Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
If one takes the time to go to Lubbock, Texas, and speak with people who lived there at the time Buddy Holly was growing up, one will discover that many of Buddy Holly's former peers & neighbors think very little of the man who became a worldwide icon of the Rock-n-Roll era. They do not think poorly of him - most everyone who knew him agrees that he was a good-hearted boy; Rather, most people who grew up in Lubbock at the same time as Buddy think very little about him at all. It doesn't take long in Lubbock to realize that most really did consider Buddy Holly sort of a oddball, if they considered him at all.
I realized that Buddy Holly had somewhat of a dubious reputation in my hometown of Lubbock long before I ever began writing a book about West Texas art & music. I did not even know that Buddy Holly was from Lubbock until I was in junior high school. After much rancor among protesting citizens who still felt rock-n-roll was at least low culture if not downright evil, the City of Lubbock named the Yellow House Canyon fork of the Brazos River, which runs through North Lubbock along the Clovis Highway, "Buddy Holly Park." The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey, had recently been released; doubtless the attention the movie brought to Lubbock was the primary impetus to the decision. I remember thinking, "Why did they name that park after some old rock-n-roller?"
I was pleased to later discover that I was in good company in my ignorance of Buddy's very existence in my hometown. Joe Ely has earned a worldwide acclaim and a Grammy Award with his own innovative style of Texas-style Honky Tonk Rock-n-Roll. While Ely is best known for his Lubbock roots, he actually moved to Lubbock from Amarillo -- just 120 miles up Highway 87 -- when he was in junior high school, shortly after Buddy Holly died. Despite the fact that Buddy Holly had nearly a dozen top-ten hit songs recently on the charts at that time, teenaged music lover Joey Ely had no idea that Buddy Holly was even a native of Lubbock. Ely has informed me that it was only years later that he learned that he actually had taken guitar lessons in the same house where Buddy had lived in junior high school..
"Why does Lubbock seem to ignore its marvelous heritage
& legacy?" I wondered. I occasionally asked my friends'
parents if they had known Buddy when they were at Lubbock High
School. To my surprise, the response was never a proud, "Yes!
I knew The Star when!" The response invariably was something
like, "Yea. He was a weird guy." And that's about it.
"A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown," saith the Christ.
Today, there is hardly a musician hailing from Lubbock who
doesn't perform a Buddy Holly cover. But even a few short decades
ago, one of Lubbock's recognized premiere musical geniuses had
paid little attention to Buddy and was somewhat oblivious to
the contributions Buddy had made to music. Lloyd
Maines hit the worldwide
music scene as the pedal steel guitar player for the original
Joe Ely Band. Lloyd has been the pedal steel player of
choice for most of the bands who've made Texas-style music famous:
Ely, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen, The Lost Gonzo Band,
and many more. Adding to his credentials, Lloyd Maines has been
named the Austin "Music Producer of the Year" for the
first two years that he lived in Austin, finally having moving
down from a lifetime in Lubbock. Lloyd's keen production advice
is what convinced the Dixie Chicks to try out Lloyd's
somewhat inexperienced daughter Natalie when they asked him about
finding a new singer. Choosing Natalie Maines as their new lead
singer certainly turned out to be a profitable gamble for the
For, at that time unhonored in his home of Lubbock, Europe
knew that Buddy was certainly a prophet of this age which has
become so underscored by recorded and broadcasted music. The
woof of the Twenty-first Century psychological fabric has been
laid with the vibrations of recorded music of the Rock-and-Roll
Age. All our minds, regardless of geography and language, are
amok with the sounds of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones,
Bob Dylan (senseless to continue the almost infinite list; reader
comprehends the idea); all who attribute their musical careers
to the inspiration of Buddy Holly.
However, according to his contemporary Lubbockites, Buddy always had that strange misfit demeanor which seems so poignantly illustrated by those startling horn-rimmed glasses which were his trademark. Today one can hear the evidence in the words of that misfit kid. Listen to the lyrics of Buddy Holly's songs, all sweet, naïve love songs by a gangly teenage boy who just wants to be loved and popular with the girls:
Buddy's older brothers Larry & Travis, who played C&W
music around Lubbock just for fun (they had "real jobs"),
tell stories about having to tolerate their little brother who
wanted to get on stage and play fiddle with them. His older brothers
greased Buddy's bow to cut down the screeching. The little kid
sure was cute, they admitted, but he was the little brother.
Frequently it is the little brother, with the intense desire
to match the achievements of the elders, who exceeds his older
brothers by sheer over-compensation.
In the religious, agricultural town of Lubbock, one is respected
if he works hard and has something to show for it. Music is appreciated
but only as something you do in your free time, not as an occupation.
Buddy was, in effect, in self-imposed isolation from much of
the community, especially once he started playing what always
conservative Lubbock considered "Demon Rock-n-Roll; that
the acclaimed graphic artist, painter, sculptor, musician, and
songwriter from Lubbock described Buddy's force thusly: "Buddy Holly was armed to the teeth 'cause he's
got that Stratocaster, you know; And that was a viscous weapon
when he was there in Lubbock."
