The day that the world lost Buddy Holly is commonly accepted as ‘The Day the Music Died‘. However, the long-lasting effect of his career can still be felt on the industry today through those he inspired.
Holly was only 22 when he tragically passed away in a plane crash alongside Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. Despite being so young, Holly had become one of the most recognisable figures in the musical world, and the star was only getting started. He was one of the key figures to spearhead the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, dramatically changing the face of culture for the better and inspiring a whole new generation in the process.
The starlet earned his stripes by touring with esteemed names, including Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, artists that undoubtedly influenced Holly’s approach to tackling difficult facets of the music industry. Of course, it didn’t take long for him to become an international sensation in his own right, and the world truly was his oyster.
Below, we celebrate his influence on six artists who have expressed gratitude to Buddy Holly for their career and look at how he lives on through them.
Musicians inspired by Buddy Holly:
When Bob Dylan was first introduced to the work of Buddy Holly, it gave him a quasi-religious feeling inside, one that the singer has never been able to do justice with words. Holly was Dylan’s first musical hero, and he even trekked across America to see him in the flesh shortly before his death.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dylan said: “If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved – the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues.”
Adding: “Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs – songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great – sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed.”
Paul McCartney and John Lennon were familiarised with Buddy Holly when he performed on British television at the London Palladium in 1958, which left them blown away. What struck the duo the most about Holly was that he was a songwriter and a singer, and it inspired them to start crafting their own original material.
“Buddy Holly was completely different; he was out of Nashville, so that introduced us to the country music scene,” McCartney once noted. “I still like Buddy’s vocal style. And his writing. One of the main things about The Beatles is that we started out writing our own material. People these days take it for granted that you do, but nobody used to then. John and I started to write because of Buddy Holly. It was like, ‘Wow! He writes and is a musician’.”
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones’ third single was a cover of Buddy Holly number ‘Not Fade Away’, a tribute to one of their greatest heroes as they kept his torch burning. The track provided the group with their first top ten hit in the UK and put The Stones on the right trajectory towards superstardom.
“We did it with a Bo Diddley beat, which at the time was very avant-garde for a white band to be playing Bo Diddley’s stuff,” the late Charlie Watts later said about their unique spin on the Buddy Holly number. “It was a very popular rhythm for us in clubs; looking at it from the drumming point of view. So we did it in this slightly different way than Buddy Holly did it.”
There was an authenticity to Buddy Holly which spoke to Eric Clapton on a profound level. Even though his leafy surroundings in Surrey were a different world to Holly’s native Nashville, he felt like he was a kindred spirit and an artist who he called “one of us”.
‘Slowhand’ also became infatuated with the Strat after seeing Holly use the instrument on television, and he then saved up to buy one as a teenager, which he used to mimic his idol.
Speaking with NME in 2009, Clapton commented: “Of all the music heroes of the time, Buddy Holly was the most accessible, and he was the real thing… He was one of us.”
Bruce Springsteen conducted an interview with Rolling Stone in 1978 shortly after seeing The Buddy Holly Story at the cinema, and the influence of the late singer on his work was fresh in the mind of ‘The Boss’ during the conversation.
At one point, he revealed his pre-show ritual, which was playing Buddy Holly every night before going on stage” because “it keeps me honest.” Speaking about the film, he said: “It’s funny because I could never really picture Buddy Holly moving. To me, he was always just that guy with the bow tie on the album cover. I liked the picture because it made him a lot more real for me.”
At another point, Springsteen admitted: “I’ve always wanted to sing Buddy Holly on stage,” and shortly after making that statement, he stayed true to his word by adding ‘Not Fade Away’ to his setlist.
Elton John is perhaps one of the few equally symbiotic with spectacles as Buddy Holly. If it wasn’t for the latter making him feel like glasses were a necessary fashion accessory, he’d be bereft of his famous look.
“I began wearing glasses when I was 13 to copy Buddy Holly,” he admitted in John Goldrosen’s book, The Buddy Holly Story. “After 18 months, I found I couldn’t see without them. If any young fans are thinking of copying me, I’d advise them to forget it”.
It takes a deep level of infatuation to blind yourself to look like your hero, but that’s the dedication that young Elton had to Holly.