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Music historian Bill Griggs is quick to recall his initial Buddy Holly experience.
“It was July 1957,” Griggs says. “In Hartford, Conn., where I was born … my partner Pat and I danced the bop, and we did it to ‘That’ll Be the Day.’”
That November in Hartford, the teenage Griggs saw his first Holly/Crickets show, when the band featured drummer Jerry Allison, bassist Joe B. Mauldin and guitarist Niki Sullivan. When the group came through town in March 1958 (sans the departed Sullivan), Griggs attended that concert as well.
They were “very, very loud” compared to other acts at that time, recalls Griggs, adding that Holly made a point of playing to the cheap seats on both sides of the stage.
“The big thing from both shows was that they sounded like their records,” adds Griggs. “Where Chuck Berry would use a pickup group and never sounded exactly like his records, well, the people who were on the stage with Buddy Holly were the ones who made the records with him, and they sounded exactly like the records except for the background vocals.”
On Feb. 3, 1959, Griggs was driving his father’s car home for lunch when he heard about Holly’s death on the radio.
“I remember pulling to the side of the road in shock — not in tears, but in shock,” he says. “I went back to school 45 minutes later, and the boys in particular were saying, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ We didn’t even say it out loud — we were whispering it. It affected us teenagers really, really hard.”
In 1975, Griggs founded the Buddy Holly Memorial Society, which had more than 5,500 members around the world when it ended in 1991, according to Griggs’ Rockin50s.com Web site. Griggs, who moved to Lubbock in 1981, is recognized as an authority on 1950s music and Holly’s life and career in particular.
That said, he knows exactly what Holly had in mind for the future.
“Buddy was going to build a recording studio in Lubbock; I own the plans,” Griggs says. “He had bought the property over in West Lubbock – at the time, it wasn’t part of Lubbock proper as it is today; we gobbled it up.
“The reason that Buddy went to New York in ’58 was that it was the center of the music business then,” he adds. “He wanted to get to know all the label owners and all the publishers so that he’d have all these contacts when he came to start his studio in Lubbock.
“If he had the studio, he could stop public performing, do writing — which really was his first love — and then take all of his musical friends from [the Lubbock] area and record them.”
That’s not all. Griggs says that according to the musician’s mother, Holly “wanted to do a Count Basie-type album with horns. He wanted to do an album with Mahalia Jackson, and he had other plans for other artists.”
Stay tuned for Part 4 of our look back at Buddy Holly’s legacy!