How does creation of a personal dream occur? Allen Ginsberg,
the Beat poet who wrote the infamous & revolutionary poem
"Howl" gives some insight regarding another prophet
of the Twentieth Century, his long-time friend and colleague
Jack Kerouac, a virtual mythological hero himself. Of Kerouc,
Ginsberg said, "Jack made a mythology of his whole life
and put people into the mythology. And it was a mythology that
was so tender, dear, and mortal that people willingly fell into
it with pleasure, because it was an interpretation that made
And it has charmed everybody since."
Buddy Holly knew the secret that Kerouac knew: We must act on our own dreams and desires. This is how God causes the world to evolve. We humans collectively are indeed the individual cells in the mind of the creative force of our world. To function properly in God's equation, we must learn how to be ourselves. As the Great Angelic Bard Shakespeare instructed: "This above all: to thine ownself be true." And like Kerouac, Buddy Holly's sweet, simple interpretation of the truth, honest & electrifying, has charmed the World. Ginsberg's comments about the mythological life of Kerouac gives us some insight into how we must approach the world we live in if we intend to change it for both ourselves and others. Perhaps this is one of the great lessons of the Great American experiment: As Kerouac learned in the American Century, we must all attempt to create our own mythologies, to mythologize & make magical our environment and ourselves.
Buddy Holly wanted to become something that very few people had even imagined being at that time: a Rock-n-Roll star. There really was no such thing at the time. It can be argued that Buddy Holly was, in fact, the very first Elvis impersonator. Until a relatively obscure Elvis Presley, opening for country star Ferlin Huskey, came to Lubbock in February of Buddy's senior year, Buddy was primarily playing traditional Country & Western music for the public. After opening for Elvis and Johnny Cash the next year at Lubbock's Fair Park Coliseum, Buddy decided his destiny and declared to himself, "That's what I want to do with my life!"
Through vision of the future and sheer force of will, coupled with an amazing talent for comprehending the technology of recording, our young, gangly Be-spectacled One set out to create one of the most enduring & influential manifestations of the human capability for dreams. His dream would change the world for us all.
While Elvis will always be the King of Rock-n-Roll, Buddy
Holly is most certainly its George Washington. There will never
be another beautiful Elvis; Elvis was truly a Force of History.
However, Buddy Holly gave hope to all the outcasts, misfits,
artists, dreamers, shakers, wailers & moaners of the world
that if goofy ol' Buddy Holly could make it as a Star, they could
do it too.
Buddy Holly & the Crickets created the structure of
the rock-n-roll band as we know it: a four piece ensemble --
2 guitars, bass, & drums with a charismatic singer out front
-- writing & recording their own songs. Moreover, Buddy Holly
is credited with being THE major influence on what is certainly
one of the most influential phenomenon of the Twentieth Century:
Buddy Holly gave birth to The Beatles.
And in return for giving rock-n-roll to the Beatles,
the Beatles gave back to us our own Buddy Holly. Until the arrival
of the Beatles - and Rolling Stones, who also credit
Buddy Holly with much of their music and style - the rock-n-roll
that was forged by Elvis and Buddy Holly was almost forgotten
in the xenophobic mass-media culture of the early 'Sixties. Elvis
had been drafted, Jerry Lee Lewis had been disgraced, Little
Richard had gotten religion, Chuck Berry had gone to prison for
violation of the Mann Act, and poor young Buddy Holly was dead.
MoTown R&B, California surf music, and the "bubblegum"
music of Lesley Gore and Pat Boone were dominating the pop charts
immediately before the British invasion of February 7, 1964.
But the Beatles and the Stones returned Buddy's vision of rock-n-roll to its cradle in America. Both bands' first recordings were Buddy Holly songs. Paul McCartney still talks about how he and John would try to imitate Buddy's guitar and vocals. They most certainly incorporated many of Buddy's innovative recording techniques - multiple tracking & layering of sound. Examine the Beatles early music, (pre-Bob Dylan reefer encounter & Rubber Soul); it's all Buddy Holly imitation!:
John Lennon admitted that he would never have had the self-confidence to wear his glasses in public if not for Buddy: "He made it easy to wear glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly." Paul McCartney has been so enamored with Buddy's music that Sir Paul now owns the publishing rights to most of Buddy Holly's songs, and McCartney also promotes a Buddy Holly Week in England, every September during the anniversary of Holly's birth. The most apparent evidence of Buddy Holly's influence on the Beatles is of course the band's name itself: a manifestly transparent reference & homage to the Crickets.
Buddy Holly achieved his dream. With the sheer force of his desire and will, Buddy Holly - the misfit, dorky little brother - created an everlasting icon of the quintessence of rock-n-roll coolness. In death, Buddy Holly will always be remembered as he was during his life only in his own mind: a Rock-n-Roll Hero. Buddy discovered that the willpower of a dedicated dreamer can be enough to create a new reality, and he only began to see that his dream was powerful enough to change reality for us all.
I wonder if most prophets even know that they are prophets? Anyone who knows Twentieth Century music must agree that Buddy Holly was certainly one of the prophetic visionaries of the fledgling recording industry. Buddy Holly harnessed and brought to reality a sound which would shake the foundations of America and the world at the cusp of Ages.
We all can learn from that goofy, skinny, four-eyed prophet kid from the middle of the American outback. I believe that Buddy Holly discovered that the force of the human capacity to dream is the secret to how Magic works. It is obvious that Buddy's magical dream has truly engulfed the world.
Long Live Rock-n-Roll! Long Live Buddy Holly!
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2007 Chris Oglesby
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