A single engine light aircraft ploughed into a cornfield in a snowstorm a few miles from Clear Lake, Iowa, on Tuesday February 3rd 1959. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) died instantly, along with the pilot Roger Peterson who was only 21.
Unknown to his passengers, Peterson was partially deaf, suffered from vertigo and panic attacks, and was not fully qualified for night flying. Hitting a sudden snow flurry shortly after take-off, Peterson panicked and misread his instrument panel. In the mistaken belief that he was climbing, he flew the plane nose-down at 125 mph into a field of frozen stubble.
- It was the most poignant tragedy in rock ‘n roll history. Buddy, only 22 years of age had already proved himself a tremendously talented singer, guitarist and songwriter, and had become a role model for a future generation of rock superstars, including Paul McCartney and John Lennon who were influenced by Holly’s musical style and the unique way in which he played his Fender Stratocaster guitar. The instrument became a fixture in rock music.
Many of the rock ‘n rollers of the day including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones sang Holly songs as did a host of other groups. The publishing rights to Holly’s song catalogue were purchased by Paul McCartney in the seventies and his untimely death inspired more tribute songs than any other in the corpse-strewn annals of rock, most famously Don McLean’s American Pie, which in more recent years was covered by Madonna. Buddy’s death, to McLean and countless other disciples, was “the day the music died”.
The year before Holly’s death he completed a 25-day non-stop tour of Britain, earning four Top 20 chart slots during the short tour, having already had five Top 10 hits to his credit in Britain, including That’ll Be The Day, which stayed three weeks at number one.
The day after Buddy Holly and the Crickets landed in London on February 28th 1958 for the tour, he performed at the Elephant and Castle Trocadero. In those days, the usual format for an American package show was to use up to twenty rock ‘n roll singers, performing only two or three songs each. But in Britain on this occasion, Holly was given a 25-minute spot topping a variety bill which included a young compere/comedian called Des O’Connor. Holly’s visit was so successful he had four records in the Top 20 during one month, Peggy Sue, Maybe Baby, Listen to Me and Oh Boy.
Holly was one of the ten inaugural inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and Gary Busey portrayed him in the film The Buddy Holly Story.
The musical Buddy is now nineteen years old – almost as old as the rock ‘n roll legend himself when he died in the plane crash. The show was the brainchild of impresario Laurie Mansfield, one-time owner of an apartment in Playa de las Américas, Tenerife, and still a regular visitor to the island. It is always a pleasure to have a chat with him on one of his visits to meet up with his brother Max, a resident on the island.
You would have thought that after all this time the musical was getting tired, yet by all accounts it’s still as fresh and revitalising as Holly’s music itself. Buddy’s songs and the show look set to stay airborne for some time yet, for Holly’s musical legacy is still relevant today, 48 years after his death.
Here in Tenerife you can see a copy of your favourite star in many of the showbars. If you look around you’re sure to find one to suit your taste. I first came across Welshman, John Ashford, performing his Buddy Holly tribute show in Tenerife some seven years ago. Originally from Swansea, John had arrived on these sunny shores a couple of years previously, after 25 years’ experience in showbiz – starting with dance halls and working mens’ clubs. He first played in a five-piece band, until breaking away to go out as a solo artiste.
When he first arrived on the island I recall him working a sixties routine, including some country and western music, with his guitar-playing a large part of his act. John was very popular doing his own thing and I remember asking him why he had decided to change and work a tribute act. “Because so many customers in the venues I performed at mentioned that I looked like Buddy Holly and requested his songs”, said John. “The strange part is that I never even thought of it myself, in fact, at the time I didn’t even include one Holly song in my act”.
The transformation has certainly paid off for him over the years and his portrayal of the departed star is a notable achievement.
Usually when an artiste imitates a star, the novelty aspect of their performance is lessened the longer they perform. However, I found that John’s performance got stronger as his act went on and really got the customers involved, as they relived a batch of musical memories of Buddy Holly.
Look out for John’s tribute show at a showbar near you.