His friends and family always knew the Lubbock lad as Buddy. The youngest of three brothers it was his older siblings Larry and Travis who taught their kid bro to play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, banjo bass and lap steel. In the late 1940s he recorded a fine version of Hank Snow’s "My Two Timin’ Woman” and would soon pal up with Bob Montgomery with whom he formed the Buddy and Bob duo, singing clear harmonies and playing fast bluegrass. High school hops, talent contests and radio sessions followed and after seeing Elvis Presley perform in Lubbock in 1955 Holly began to integrate the Sun Records house style of rockabilly. Buddy and Bob would open for Elvis and also for Bill Haley & His Comets and signed to Decca Records in 1956. Buddy’s contract misspelled his name as Holly but liked the faux pas and kept it for his stage name.After parting company with Montgomery, Buddy formed a band based around his own songs and called them The Crickets. With Niki Sullivan, Joe B. Mauldin and Jerry Allison in tow, dates were penciled in at Bradley’s Nashville studio where early versions of “That’ll Be The Day” (title borrowed from a John Wayne line in The Searchers) and two singles were laid down. With new manager Norman Petty guiding him Holly shifted to Brunswick but was also savvy enough to sign a solo contract with Coral Records. The re-recorded faster version of “That’ll Be The Day” was a Billboard #1 and the Crickets wowed viewers when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show singing the hit and “Peggy Sue”. Thereafter American Bandstand showcased his talents and the Crickets appeared at the legendary Harlem Theatre in New York where they eventually won over the mostly black audience.
In line with his position as a band member and a solo star Holly released two albums in 1957 and 1958: The “Chirping” Crickets and Buddy Holly. The initial debut contains all-time classics – “Oh, Boy!” “Maybe Baby”, “That’ll Be The Day”, “Send Me Some Lovin’” and the immortal proto rocker “Not Fade Away” which would later become a staple in sets by the Grateful Dead and the Stones. This disc is also notable for covering two Roy Orbison cuts and the close harmonised backing of The Picks. It was a revolutionary sound in its day and still sounds remarkable, fresh and exciting. A most significant start, it surely ranks as one of the greatest first albums ever, alongside Please, Please Me and Presley’s introduction to the world. Even at the time it had legs and the album would enter the British charts in 1968, climbing to #8.
Buddy Holly itself depicts the artist without his glasses on a selection recorded in Clovis, New Mexico and New York City. Here you’ll thrill to “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, “Peggy Sue”, Fats Domino/Dave Bartholomew’s “Valley of Tears”, the rip roaring “Ready Teddy”, “Everyday”, “Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues” (a staple of the Beatles’ Cavern era), “Words of Love” (faithfully replicated by Lennon and McCartney on Beatles for Sale), Lieber & Stoller’s “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” (others versions are by Elvis, Led Zeppelin, Bryan Ferry, Bobby Fuller et al) and Sonny West’s “Rave On!” – all key songs in the catalogue not just of Holly but rock and roll full stop.
With Holly introducing two track self-harmony parts and the guitars mic’d high enough to excite teenage audiences this disc is essential discovery and so is "That’ll Be The Day", whose darkly ironic second line would add to the mystique and cult status of the Holly legend. In fact this isn’t strictly ‘new’ material since it contains Bradley’s 1956 sessions and features pre-Crickets personnel like guitar wizard Grady Martin (later a stalwart of Willie Nelson’s Family Band), pianist Floyd Cramer and Sonny Curtis on second Stratocaster, adding the West Texan dirt to selections recorded under the informal guise of Buddy and the Two Tones.
After his death collections followed thick and fast. The Buddy Holly Story and Vol.2 are well worth hearing, if only for “True Love Ways”, “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” (again a regular Beatles fave) and "Moondreams.”
Memories of Buddy Holly is a comprehensive trawl through available material and various Best Ofs to suit all pockets – try The Very Best Of which came out in 2008 or invest in Buddy Holly – Down The Line: Rarities, a lavish 4-CD box that includes his Apartment Tapes, blues covers, acoustic instrumentals and fascinating informal chat. Ditto Buddy Holly – Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings And More – a 6-CD set of relentless greatness.
