Buddy Holly Made Lubbock the Capital City of the Music World
Lubbock’s native son Buddy Holly died in a tragic 1959 plane crash at only 22 years-old, but his musical legacy will not fade away. Though his recording career lasted just two short years, Holly changed the sound of popular music forever and today his influence lives on. “Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the template for all the rock bands that followed,” Don McLean once said. McLean famously elegized Holly in his classic ballad “The Day the Music Died.”
On three occasions, Holly opened for Elvis Presley at Lubbock gigs. “He’s a real nice, friendly fellow,” Holly said of the King of rock n’ roll. Holly and a friend once met Elvis’s tour bus at the edge of town and drove the King off in their car for a private tour of Lubbock. Elvis was a powerful, unequaled performer—but Holly surpassed him in one respect. Elvis didn’t write his own songs. Holly, however, was a true pioneer who wrote and produced his own material. “John and I started to write because of Buddy Holly,” Paul McCartney once said. “It was like, ‘Wow! He writes and is a musician.’”
While teenagers, McCartney and John Lennon saw Holly’s TV appearance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The aspiring young musicians were astounded. “What he did with three chords made a songwriter out of me,” Lennon said. “He made it OK to wear glasses. I was Buddy Holly.” The pair studied Holly's records, playing style, and lyrics. The inspiration to call themselves the Beatles came from Holly’s own insect-themed band name the Crickets. Lennon’s mother Julia patiently taught him to play “That’ll Be the Day,” the first song he ever mastered. Holly’s death would have a stark impact on Lennon, the plane crash coming just six months after his mother was killed by a drunk driver.
Back in America, Holly’s passing also had a profound impact on another young musician. Just two nights before the fatal crash, during Holly’s performance at the Duluth National Guard Amory, a 17-year-old kid named Bobby Zimmerman was in the front row. The concert was transformative. Two years later, the kid changed his name to Bob Dylan and hitched to New York where he began writing classic songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan became the spiritual heir to Holly’s songwriting mantle. Accepting a Grammy in 1998, Dylan remarked, “I just want to say that when I was 16 or 17-years-old, I went to see Buddy Holly play. I was three feet away from him… and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was—I don’t know how or why—but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record…”
The number of great musicians Holly influenced is extraordinary. Eric Clapton cites him as an inspiration. The Hollies named themselves in his honor. Bruce Springsteen remarked that he plays Buddy Holly before every concert to keep himself honest. When a young Mick Jagger saw Holly live in London, he was deeply impressed by the performance of “Not Fade Away.” The song also inspired Keith Richards, who modeled his early guitar playing on it. “Holly passed it on via the Beatles and via the Rolling Stones,” Richards said. “He’s in everybody.”
“Buddy Holly was a poet,” Dylan declared, “way ahead of his time.” Holly made his hometown world-famous. The generation of revolutionary rockers who grew up under his profound influence have established Lubbock as the spiritual center of the music world. Every year visitors from all across the globe come to pay their respects at Holly’s grave in the City of Lubbock Cemetery. The Buddy Holly Center, located on Crickets Avenue, features a museum of Holly memorabilia, artwork, and a wealth of history. Just across the street, Lubbock’s Walk of Fame is arranged around its centerpiece: a statue of Holly standing proud with his Fender guitar.