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Rave on Buddy Holly

by David Soulsby, author of the novel, "Somewhere in the Distance"


I’ve finally caught up with the stage musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which has been running at theatres round the world for a staggering 20-plus years.  I wish I’d seen it sooner. It can’t go wrong. There’s song after song of pure magic. Holly’s music truly stands the test of time. His songs are still whirring around in my head, bringing back memories of times long-gone but not forgotten…

The jukebox clicks into action and the beat filling the pub is driving and energising, pounding like an express train rushing along the tracks as it heads full speed towards the end of the line, its destination clearly marked The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Stop. And as it pulls into the station and comes to a halt, listeners are left wishing the journey could have gone on for longer.

So, a handful of fresh coins clunk, clunk in the slot and the beat restarts … a beat that sustains its power play after play after play. It’s not the original record, but this version of a Chuck Berry classic from 1956 spans across the years and now, in 1963, leaves an ache for things that were and things that might have been. It’s just four years since Buddy Holly died but his music lives on. Brown Eyed Handsome Man is indeed as good an excuse as any to reminisce.

The year 1964 is particularly memorable on the Holly front: two things spring to mind like it was just yesterday. Both involve outstanding Holly songs given distinctive treatment by British groups of immense stature: both pay fitting and heartfelt tribute to the originals.

I recall buying the Rolling Stones’ version of Not Fade Away early that year and being completely blown away by their sheer exuberance and energy, the way they captured, in its Bo Diddley-style beat, the rawness and verve of Holly’s creation. It wasn’t a question of making it better, just delightfully different.

It struck me at the time just how intertwined and mixed music had become: elements of country and rockabilly merged into rock ‘n’ roll and blues, and in turn rock innovations were finding their way into country music and folk, and vice versa, and all this making for memorable sounds. I’m sure Holly would have thrived on this if he’d lived: he was such an innovator himself, always experimenting and seeking to stretch the boundaries of music.

Later that year, The Beatles released their Beatles For Sale album and with one superb song showed why they were so good at what they did. The song was Holly’s Words Of Love, a beautiful, tender expression of human relationships and devotion, delivered in perfect harmony by Lennon and McCartney. Holly’s spirit lived on in that rendition: you could feel the love and affection, and appreciate the respect that they had for him.

Although I was a great fan of It Doesn’t Matter Any More, Heartbeat, That’ll Be The Day and Rave On, it took listening to Words Of Love by The Beatles to re-introduce me to it, make me realise just how magnificent it was, and lift it to the top of my favourite Holly songs chart. It’s been there ever since.

Jumping ahead to 1967: In a weird set of circumstances Buddy Holly’s name figured in the death of Joe Meek, the producer genius behind The Tornados’ massive 1962 hit Telstar, the first record by a British group to top the US charts. Meek was obsessed with Holly and claimed he had made contact with him via séances. At the beginning of the Sixties, he produced Tribute To Buddy Holly by actor/singer Mike Berry.

Depressed and unbalanced, Meek rowed with his landlady before shooting her dead with a shotgun and then turning the weapon on himself. The date was February 3rd, the eighth anniversary of Holly’s demise.

I remember the incident well. I was a young reporter on a local newspaper and covered Meek’s inquest. He was obviously a troubled man, a brilliant record producer, but flawed. Perhaps by taking his own life on the day he did, he thought he would meet up with Holly in the afterlife. Such a sad end to a life that, like that of Holly’s, gave a wealth of magical music to the world.

In March 1958 Holly completed a hectic 25-day tour of England, appearing at venues up and down the country, and doing at least two shows a day, sometimes three, and even managed to make some TV shows along the way. I was just 12 at the time and just getting started as far as rock ‘n’ roll was concerned: it would be few more years before I really got into Holly’s music but once I did I was hooked.

I never saw Holly live, but I do remember seeing him on television at the time of the England tour and being mightily impressed by his music and his style. An older relation did have the pleasure of going to a concert, which he told me afterwards was very special because of Holly’s powerful stage presence. In those days the bill was a mix of comedians, musicians, dancers and various variety acts, so you had to cater to a wide range of tastes and ages. Holly and the Crickets stood out on the tour and their TV appearances endeared them to the British public.

Less than a year later Holly was dead. He may not be with us physically, but spiritually his legacy lives on. He is a true rock ‘n’ roll legend whose music is as resonant today as it was all those wonderful years ago.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.




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