Tag Archives: rockabilly

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly wasn’t with us for long, yet he helped shape rock and roll into what it is today.    With just four years of full-time music performances out of his 22 years total, he earned his spot as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.

Buddy Holly and The Crickets album cover
Buddy Holly and The Crickets album cover

In the early days of rock where most songs were borrowed from R&B, Country, or other genres, Buddy Holly was one of the first that wrote, produced and recorded his own materials.  The results were unique and spectacular.

It seems like it’s always been that way, but music historians credit Buddy with defining the setup of the traditional rock band.   Most bands were still transitioning from the big band or jazz mix with orchestral instruments, pianos, horns, and woodwinds.  Buddy Holly set rock and roll standard setup: Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums.

Music Career

Any band coming from Lubbock, Texas in the 50s had to feature country music, and Buddy’s was no exception.  Somewhere along the way he caught the R&B bug, probably from late night radio.  AM radio reception during the day was so-so, but at night, distant stations came through, and Buddy was hooked.  His style slowly changed.  Mix Country with R&B and you get rock.  Buddy was good at it; he rocked!

After high school, Buddy’s band was chosen to open for Elvis at several local concerts.  That led to a gig opening for Bill Haley & His Comets where he was noticed by a Nashville scout that led to a recording contract and an unplanned name change.  Buddy Holley’s name on the contract was accidentally misspelled as Holly, and that became his professional name.

The hits started coming from there.  “That’ll Be the Day” hit the charts and soon climbed to the top.  A contractual dispute prevented Buddy from putting his name on it so “That’ll Be the Day” is credited to just The Crickets.  Other hits soon followed as the problem was cleared and  “Peggy Sue” and “Oh, Boy” were released as coming from Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

By 1958, Buddy Holly was an international star after having toured England and Australia, mixed in with a couple of appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Arthur Murray Party.

The Winter Dance Party Featuring Buddy Holly

Winter Dance Party poster featuring Buddy Holly
Winter Dance Party poster featuring Buddy Holly

Alan Freed’s Winter Dance Party was a high point of rock and roll history.   A group of the best of the early rockers toured the Midwest.  It was the first of it’s kind tour being dance music set in traditional concert theater settings.  The rest is the downside of the history.  The weather was terrible, and the tour buses had heat problems.  Buddy Holly charted a plane to skip the bus trip and fly himself, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper)to the next stop.  The plane crashed, killing all three, on the day immortalized by Don McLean’s song as “The Day the Music Died”.

Buddy Holly was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as part of its first class of inductees.

Classic Rockers

The classic rockers didn’t invent rock and roll, but they defined it.  Starting from different directions, four different flavors of rock worked toward the middle.

Classic Rockers #1: R&B Artists

One batch of classic rockers were the base rock and rollers: The black artists who brought rhythm and blues up a notch to what we know as rock today. Following WWII, many Southern blues artists moved North and some of the best ended up in Chicago which became a center for the blues. It was also the time that Leo Fender and Les Paul’s electric guitar advances were taking the guitar from a rhythm accompaniment to a lead instrument. Blues artists Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon were early masters of guitar driven performances.

Classic Rockers #2: Sam Phillips and Sun Studio

The story moves next to classic rockers Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis and his early artists. Sun Studios recorded many of the top black blues singers including B.B. King, Joe Hill Louis, Rufus Thomas, and Howlin’ Wolf, but in the 50s, it wasn’t socially acceptable for whites to buy records from black artists.

Label from Rocket 88. Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.
Ike Turner and his band wrote Rocket 88 which is considered the first rock and roll recording.

It was Sun Studios that released one of the contenders for the title of rock and roll’s first record. “Rocket 88″ was recorded by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. As a side note, the song was written, and the band was led by a young Ike Turner, who later went on to fame with Tina.

Classick Rockers #3: Elvis

The next flavor of classic rockers was led by the king, Elvis Presley. As a white performer, Elvis’ versions of black blues tunes were considered acceptable by white audiences. It sort of helped that he had a great voice and over the top stage presence too, but many of his first hits were all covers of black blues tunes. That’s All Right Mama was written and previously recorded by Arthur Crudup and Good Rocking Tonight came from Roy Brown, and later Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel.

The Sun Studio
The Sun Studio

Sam Phillips and Sun Studios would go on score hit after hit by bringing white performers together with black music. He was the tops in rock and roll records while Sun Studios was up and running, producing more records than anyone else. His first love was blues and said “The blues, it got people- black and white- to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out.” He was also quoted as saying “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”

Elvis wasn’t the only hero in the camp of classic rockers. It also included Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Billy Haley & the Comets, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Roy Orbison, and Gene Vincent along with others.

One of the classic rockers, Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Of this list, many will say that Chuck Berry is the true “King of Rock and Roll”, but racial attitudes of the times just wouldn’t allow it. He, along with Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, and others received a lot more recognition as attitudes relaxed, but at the time had difficulty finding recording studios and distributors. Many big names of rock from The Beatles to the Rolling Stones credit their influence.

Classic Rockers #3: Rockabilly

The third flavor of early classic rockers was rockabilly. The name came from a combination of rock and roll and hillbilly music, and that’s just what it was. Carl Perkins is the acknowledged leader here with hits like Blue Suede Shoes and Boppin the Blues. Many of Elvis’ hits were rockabilly as were early hits by Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and others. Rockabilly evolved quickly and by the early 1960s, it was merged into mainstream classic rock.

Rock’s Influences

Rock family influences
Rock family influences

Chuck Berry, one of the founding fathers of Rock and Roll, had a great quote about Rock’s influences:
“The Blues had a baby.  They call it Rock and Roll”. Fats Domino said just about the same “”What they call Rock and Roll I’ve been playing in New Orleans for years.”

It’s clear that Rhythm and Blues is Rock’s closest relative, but as it grew, influences from many different genres found their way in.  Here’s a few of rock’s early influences:

Country Music

Some of Rock’s most influential ancestors fall in the space somewhere in between Country Music and Rhythm and Blues. Music historians list several sub-genre in here, including Western Swing, Hillbilly Blues, Honky Tonk, and Bluegrass.

Rockabilly

Early in the history of Rock, the country / blues combination was combined with early Rock. The result was Rockabilly, and it brought the first major wave of popularity to the Rock craze. Elvis’ 1954 recording of “That’s Alright Mama” started it off, and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” spread Rock’s musical influence around the world.

Gospel

Over the years, Rock has borrowed heavily from Gospel, most notable in the harmonies. Many of the early stars credit their church and Gospel music for their musical training.

Teen Idols

“Sex sells” is the old advertising slogan and it proved itself in the early history of Rock. Elvis, of course, started it off with his “Elvis the Pelvis” stage appearance, but after Rock’s initial burst of popularity, the buzz faded. All of a sudden, there were no stars. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed in a plane crash, Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee Lewis had shocked even the liberal rockers by marrying his underaged cousin, and Alan Freed had been convicted in the Payola scandal.

When the Winter Dance Party Tour (Buddy Holly’s tour with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper) resumed, it included three clean cut, all american teenage heartthrobs. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Robert Velline (Bobby Vee) sang soft rock love songs and rocketed to stardom. They were followed by Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and the California beach singers like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.