What’s That Sound? The knee-slapping genius of Buddy Holly song ‘Everyday’
What did you achieve by the time you were 22? I racked up a significant amount of student debt for a degree I’m still yet to find a use for, just about figured out how to use a washing machine and developed a pretty erratic sleeping pattern. Buddy Holly on the other hand—before his untimely passing—helped define popular music, directly influencing countless artists including The Beatles and Elton John and created a back catalogue of some of the most timeless recordings of all time.
When you’re thinking of rock ‘n’ roll legends it’s hard to find an artist more integral and pivotal in the genre’s birth and cultivation than Buddy Holly. Born in Texas on September 7th 1936, much of Holly’s legend is sadly swallowed up by his famous death, a moment in history known widely as “the day the music died”. Involved in a plane crash alongside Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, Holly sadly died at the height of his fame. He was only in his early 20s but, despite his young age, he had begun to find nationwide acclaim and beyond. As the new generation of rock ‘n’ roll came to the fore, pushing pop music as it did, Holly was an integral member of the welcoming party.
After a run of supporting both Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, Holly decided that music was the only career for him and with the help of Eddie Crandall was signed up to Decca records. Disappointed with the results of being with a major, Holly took himself to see Norman Petty and form The Crickets. It was at Petty’s studio and with Brunswick Records that some of his most cherished songs were composed and recorded.
One of which was ‘Everyday’, a song written in 1957 as a B-side to arguably Holly’s most well-known song ‘Peggy Sue’ but, in the years that followed, the song has gone on to become a classic in its own right. In an age when instrumentation in commercial music was still being solidified, it features an acoustic bass, acoustic guitar, vocals and an odd keyboard come glockenspiel hybrid called a Celesta. However, it is the curious percussion that is not quite rigid enough to be a metronome, not quite snappy enough to be a snare rim, and too damp to be a woodblock that draws the case into question, what is it? It’s actually the simplest so far.
In the days before multi-tracking, songs had to be cut live using one microphone to record the band and vocals in one take, this meant that instruments could not simply be turned up or down in the mix to balance them out. To counteract this recording engineers would use a proximity effect to balance the level of the band, placing the loudest instruments further away from the microphone or behind baffles to dampen them and physically move musicians closer and further away from the microphone in certain segments to adjust their volume.
However, with the low volume of the acoustic instrumentation being played by the rest of the band, it must have proven tricky to allow a percussive instrument of any volume. So when percussionist Jerry Allison found the perfect sound to keep the rhythm of the song it was quite literally a knee-slapping moment, (well close enough anyway) the momentum leading the tempo of the song is actually him slapping the side of his thigh.