Born as Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas (USA) on 7 September 1936. At age 11, Buddy took piano lessons, but abandoned them after nine months. He switched to guitar after he saw a classmate playing and singing on the school bus. During his early childhood, Buddy was influenced by the music of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Snow, Bob Wills, and the Carter Family. At Roscoe Wilson Elementary, he became friends with Bob Montgomery, and the two played together, practising with songs by the Louvin Brothers and Johnnie & Jack. In 1952, Holley and Jack Neal participated as a duo billed as “Buddy and Jack” in a talent contest on a local television show. After Neal left, he was replaced by Montgomery and they were billed as “Buddy and Bob”.
By 1955, after graduating from high school, Holley decided to pursue a full-time career in music. He was further encouraged after seeing Elvis Presley performing live in Lubbock, whose act was booked by Pappy Dave Stone of KDAV. In February, Holley opened for Presley at the Fair Park Coliseum, in April at the Cotton Club, and again in June at the Coliseum. By that time, he had incorporated into his band Larry Welborn on the stand-up bass and Allison on drums, as his style shifted from C&W to rock and roll. In October that year, when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets, he was spotted by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall, who helped him get a contract with Decca Records.
Holly’s recording sessions at Decca were produced by Owen Bradley. Unhappy with Bradley’s control in the studio and with the sound he achieved there, he went to producer Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, and recorded a demo of ‘That’ll Be the Day’, among other songs. Petty became the band’s manager and sent the demo to Brunswick Records, which released it as a single credited to ‘The Crickets’, which became the name of Holly’s band. In September 1957, as the band toured, ‘That’ll Be the Day’ topped the US ‘Best Sellers in Stores’ chart and the UK Singles Chart. Its success was followed in October by another major hit, ‘Peggy Sue’.
The album ‘Chirping Crickets’, released in November 1957, reached number five on the UK Albums Chart. Holly made his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1958 and soon after, toured Australia and then the UK. In early 1959, he assembled a new band, consisting of future country music star Waylon Jennings (bass), famed session musician Tommy Allsup (guitar), and Carl Bunch (drums), and embarked on a tour of the midwestern U.S. After a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, he chartered an airplane to travel to his next show, in Moorhead, Minnesota. Soon after takeoff, the plane crashed, killing him, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson in a tragedy later referred to by Don McLean as ‘The Day the Music Died’ (3 February 1959).
During his short career, Holly wrote, recorded, and produced his own material. He is often regarded as the artist who defined the traditional rock-and-roll lineup of two guitars, bass, and drums. He was a major influence on later popular music artists, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Elton John. He was among the first artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986.
Kate mentions Buddy Holly in the lyrics of her song Blow Away (For Bill).