The bitter cold, and unyielding winds of February drive through like a stake after we northerners endure November, December and January with no end in sight. Although the hours of sunshine seem to be expanding, the winds and ice and snow show no sign of easing.
But for one generation, the one alive and aware on February 3, 1959, this bleak month carries an additional note of sorrow.
In big city and remote local newspapers, delivered by shivering paper boys up and down snow piled streets, there was, in the words of Don McLean, “Bad news on the doorstep.”
Of all the exciting, original singer songwriters who arrived on stages and recording studios in the mid 1950’s and were labeled with the name Rock and Roll, none followed more closely in the footsteps laid down by Hank Williams than Buddy Holly. I make this claim while noting that Elvis, for example, although the King Of Rock and Roll and an innovator of historic proportions as a singer, did very little in the way of songwriting. And many such as Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash or Faron Young although rockers at times, did not in the end really make their final place in Rock and Roll.
Looking back, it’s surprising to think that Buddy Holly died in that tragic plane crash in Iowa, a mere six years after the death of Hank Williams. I suppose one of the reasons many Hank Williams fans would name Buddy Holly as their favorite early rocker is because of his early death. Like Hank Williams, Buddy Holly leaves many markers as to what might have been, but also the mystery that we will never know.
The main reason I am so confident in drawing a direct line from Hank Williams to Buddy Holly is the songs. But biographically we know that Bob Montgomery, Holly’s early partner in a teen group that was active in the Hank Williams era of stardom, was a keen Hank Williams fan. Holly was born in 1936 making him between 12 and 16 when the Hank Williams classic hits were flowing. So it’s a given he grew up with Hank everywhere in Lubbock Texas.
But more important, it’s in the songs. Because he died at only 22, the young Buddy Holly appears to have grabbed and never let go of the rock and roll side of Hank Williams.
Much of Hank Williams tremendous achievement lies in doing what no popular singer had never done so well before. He captured the pure excitement, and joy and humor, of the ups and down of love and life in a language which was humorous, playful, full of fun and stunning unique images. These original songs were delivered in a lively, bouncy, exciting rhythm in a voice that was full of exuberance and exaltation.
Look at ‘Hey Good Lookin’, ‘Move it on Over’ ‘Mind Your own Business, ‘Settin the Woods on Fire’.
And if you ask, was Hank Williams singing Buddy Holly style Rock and Roll in the early 50’s?
Listen to the live versions of ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ and Why Don’t You Love Me?’ on the Live at the Grand Old Opry CD.
Then you turn to Buddy Holly as a writer and performer. What a joyful catalogue and celebration of the joy of life.
Look at ‘Rave On’, ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘That’ll Be The Day’, ‘Everyday’, ‘Not Fade Away’ and of course the happiest of them all, ‘Oh Boy’, and many more.
There is a emphatic argument for Buddy Holly as the centuries most influential musician by Philip Norman in the British paper the Daily Telegraph on Saturday January 30th. Here’s a quote:
To call someone who died at 22 “the father of rock” is not as fanciful as it seems. As a songwriter, performer and musician, Holly is the progenitor of virtually every world-class talent to emerge in the Sixties and Seventies. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Bruce Springsteen all freely admit they began to play only after Buddy taught them how. Though normal-sighted as a teenager, Elton John donned spectacles in imitation of the famous Holly horn-rims and ruined his eyesight as a result.
Holly’s voice is the most imitated, and inimitable, in rock. Hundreds of singers have borrowed its eccentric pronunciation and phrasing. None (except perhaps John Lennon) has exactly caught the curious lustre of its tone, its erratic swings from dark to light, from exuberant snarl to tender sigh, nor brought off the “Holly hiccough” which could fracture even the word “well” into eight syllables.
We know where the skills listed in that paragraph could also be found in Holly’s past. But there was a lot of Lefty Frizzel in those vocals as well.
Tuesday February 3rd 1959 along with January 1st 1953 are heartbreaking days in the history of twentieth century music. Two young trail blazing innovators taken before the world could even begin to realise their possibilities, revealed late in his life by Hank Williams in songs like’Kawliga’ and ‘Ramblin Man’, and by Holly in songs like ‘Raining inMy Heart’ and ‘True Love Ways’. But what we have is enough, more than enough.
But I still hate February, and January too.
Here’s the LINK to the Telegraph article.