Really to understand the evolution of music pre-the British Invasion and what came next it is essential to have knowledge of the past masters. Buddy Holly is one of those, the kind of artist whose legacy stands apart – written in stone.
Words: Max Bell
When Buddy Holly & the Crickets broke through nationally in 1957, they were marketed by Decca Records as two different acts whose records were released on two different Decca subsidiaries -- Brunswick for Crickets records, Coral for Holly records. But there was no real musical distinction between the two, except perhaps that the "Crickets" sides had more prominent backup vocals. Nevertheless, coming three months after The "Chirping" Crickets, this was the debut album credited to Buddy Holly. It featured Holly's Top Ten single "Peggy Sue" plus several songs that have turned out to be standards: "I'm Gonna Love You Too," "Listen to Me," "Everyday," "Words of Love," and "Rave On." The rest of the 12 tracks weren't as distinctive, though Holly's takes on such rock & roll hits as "Ready Teddy" and "You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)" provide an interesting contrast with the more familiar versions by Elvis Presley. This was the final new album featuring Holly to be released during his lifetime. Every subsequent album was an archival or posthumous collection.
Words: William Ruhlmann
This four-song EP contains some of the strongest material from The Crickets' debut LP: "I'm Looking For Someone To Love," "That'll Be The Day," "Not Fade Away," and "Oh Boy!"
Words: William Ruhlmann
When this album was originally released in 1983, it was a major revelation in collector's circles. Here were the original, undubbed versions of eight songs that had appeared on posthumous Holly albums like Reminiscing, Showcase, and others with overdubbed backing provided by the Fireballs and producer Norman Petty, along with two rarities to pad things out. And hearing the stripped-down Holly minus the audio cover-ups and beef-ups revealed strong (and sometimes superior) efforts all by themselves without the assistance. With future Cricket Jerry Allison on drums, a set of revolving bass players, and Sonny Curtis handling lead guitar chores on three tracks, Holly blasts through some bona fide Texas rockabilly here. Four of the eight tracks come from Buddy's pen, and these early efforts ("Rock-a-Bye Rock," "Because I Love You," "Changing All Those Changes," and "I'm Gonna Set My Foot Down") are sign pointers toward his later, more commercial style; in this case listeners get stripped-down, elemental pop tunes disguised as rockabilly ravers and country ballads. The collection is bookended with two more tracks, the original studio swipe of "Maybe Baby" and "That's My Desire," a ballad from the 1958 New York session that produced "Rave On." Although the overdubbing done to Holly's music made sense from a commercial standpoint at the time, this collection only whets your appetite to hear more of the real thing.
Words: Cub Koda
There's been a staggering amount of Buddy Holly compilations issued over the years, and one of the first to be assembled in the early 21st century turned out to be 2002's Best Of. How do tracks recorded back in the '50s stand up nearly half-a-century later? Well, if they're Buddy Holly tunes, they hold up surprisingly well. The basis for many future rock genres can be traced back to Holly's tunes, especially whenever rock decides to get 'back to basics' every so often (rockabilly revival, punk, garage, etc.). The fact that Holly was able to pen and record music of such a high quality in such a short amount of time (and young age -- he was only 23 at the time of his passing), remains extremely impressive. Name a Holly classic and it's sure to be included on this smartly-compiled collection -- "That'll Be the Day," "Oh Boy!," "Maybe Baby," "Rave On," "True Love Ways" -- the test of great rock music is how it stands up years later, and Buddy Holly's tunes more than pass the test. Classic. Essential. Timeless. Get the picture?
