This title is so very appropriate! When I began this blog a while back, I fully intended it to cover an eclectic area of Lubbock known as the Depot District. Once I started putting the pieces together, it literally took on a life of its own & was morphing into a monster that I felt was getting out of control.
I truly wanted the information I present to be easily digestible by readers, & I needed to feel I was doing my very best to feature local venues & businesses in a fair & complete way. With that in mind, I took a step back & decided I needed to break the District down into individual vignettes & tell the story of each entity.
This new approach gave me a very organic starting place for the first chapter of this story – Buddy Holly & The Buddy Holly Center!
The Early Years
Lubbock, the South Plains & West Texas in general, enjoys a reputation as a breeding ground for exceptional musical talent. Bob Wills, Mac Davis, Joe Ely, The Gatlin Brothers & the Maines Brothers are all very recognizable & respected names in the music world. In all honesty though, there is just one, true native son who left a deeply chiseled mark on Rock & Roll – Buddy Holly!
Buddy Holly’s musical influence literally cut a white-hot swath across the infant genre of Rock & Roll in a mere 18 months. I don’t know that I ever stopped to think about the brevity of his time on the musical stage as a living, breathing artist. Backed by The Crickets, he recorded an enviable catalog of hits that continue to color not only music, but movies, television, the printed word & art.
On September 7, 1936, Charles Hardin Holley made his debut as Lawrence Odell and Ella Pauline (Drake) Holley’s third son. “Buddy,” as he was dubbed, joined brothers Larry & Travis at the family’s 6th Street home in Lubbock, Texas. From a very early age, he was taught to play a wide variety of instruments & there is a record of him singing at the very tender age of five.
Holley’s early influence was bluegrass, but it took one encounter with Elvis Presley to kick-start the true rockabilly style in 1955 & forever alter the course of musical history. That history-making mid-October day paired him with junior high classmate Bob Montgomery & Larry Welborn to open for Presley at Lubbock High School. History was made, & the trio caught the eye of a talent scout. Fate played its first hand in Holly’s life!
By the next February, Decca Records signed Buddy to a contract, but misspelled his last name – Holly – an error that almost followed him to his grave.
The next few months were a virtual whirlwind that took its toll on Holly & his band mates. Before it was said & done, Holly was left standing on his own, while still seeking to fulfill his destiny. In that time, he also met the love of his life, Maria Elena. He brought from New York & married in front of his family in Lubbock, Texas. I can’t help but wonder at the naive times he lived in – crossing the barrier of race & state lines must have pushed a few buttons in the late 1950’s.
Blue Days & Black Nights
Some would say Holly’s popularity was in a momentary wane, having split with The Crickets & Norman Petty. He was in need of a cash infusion since his musical “wealth” was in an entangled state, he embarked on The Winter Dance Party featuring Holly, along with Richie Valens & J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Valens himself was just eight months into his short-lived rise to stardom, while Richardson, who was paving the way for what would become the music video, was 30 years ahead of his time. When the three young singers boarded the plane that night, along with pilot Roger Peterson, not one among them has reached the age of 30. Richardson was the only one older than 25, having reached his 28th birthday.
Holly chartered the flight simply out of the desire to leave Clear Lake, Iowa & reach the next city so he could do laundry. A young Waylon Jennings gave his seat to Richardson, & guitarist Tommy Allsup flipped a coin with Valens over who would get the final spot on the plane. There is some disagreement to this day from Dion (of Dion & The Belmonts fame) as to the person really flipping the coin, but history favors Allsup’s claim.
Arguments aside, the final toll took three earthly stars & catapulted them into heaven. A farmer who was a mere teenager that night would much later sum up this acre’s significance, “It’ll never be just a cornfield again.” Fate played its last hand in Holly’s life!
Coming Full Circle – Back at Home
Lubbock, like many cities the world over, saw its downtown area become a victim of growth. As the city expanded & took over acreage that once was home to cotton & corn, blocks that made up the urban core lost their luster, & tenants moved out into other areas of the Hub City.
The now-defunct Depot Restaurant & Bar kick-started a new interest in reviving older urban spaces in Lubbock. What was once the Fort Worth & Denver South Plains Railway Depot, the product of famed Ft. Worth architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, became the home of this popular eatery. Fittingly, the building was the first Lubbock Historic Landmark, as designated by the Lubbock City Council in 1979. Unfortunately, this business ran its course & closed its doors in the mid-1990’s – around the time Woodrow House Bed & Breakfast was opening a few blocks west, across from Texas Tech University (we eventually would add the 50’s Room as a tribute to Lubbock’s role in era’s cultural history).
