Growing up in New Jersey during the 1960s and 1970s, Pat DiNizio was familiar with Holly through the New York radio stations that aired his hits as well as The Beatles’ faithful rendition of Holly’s “Words of Love.”
DiNizio’s interest deepened in the mid-to-late 1970s after he stumbled upon an out-of-print Holly album at Manhattan’s legendary Colony Records. DiNizio scraped together the $20 he needed to buy the album, which ultimately turned out to be an important investment in his career.
“I remember sitting on the floor with my feet propped up against the radiator with the speakers on either side of me and listening to that Buddy album,” DiNizio says. “Listening to it, I realized this was what I wanted to do — it was an epiphany of sorts. It turned my head around completely in terms of the music I had been listening to and what I thought I wanted to do with my life.”
What began as a casual awareness of Holly grew into an obsession.
“When I realized that Buddy was an important person in the history of rock ’n’ roll, and when he became important to me musically, I made sure I did my research and went out and found everything I could,” DiNizio says. “And this was a pre-eBay, pre-Internet time when you couldn’t just do a search online and pull up a bio. There were no books in the library on Buddy — you had to search this stuff out. It wasn’t easy.”
DiNizio co-founded The Smithereens in 1980, achieving Billboard chart success later that same decade with such originals as “Blood and Roses,” “Only a Memory” and “A Girl Like You.” Through the years, though, DiNizio’s interest in Holly, as well as the Crickets, remained a constant.
“We’ve always done Buddy Holly material in our sets,” the singer/songwriter/guitarist says. “Our former bass player used to want to do a Holly song every night. He would say, ‘It keeps us honest.’”
For 1989’s 11, the third Smithereens album, DiNizio wrote a song called “Maria Elena,” which he named after Holly’s widow. DiNizio’s latest Holly tribute is his grandest to date: the all-Holly covers solo album Pat DiNizio/Buddy Holly, released in January on Koch Records.
“With this new record,” DiNizio says, “I almost felt a personal obligation, a responsibility, to do something to keep his memory alive on the 50th anniversary of his death.”
DiNizio was inspired by The Beatles’ use of strings on “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday” to include string arrangements on most of the songs for “Pat DiNizio/Buddy Holly.”
“We didn’t take the material and do wacky things with it just to be different,” adds DiNizio. “I went to someone who was alive and making records when Buddy was still alive — Charles Calello — to arrange all of the strings.”
One of the string-laden songs on DiNizio’s latest album is “Learning the Game.” It’s a song Holly recorded in a basic form in his New York apartment, but he died before he had the chance to polish it.
“I sort of finished it for him,” DiNizio says.
Holly has always been an important artist to Terry Stewart, the president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
“He’s just one of those seminal artists who we now recognize more than ever the import that he had on the music and the legacy of the music,” Stewart says.
In early 2008, as in past years, Stewart found himself thinking about the anniversary of Holly’s fatal plane crash. He also began to think of ways in which the Rock Hall could commemorate the 50th anniversary in 2009.
His original idea was to do something in Cleveland, but after speaking and meeting with people behind the annual event that’s held at the Surf Ballroom, Stewart says “It made all the sense in the world to partner as opposed to do two separate events.”
The result: a celebration called 50 Winters Later, which was held Jan. 28 through Feb. 2 at Iowa’s Surf Ballroom and included educational programs, symposiums and performances, plus the Rock Hall’s dedication of the Surf as a historic landmark.
Speaking of historic, Holly fans who venture to Cleveland in the months to come will see something he had with him after he left the Surf Ballroom in 1959.
“I just gave to the museum out of my collection the union cards he was carrying in his wallet for him and the Crickets when the plane crashed,” Stewart says.
New Holly collections in stores
For years, Holly fans have waited for the doors to his archives to swing wide open. Geffen Records answered the call in January with the release of two comprehensive Holly CD collections.
The two-disc Down the Line: Rarities and the three-disc Memorial Collection both contain previously unreleased pre-fame recordings and songs Holly recorded in his New York apartment shortly before his death.