Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every week.
Hi folks, it’s Retro Dee with my annual post to honor Buddy Holly on his September 7th Birthday.
Each year it gets a little bit more difficult to decide what, exactly, to write about Buddy Holly. Maybe it’s because I’ve written a fair amount about him already, or maybe it’s because I figure there are a billion articles on him and who wants to read mine.
Sometimes, I just don’t want to do the research. I admit that I’m slow when it comes to doing my homework where Buddy is concerned. I’d rather just write about what nice lips he had…. and the kissable spot just under his hairline on the right side of his forehead.
But forget about that for a moment. The best way to honor Buddy is with his own music. I decided to showcase one of Buddy’s most popular songs, which also happens to be one of the most iconic songs of all time. It’s also probably my favorite. (I say “probably” because it’s difficult – if not impossible – to choose one favorite Buddy Holly song.)
All The Crickets’ songs are impressive, but their first record (which catapulted to Number One in September, 1957) will always be the gem that defines true music genius. The song?
“That’ll Be The Day”
Recently, the World lost The Crickets’ one and only drummer, Jerry “J.I.” Allison on August 22, just 8 days before his 83rd Birthday. A close friend of Buddy’s since their days at Lubbock High, Jerry Allison stayed with the group for the rest of his life. Jerry was the last of the original Crickets, remaining loyal to Buddy for decades after Buddy’s untimely death nearly 64 years ago… He also co-wrote “That’ll Be The Day”.
You can’t ask for a better song, you really can’t. It’s hard for me to admit that there was a time I felt uncomfortable listening to it. But that’s another story, and will be told another time.
This time, we’ll tell The Crickets’ story, and how one of the greatest songs of all time came to be.
Picture it, Lubbock, 1956. Memorial Day Weekend. Three friends head to the movies to catch that week’s western starring John Wayne. Those three friends were Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis and Rock N Roll legend, Buddy Holly.
The movie was The Searchers, which is about a beautiful young girl who gets kidnapped in the middle of old west and a bunch of cowboys go searching for her. In other words, real original. In this particular film, John Wayne’s catchphrase was: “That’ll be the day.”
Suddenly, the boys were inspired. So they ran home to write a song including that very phrase. Buddy began working it, and in less than a half-hour they had it. Which makes you wonder what they did with the rest of the day. But I digress.
Buddy signed a contract with Decca Records and went to Nashville where he recorded the first version of “That’ll Be The Day”. But it was not a success. One record producer called it “The worst song he had ever heard.” Which may or may not be a little harsh depending on your taste.
The Crickets left Nashville, broke and disillusioned. Then they met a man named Norman Petty. And he helped them re-work the song into the Rock N Roll masterpiece that we know today. After its US release, “That’ll Be The Day” hit Number One where it remained for five months… and the rest is history.
Here, below are the two recordings of “That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly: The Nashville version, and the good one.
Nashville Version: Recorded by Buddy Holly and The Three Tunes, 1956
When I first heard this, I simply couldn’t believe it was the same song… It’s… Well, I don’t love it, let’s just put it that way. I’m told he was in the wrong key. He was in the wrong something. But hey, it’s alright. As a matter of fact, it makes me love Buddy Holly even more! He didn’t succeed the first time and he didn’t give up. That makes him a true hero.
And here’s the classic masterpiece that we know and love. It was recorded at Petty Studios on February 25, 1957 in Clovis, NM.
Like night and day, right?
So, in closing, I just want to add: My liking Buddy Holly’s music, his singing, his style etc… is no small thing. Not because I’m such a music expert. It’s simply because there’s just not a lot of music that I actually like. For me to love an artist as much as I love him is very, very rare. I won’t listen to just anything. Buddy had such a special, unique talent. He had something so incredible, so fantastic, that it caught my attention and made me fall in love with music in a way that I never thought I could.
In the music industry, everything was influenced in some way, by Buddy Holly. When I was listening to Rock bands growing up, I didn’t know it, but I was only listening to copy-cats, knock-offs and wannabes. When I finally discovered Buddy’s music in 2016, I finally realized why there are so few artists I like. He’s the real thing. Everything else is just imitation.
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First round voting has started in the 11th annual Great 88 listener survey. This week, you can pick your 10 favorite songs from 1957 daily. Write-in votes are also allowed. A full first-round schedule and additional information can be found here. You can also find results of the first 10 annual surveys here.
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