Words: Greg Prato
Universal's 2009 triple-disc set Memorial Collection and its two-CD companion, Down the Line: Rarities, effectively act as a substitution for a reissue of the six-LP 1979 box The Complete Buddy Holly, long a holy grail item among rock & roll fanatics. That set never materialized on CD for various legal and logistical reasons, so bootleggers stepped into the void, assembling a ten-disc set that went far beyond the original vinyl box, and then as the original recordings crept into public domain in Europe, year-by-year chronicles started to pop up over there. These satisfied the needs of completists in a way Universal's twin 2009 CD sets may never, as there are too many missing alternate takes, apartment tapes, and demos -- not to mention live cuts, which are virtually absent -- but for hardcore fans who are less obsessive, these two releases are far easier to absorb than the bootleg, which gets weighed down in historical minutia that obscure the big picture. Spanning 59 tracks over the course of two discs -- nearly as many songs as those on the three-disc Memorial Collection -- Down the Line concentrates on boiling that minutia down to its essentials, to get the best of the alternate takes, demos, and "Apartment Tapes," or at least to find the music that fits the broadest audience. Again, this concentrates on studio, not live, sessions and it follows the same trajectory as Memorial Collection, beginning with Buddy's duets with Bob Montgomery and ending with a selection of highlights from his solo acoustic recordings in his New York apartment (many of which are also heard on Memorial). Down the Line adds detail and color to the story, digging deeper at Buddy's country roots -- the earliest cuts here sound downright hillbilly -- and spotlighting the Crickets' lean rock & roll via several selections that strip off all the overdubs, leaving behind just their propulsive jangle. Where Memorial Collection invites pure marvel at Buddy Holly's rapid progression, Down the Line hints at the work behind it all, the conscious editing and development of his sound and the cheerful record-plugging at radio sessions (there's a wonderful sequence of "That'll Be the Day" specially recorded for various prominent DJs), and this can make for fascinating listening. However, like a lot of archival releases of this nature, Down the Line requires some attentive listening: when alternate takes begin to pile up upon each other, it takes some serious attention from serious listeners to sort it all out. Naturally, there are some immense rewards here, lying in small details and flat-out knock-outs, like Buddy's slow, sexy reworking of "Slippin' and Slidin'," which is further proof that Holly was an inventive interpreter in addition to being a singular songwriter. While this set doesn't require intense concentration and Herculean patience the way that the bootleg The Complete Buddy Holly does -- that is strictly the province of fanatics -- Down the Line cannot be appreciated without a concentration that goes very, very deep: it's something for serious rock & rollers who fancy themselves scholars.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In 1979, The Complete Buddy Holly gathered up all known Buddy Holly recordings in a six-LP box set, setting the standard for archival rock & roll reissues in the pre-CD era. Perhaps if this box never existed, the wait for a CD incarnation of Holly’s complete recordings wouldn’t have seemed quite so long, but chances are it would: as the CD revolution waned in the early days of the new millennium, every one of his peers saw their work boxed up in complete sets, leaving Buddy to the bootleggers, notably Purple Chick, who delivered an exhaustive set that covered the same ground as the 1979 box, adding fragments, overdubs, demos, and live performances for good measure, plumping up the collection to nine discs -- just enough arcane material to make it of interest only to fanatics. The same can’t be said about Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More, the six-CD box Universal released in 2009, just after they managed to clear away whatever legal and logistical hurdles were standing in their way. To a certain extent, the excitement generated by this long-anticipated item is undercut slightly by Universal’s two previous 2009 releases, Memorial Collection and Down the Line: Rarities, which together offered five discs and 109 tracks of Buddy, including all major items, but as an overall experience, Not Fade Away easily eclipses any other Buddy Holly collection, offering the best presentation and sound, its bound hardcover book packaging lending it stature. Of course, at 203 tracks it’s also complete, nearly 100 tracks longer than either the 1979 box or the combined two 2009s collections, offering all the masters, alternate takes, early recordings, demos, and apartment tapes presented in chronological order, which means the posthumous overdubs are featured last. Some items on the Purple Chick collection are missing, but they’re mainly fragments and live cuts of rough fidelity, things that are no great loss and of interest only to obsessives, as this tells the entirety of Holly’s story. Sometimes, the detail may be too great for some