing the dance halls of the American Mid-West during the worst winter storms in years. Holly, also in dispute with his manager, hadn’t worked in months, had a new wife to support and needed the money.
First stop Nashville.
The original Crickets are all still around, still playing together and still friends, pretty unusual in Rock and Roll these days.
We arrived at the farm just outside Nashville owned by Jerry Allison the man responsible for that unique muffled drum sound on Peggy Sue, the hit song he co-wrote with Holly. The rest of the band was already there, drinking coffee in the kitchen. Jerry handed round cans from the fridge, my first experience of Jolt Cola, Jerry, thinking we’d be jet lagged after our previous day’s flight knew Jolt would do the trick – “All the sugar and twice the caffeine.” He was right, I’ve never seen my camera crew work so fast before or since.
Despite living in Nashville for years all of the Crickets still talked their slow Texas drawl, polite and considered. Bassist Joe B Mauldin seemed genuinely amazed that we would come half way across the world just to talk to a few old farts that just liked playing music together.
Well in my experience there’s old farts and there’s old farts. I personally wouldn’t call guitarist and vocalist Sonny Curtis anything but Rock Royalty. A boyhood friend he started playing with Holly before the Crickets were even called Crickets. After Holly’s death he officially joined the band as lead vocalist. He’s most famous though as a songwriter, his biggest hit in Britain being ‘I Fought The Law’ as performed by The Clash, or maybe ‘Walk Right Back’ by The Everly Brothers, or ‘Love Is All Around’ the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
I interviewed the band to get an insight on growing up in Lubbock Texas in the days before Rock and Roll and found out that Holly was not the geek I perhaps thought he was. Into motorcycles and leather jackets, heavily influenced by the Marlon Brando movie ‘The Wild One’ the fledgling Crickets raised a few eyebrows in the ultra conservative city of Lubbock. ‘If the Bible belt had a buckle, it would be right there in Lubbock’ says Jerry. With a Southern Baptist church on virtually every street corner, when the radio started playing ‘The Devil’s Music’ the good townsfolk must have shuddered.
And talking of music, ‘would I like to hear them play?’ says the band. ‘Would I’ says I.
To the barn.
As we set up cameras and lights in the recording studio, the ‘old farts’ warmed up and as soon as they started the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, the crew stopped and stared at the musicians. It was one of those moments that come along all too rarely in life.
Hearing it live, played by the original band it struck home just how much Holly’s music is ingrained, it’s very familiar and comforting, having been part of certainly my life since forever.
I was dragged out of my thoughts by a late arrival who wanted to come play too – it was only near neighbour and country music superstar Waylon Jennings. Though never a member of the original Crickets he played with Holly on the last tour. I would be talking to him later, but for now all they wanted to do, was play.
Jerry Allison, Joe B Mauldin and Waylon Jennings.
To Be Continued.
As David Bowie is currently undergoing yet another metamorphosis, I thought I’d share some of my photographs from an earlier and favourite incarnation – Ziggy Stardust.
Taken at Newcastle City Hall a long, long time ago.
Over the coming months I’ll be posting stories and pictures about David Bowie, Buddy Holly and James Dean, the sacred geometry of churches, bizarre monuments to the dead, weeping angels, demons, a collection of cowboys, clowns and codebreakers, golden mummies, ancient Egyptian graffiti, Anglo-Saxon warriors, Pearly Kings and Queens and many more besides.
See, I told you I had a Monkey Mind.