Maybe Baby?

Buddy Holly raves on, four decades after he received a second chance

"Everything came back into focus," Holly says, and he and Maria spent the next several years traveling, living off the royalties from his string of hit songs. Shortly after the plane crash, his former manager and producer Norman Petty had finally been forced to pay Holly what he owed him; Petty had a habit of claiming songwriting royalties for songs he didn't write. With that money, Buddy and Maria spent months touring Europe, doing all the things they'd only talked about before. And that's when Holly met the Beatles. The group that would later be the biggest group in rock-and-roll history also happened to be Holly's biggest fans.

"Buddy Holly gave you confidence," Paul McCartney told Rolling Stone a few years ago. "He was like the boy next door."

"He made it easy to wear glasses," John Lennon said, in an interview shortly before his death, personalizing Holly's appeal. "I was Buddy Holly."

Buddy Holly, shortly before the accident that changed his life
Bruno/John Beecher Collection
Buddy Holly, shortly before the accident that changed his life

Holly laughs when he recalls his first encounter with the Beatles, how John and Paul pestered him with questions until the wee hours of the morning. Lennon and McCartney were just kids then, and Holly wasn't much older, not even 30 at the time. It was the beginning of a friendship that never ended, at least not until a lone gunman turned the Dakota Hotel into a tourist attraction with the pop-pop-pop of his handgun.

His voice broke into a thousand pieces as he spoke at John Lennon's funeral, trying to find the words to say goodbye to a friend, a brother. When Lennon moved to New York, the two of them became inseparable, spending their days trading songs in Holly's Prism Studio, and their nights trading stories over dinner and drinks. Holly's friendship with Lennon was so close that he even managed to persuade Lennon to record a couple of tracks with one of his longtime rivals, Mick Jagger, another Holly acolyte. (Jagger was in the front row when Buddy Holly and The Crickets were onstage at the Woolwich Odeon in 1958. He was in the process of coaxing Lennon and McCartney back into the studio together when Mark David Chapman ensured that reunion would never take place.

Twenty years later, Holly still can't mention Lennon's name without tears.

"John and I were a lot alike," Holly begins. "And he and Waylon [Jennings] were a lot alike, too. I think that's why I clicked with him more than Paul, although he and I are still friends, too. It was just different with John. I was only a few years older than him, so I felt more like his older brother than a mentor or something like that. He was someone who loved music just as much as I did, and would have been happy living in the studio, which is pretty much what we did. It was great to be able to come in with an idea--maybe just a few notes of a riff and a couple of lyrics--and John and I would be able to turn it into a real song by the end of the day. But more than all that, we just thought about a lot of things in the same way. Even the way we decided to live in New York."

After Lennon died, Holly gave up on music, just as he had after the plane crash. Of course, the first time, he knew it wasn't permanent; he couldn't stay away forever. In the early 1960s, Holly had begun recording with The Crickets again, leading to a string of critically acclaimed albums that combined Holly's knack for three-minute pop melodies with his desire to use the studio as another instrument. Setting up his own studio in New York, Holly indulged his love of production gimmickry, pioneering many of the studio tricks that would turn up on the more experimental albums of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Eventually, this love of the studio led him to concentrate more on making other people's records rather than his own. He split with The Crickets again, and began recording up-and-coming groups, as well as scoring films.

"That was something I'd always wanted to get into," Holly says, referring to his film work. "One way or the other. When I got to New York, I took some acting classes, because I figured I could do that just as well as some of the people I'd seen in movies. But, it turned out to be harder than I thought." He laughs. "So I ended up getting into it in a different and--probably for me--better way. But even during that time when I was doing movies and recording other people, I wanted to be making my own records. I was just so busy, I could never get around to it."

Around the same time, Buddy and Maria formed Maria Music, a publishing company run out of the Prism offices that later dwarfed the studio business. Before marrying Buddy, Maria had worked at the Peer-Southern Music Company, and she turned Maria Music into one of the top publishing outfits in the business. But Holly didn't have much to do with Maria Music, other than scouting for new talent and recording some of the acts that signed publishing deals. He only knew songs, not contracts.

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