listeners, particularly in the first act, which is filled with scratchy audio, tentative hillbilly, and formative rockabilly. Holly had a prehistory longer than any early rock & roller -- only Eddie Cochran, another tragic loss, came close to cutting so much music before his first hits -- which means that there are no well-known tunes on the entire 35-cut first disc, but when Buddy’s prime starts on disc two, the momentum increases considerably, as he starts to pile up classic songs and innovations at a rapid pace. Without a doubt, it’s easier to appreciate Holly’s overall impact in a condensed set like Memorial Collection, as it doesn’t bog down in the details, but the details are naturally the things that make Not Fade Away so valuable to hardcore fans and scholars. Those details reveal the extent of Holly’s vision -- how he absorbed Elvis, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry, creating some of the hardest early rock & roll; how he pointed the way toward folk-rock and the Beatles’ pop -- and they give this box weight by providing the connective thread in his music, which in turn illustrates just how monumental his too-short career was. It’s a career that needed a testament like this, and although it’s taken too long to arrive, Not Fade Away is almost more valuable because of it, with the years only adding a greater perspective on the accomplishments of this true pioneer of American music.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Universal's 2009 triple-disc set Memorial Collection and its two-CD companion, Down the Line: Rarities, effectively act as a substitution for a reissue of the six-LP 1979 box The Complete Buddy Holly, long a holy grail item among rock & roll fanatics. That set never materialized on CD for various legal and logistical reasons, so bootleggers stepped into the void, assembling a ten-disc set that went far beyond the original vinyl box, and then as the original recordings crept into public domain in Europe, year-by-year chronicles started to pop up over there. These satisfied the needs of completists in a way Universal's twin 2009 CD sets may never, as there are too many missing alternate takes, apartment tapes, and demos -- not to mention live cuts, which are virtually absent -- but for hardcore fans who are less obsessive, these two releases are far easier to absorb than the bootleg, which gets weighed down in historical minutia that obscure the big picture. The big picture is what the 60-track Memorial Collection is all about: it's the master takes, including all the hit singles, bookended by rare recordings. At the front, it's three tracks from Holly's country/rockabilly duets with Bob Montgomery (one of which, "Soft Place in My Heart," also shows up on Down the Line); at the back, it's the guitar-and-vocal solo recordings Buddy cut at his New York City home in late 1958/early 1959, recordings that are dubbed "the Apartment Tapes" among fans. Here too there are some duplicates with Down the Line -- "Peggy Sue Got Married," "That Makes It Tough," "Learning the Game," "Dearest," "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," and "Smokey Joe's Café" show up in both places -- but again, the attraction of Memorial Collection is that it places all this music in context, so it's possible to hear Holly's development from a second half in a high lonesome close harmony duo to a hiccupping rockabilly cat enraptured by Elvis Presley to a rocker who synthesized Elvis and Chuck Berry, turning into a wildly inventive songwriter and record-maker whose legacy remains one of the greatest of American music in the 20th century. Memorial Collection divides into three easy-to-digest parts: the first disc has Holly's earliest, wildest rock & roll, the second captures the Crickets in full flight, the third has his poppiest material. The earliest recordings on the first disc are enjoyably rough, but it's not until a July 22, 1956, session highlighted by "Rock Around with Ollie Vee" that Holly finally finds his voice. From there, the progression is startling: a few months later he cut "That'll Be the Day" and "I'm Looking for Someone to Love" at the same session, and a few months after that "Words of Love" ushered in a new sense of melodic delicacy and studio experimentation. "Words of Love" contained overdubbed harmonies -- one of the first, possibly the first example of this technique -- so it's the most explicit example of how Holly's singles sounded different, but after his earliest rock & roll his records were filled with subtle, interesting sonic textures deriving equally from arrangements and engineering. Because of its length, Memorial Collection reveals these details in a way single-disc hits compilations don't and it has a better flow than the previous standard-bearer for Holly CDs, the 1993 two-CD The Buddy Holly Collection, so it's not just educational, it's entertaining, too -- and that's especially true with all the alternate takes and rarities relegated to Down the Line, which fills in the details for scholars and obsessives, leaving this set for the serious listeners who want to delve into the richness of Holly's legacy without bothering with the loose ends and ephemera.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine