Buddy Holly: Rock’s First Martyr

For the want of clean underwear, rock and roll got a legend.

Legendary rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly boarded a small plane in Mason City, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, along with fellow rockers J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens. All three musicians were part of a rock and roll tour which some fool thought was a good idea to schedule  in the upper Midwest during the winter.

The musicians usually travelled in a bus with faulty heating, which resulted in one tour member being hospitalized with frostbite. Holly wanted to get to the tour’s next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota ahead of the bus so that he would have enough time to do his laundry, so he chartered a plane after the show in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Future country music superstar Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the flight, but gave his seat to Richardson, who had the flu.

Holly kidded Jennings on departure by saying, “I hope your ‘ol bus freezes up.”

To which Jennings playfully replied, “Well, I hope your ‘ol plane crashes.”

Jennings would be haunted by his words for the rest of his life after learning that his friends had died minutes later in a crash eight miles north of the airport.

The wreckage of the plane that killed the pilot and rock and rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the “Big Bopper” on the “day the music died.”

Charles “Buddy” Holley, who would have turned 74 this week, was only 22 years old the night he died. Although his recording career lasted only 20 months, he has been called “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.”

Holly (he dropped the “e” in his stage name) began performing as a boy in Lubbock, Texas, and by the age of nineteen was opening with his band, the Crickets, for the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, and a newcomer to the scene named Elvis Presley. The multitalented Holly played several instruments and sang with a distinctive “hiccup” style that was his signature. He was a rarity among performers in the early days of rock in that he also wrote his own songs.

The groups he influenced are a veritable “who’s who” of rock and roll history, including the Beatles, who recorded Holly songs on their records, and actually took their name in tribute to the Crickets. Paul McCartney is such a fan of Holly’s music that he purchased the rights to his catalog of songs.

There are lots of sad stories in the rock and roll “what might have been” files – tales of performers whose lives were cut down before their time – but perhaps no entry is as tragic as Buddy Holly. We can only mourn the great future songs that were lost that night, and speculate on how history might have been different had Holly only packed an additional change of clothes.

Click here to see Buddy Holly perform Oh, Boy on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” (BTW, my beautiful wife Kimi was one day old when this was broadcast.)

About deadwrite

Freelance writer, film historian, taphophile View all posts by deadwrite

2 responses to “Buddy Holly: Rock’s First Martyr

  • Kim Stephens

    Wow, great article. I’ve known about Buddy Holly’s plane crash for years but had no idea of the details surrounding it. Poor Waylon Jennings! I can only imagine the guilt he feels about having “wished” the plane to crash, even in jest. Thanks for another really interesting post!

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