Lubbock city fathers later purchased the historic landmark & it recently underwent major renovations. The once-ornate train station is now home to the Buddy Holly Center & is once again the undisputed star of the Depot District.
Everything Old is New Again
This fall, I visited the Buddy Holly Center with several friends. There is a great deal to see before ever entering the exhibit hall of the museum. Yes, we were caught up in the “touristy” things like posing in the lenses of the oversized, iconic spectacles positioned in front of the center.
Just outside the Center doors is a courtyard littered with tables & chairs. They sit on a paved area marked by a set of railway tracks that jut out of an exterior wall of the building & end at the edge of the courtyard space – as if a mystery train might roar into existence & then disappear into the ether. I spent more than a few moments looking at the railroad tracks. It made me wonder about the history of my chosen city – wonder about all the trains that rolled over those tracks & the people traveling through Lubbock. If they were passing through, where were they going? If they were staying, what brought them to Lubbock? In either case, how did the journey affect their lives?
Once inside, we took turns modeling in front of Holly’s gargantuan signature that welcomes visitors to The Center. The building maintains its historical relevance, while paying homage to Holly via a modern steel Stratocaster guitar form – a nod to his own instrument on display inside. I’ll admit, it took our group some time to orient ourselves to the actual shape of the guitar, but it was a fun way to remain in the main exhibit gallery a little longer & perhaps catch a glimpse of something we missed on our first pass.
There are so many personal items that actually belonged to Holly & his family. Included are his report cards from school & leather projects he crafted as a young man. However, one thing caught my imagination – the glasses he wore the night of the crash!
I was instantly working over the premise of how long those glasses remained on his face. From reading details of that night, I’m sure his glasses weren’t the main issue on his mind, but there are very few things more personal than glasses. They are crafted for one person – they aren’t interchangeable.
The signature spectacles caught the eye by Holly’s optometrist, Dr. J. Davis Armistead, while on vacation in Mexico. He brought back two pair of the heavy plastic Faiosa frames, one black & one tortoiseshell. A History Channel biography referred to Holly’s style as “geek chic.”
In the violence of the crash, the black glasses were thrown clear & not discovered until two months later when the snow began to melt. Also found at that time was the Big Bopper’s watch. The glasses were put into a manila envelope & tucked away at the Iowa Cerro Gordo County sheriff’s office. They remained there until 1980, when they were returned to Maria Elena. The only alteration made to them when put on display at The Center was the repair of a crack in the broken frame, but they continue to miss the actual prescription lenses.
The Center’s main mission is to preserve the wonderful music of Lubbock’s favorite son, while promoting the ongoing music & art that makes the South Plains unique.
The Center also features the Texas Musicians Hall of Fame, which highlights changing exhibits related to individuals inducted into the West Texas Walk of Fame (which is located across the street from the Center). Through February 3, 2013, the Crickets take the spotlight in the Texas Musicians Hall of Fame. Comprised of Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan & Sonny Curtis, The Crickets display includes photographs & memorabilia stemming from the group’s rise to fame.
The outdoor Walk of Fame features a larger-than-life statue of Holly, backed by a curving wall festooned by plaques commemorating the inductees who followed Holly. He, naturally, was the first person honored in 1979. One of my friends was delighted to find her college ballet instructor, Suzanne Aker, among those recognized. A year later, Holly’s friend, Waylon Jennings, became the second inductee, followed a year later by Mac Davis. Others include actor Barry Corbin, the Maines Brothers, Bob Wills, Tanya Tucker & so many more who literally played an integral role in the culture of West Texas.
Tours and docent programs are available for groups of 20 or more for $2 per person. Groups are asked to reserve a time in advance. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. To 5 p.m., & Sunday, 1 p.m. To 5 p.m. Please call the Center at 806-775-3560 to schedule a tour or email email@example.com with questions.
