Well, All Right

May 8, 2012
by
3 mins read

Elvis Presley is considered by many to be the King of Rock and Roll, but if there is a crown prince to that title, it is surely Buddy Holly. The Texas rock and roller’s reign was a prolific yet brief eighteen months, though – and sadly, Holly is known as much for his early death as his musical legacy.

Holly was one of the first rock and rollers to pen his own material, and subsequently one of the genre’s first artists locked in litigation over royalties. In January of 1959, a cash-strapped Holly signed on for the “Winter Dance Party,” a three-week tour of the Midwest. In the early hours of Feb. 3, a plane carrying J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly crashed near Mason City, Iowa. Buddy Holly was 22, and left behind a pregnant wife, thousands of grief-stricken fans and a musical legacy that is still being mined for inspiration. The day became forever known as “The Day the Music Died” and Holly inadvertently became another first in rock – that of the musical martyr.

A native of Lubbock, Texas, Holly and his band The Crickets stormed the charts beginning in 1957 with tunes like “Oh Boy!,” “Peggy Sue” and the No. 1 hit of “That’ll Be the Day.” Following their initial success, Holly and the band worked at a feverish clip, issuing other soon-to-be classics including “Think It Over,” “It’s So Easy,” “Maybe Baby” “Words of Love” and the sequel tune of “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Buddy Holly and The Crickets were one of the first rock acts to perform live on both “The Arthur Murray Party” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They were also one of the first rock groups to bridge the racial gap, performing at The Apollo Theatre in 1957.

Holly’s influence has been pervasive. While it may seem almost quaint today, even his decision to wear his “birth control” black plastic frame glasses was a then-radical move. Yet it was Holly’s musical vision that made him among the first group of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While a 17-year-old in Minnesota, Bob Dylan saw Holly perform and later acknowledged it as a pivotal moment. “Buddy Holly was a poet,” said Dylan at the 1998 Grammy Awards, and “way ahead of his time.” The Beatles insect-inspired name was partially an homage to The Crickets, and Paul McCartney later estimated that the first 40 songs the Fab Four wrote were Holly-influenced. And perhaps as the ultimate fan-boy acquisition, McCartney has owned the Buddy Holly song catalog for many years.

A short list of artists that have covered Holly’s music and sang his praises includes The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Blind Faith, Humble Pie, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and M. Ward. Don McLean immortalized the plane crash that killed Holly with “American Pie,” and the 1978 film “The Buddy Holly Story” featured a star-making turn by Gary Busey. Bruce Springsteen acknowledged Holly’s all-encompassing influence thusly: ““I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest.” In the ‘90s, Weezer issued their paean “Buddy Holly” on September 7, 1994 – a day that would have been Holly’s 58th birthday. And as far as the ubiquitous eyewear? Elton John once admitted, “as a result of wearing them all the time to try to look like Buddy Holly, I became genuinely nearsighted.” Never being one who struggled with words, John Lennon was even more succinct about his adolescent fixation: “I was Buddy Holly.”

It was a love of The Beatles that led 28 year old actor-musician Todd Meredith to discover Buddy Holly. Meredith stars in “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story,” the Tony Award-nominated musical currently being staged at The Alhambra Dinner & Theatre. While Meredith admits to enjoying bands ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, he has a soft spot for what he calls “the oldies.” “When I took on the role is when I really began to research Holly,” Meredith tells Folio Weekly, “and it was interesting to sort of hear the source that influenced all of the ‘60s music that I love.”

Meredith’s rock and roll investigation has paid off. Over the course of two and half hours, “Buddy” features Meredith and the rest of the cast performing two dozen Holly tunes while chronicling the Texas rocker’s music, life and untimely passing.

“What blows my mind is that I didn’t even know what I wanted to do at 22,” laughs Meredith, who has been performing in the role for five years, “and Buddy knew exactly what he was doing!”

The cast of “Buddy” (including The Crickets — Scott Moss, Joe Cogen and Luke Darnell) perform Holly’s music live, at times accompanied by a talented pick-up horn section that includes local sax phenom Jarell Harris. And while the subject matter is surely geared towards Boomers, Meredith has a simple approach to keeping the man and the myth alive. “I just go out there and try to remind myself that this was a real person who wrote some amazing music,” says Meredith “and I want to try and share that with the audience every night.”

Dan Brow

dbrown@folioweekly.c

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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