Buddy Holly Gallery
General Admission: $5
Senior Citizens (60+): $3
Children 7-17: $2
Children 6 & Under: Free
Active Duty Military (in uniform): Free
South Plain Soil
That same day, our little trio made a final stop at Holly’s final return to Lubbock – the City of Lubbock Cemetery off of 31st Street. I expected an extended hunt to find the gravesite. Just inside, though, was a marker indicating an almost instant arrival at our destination. We parked just a short distance inside the gate, got out & found three headstones marking Holly’s final resting place, along with those of his parents. All three are literally at the edge of the lane. There was nothing remarkable about the site – a guitar is engraved on Buddy’s stone, & they all sit flush with the ground. Mementos litter the actual marker of Holly’s grave – cd’s, guitar picks, notes, etc. The simplicity was striking, but I think it was appropriate – it’s what I imagine he would have wanted. I want to go there again…
Following Holly’s Influence
Once I started delving into Holly’s history, I invested a small fortune in books chronicling his short life. One of my favorites isn’t a true biography – it’s more an homage to the details surrounding the author’s search for the meaning to Holly’s life, his death & how he continues to influence people even today. Gary W. Moore wrote “Hey Buddy: In Pursuit of Buddy Holly, My New Buddy John, & My Lost Decade of Music” after being forced to endure a re-enactment of The Winter Dance Party for his mother-in-law’s sake. He cared nothing for Holly’s music or, for that fact, the music that defined the decade after Holly’s death. He saw the early years of Rock & Roll as a subversive footnote to the political & cultural turmoil of his youth. His background in drum & bugle corps instilled a love of classical & jazz music & left little room to appreciate The Beetles, The Rolling Stones or The Who.
Musician & actor John Mueller was the star of the reincarnated Winter Dance Party tour – Holly’s last public performances. He also wrote & performed “Hey Buddy” & incorporated the titles of Holly’s most memorable recordings into the lyrics of the tribute. A fire ignited in Moore’s mind that drove him to discover why Holly was figuratively speaking to him from the grave.
Moore touches on all of the expected high points in Holly’s career, but also explores those unanswered questions that any fan of Holly or history has regarding his end:
Why are people still listening to Holly?
Why is Holly’s music still relevant?
What was it about Holly’s musical style that made him a pioneer?
Why does Holly’s widow guard his legacy so strictly?
Why have the owners of the plane Holly died in not spoken about the crash, & do they still retain ownership of the plane? If so, why not let it be examined?
Why do people still seek out a corn field in Iowa to gaze on the spot where the plane crashed?
How would the music world be affected if Holly had lived?
Until reading Moore’s book, I had not given a lot of thought into the amount of information available on Buddy Holly’s life on the internet. At his suggestion, I initially went to YouTube to view John Mueller’s video “Hey Buddy.”
I quickly found it, but then I spent hours looking at “related” videos – everything from stills of the plane crash to disputes between Allsup & Dion over the coin flip. It was mind boggling.
I moved on to listen to “Not Fade Away” just to listen to drummer Jerry Allison pounded out the song’s beat on an ordinary cardboard box. Modern music history doesn’t get any better than this! At one time, Rolling Stone had this song ranked at 107 on the list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Finally, I had to listen to Don McLean’s famous lament, “American Pie,” which addresses “the day the music died.” While he never directly mentioned Holly, or the other two musicians on the flight, the song has taken on its own meaning to listeners. Moore had the rare opportunity to interview McLean for his book – rather McLean spoke on the topic of Buddy Holly (he didn’t leave room for questions from the author). His main point was how quickly artists of early Rock & Roll faded from the minds of listeners. Holly’s early demise slammed the door on the importance of his true contribution to the genre. The wave of British bands that invaded America left an impression that they were the true forefathers of Rock & Roll. Since then, members of those bands have acknowledged Holly’s role in defining their own styles – particularly Sir Paul McCartney.
Follow Holly’s Footsteps
I’m proud of Lubbock (in case you hadn’t gotten that idea by now). There is more to this city than collegiate football, & I want to challenge visitors to investigate the city. The Buddy Holly Center won’t eat up vast amounts of time, but I guarantee you’ll come away wanting to know more about the man & his music. There is so much to read & even more music waiting to be remembered – you can get started just a few blocks from your room at Woodrow House Bed & Breakfast…
The Buddy Holly Center
1801 Crickets Avenue
(formerly Avenue G)
Lubbock, TX 79401
806-775-3560 * Fax: 806-767-0732
Woodrow House Bed & Breakfast
David & Dawn Fleming, Owners/Innkeepers
2629 19th Street
(At corner of Boston Avenue across from Texas Tech University)
Lubbock, Texas 79410
Toll Free: 800-687-5236
Click to E-mail Innkeeper