What I’ve Been Listening to: Buddy Holly/Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly is the second studio album of a young artist who during a short career created an incredible legacy

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While working on my previous post about the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, I learned that Buddy Holly was one of the model’s early adopters and in fact became its first “hero” in the U.S. His 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with his band The Crickets helped popularize the Strat. This gave me the idea to revisit the music of Holly, an artist I’ve liked from the very first moment I listened to Peggy Sue on the radio, which is longer ago than I want to remember!

Released in February 1958, technically, Buddy Holly, was Holly’s first solo album. For contractual reasons, his previous record, The “Chirping” Crickets, was credited to The Crickets, but the same band played on both releases. The then 21-year-old artist from Lubbock, Texas, who was a prolific writer, wrote or co-wrote six of the 12 tracks – similar to the predecessor, for which he co-wrote five of 12 songs.

The album kicks off with I’m Gonna Love You Too, a nice rockabilly tune. Officially, the song is credited to Crickets bassist and rhythm guitarist Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan, respectively, as well as Norman Petty, who produced the album. But Crickets drummer Jerry Allison later went on record saying it was actually Holly who primarily wrote the song.

Next up is Peggy Sue, which in my opinion is one of the greatest rock & roll tunes of all time. Credited to Holly, Allison and Petty, it was initially released as a single in July 1957. Amazingly, Peggy Sue “only” peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Top 100. Here’s a clip from the above mentioned 1957 performance on Ed Sullivan.

Everyday is another classic appearing on the album. The song was written by Holly and Petty, and initially released as the B-side to the Peggy Sue single. The tune has two unusual features. The percussion was created by drummer Allison slapping his knees. There is also a celesta played by Petty, a keyboard instrument that creates a sound similar to a glockenspiel.

As a huge fan of The Beatles, I have to call out Words Of Love, which the Fab Four covered in 1964 on their fourth UK studio album Beatles For Sales. It is the only song on Buddy Holly that is solely credited to Holly. What stands out in this tune are the beautiful guitar lines. Seemingly effortlessly, Holly blended playing chords and picking-style. It reminds me a bit of The Byrds. He also harmonized with himself by combining tape recordings of each vocal part.

Another tune I’d like to highlight is Rave On, which became the album’s fourth and final single in April 1958. The song was written by Sonny West, Bill Tilghman and Petty. West recorded and released it first, but it was Holly’s version that ended up becoming a hit – one of six Holly tunes that entered the charts in 1958. Here’s a great clip – don’t know from which show.

While unlike its predecessor at no. 420, Buddy Holly is not included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, four of its tracks are in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: That’ll Be the Day (No. 39), Rave On (No. 155), Peggy Sue (No. 197) and Everyday (No. 238). Altogether, five Holly tunes are on the list – the fifth being Not Fade Away (No. 108), a co-write with Petty included on The “Chirping” Crickets. And, yep, that’s the Not Fade Away The Rolling Stones recorded seven years later and issued as their first U.S. single.

Sadly, Buddy Holly was Holly’s final studio album that appeared during his life time. Not even a year later, his life was cut short at age 22 while touring the Midwest together with fellow rock & roll artists Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper). To get to their next gig, Holly chartered a small plane, which crashed during bad weather in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, only minutes after takeoff from Mason City, Iowa.

Buddy Holly Plane Wreck
Photo of the plane wreck near Clear Lake, Iowa, taken by the Civil Aeronautics Board (precursor to the National Transportation Safety Board) the morning after the crash in the course of their investigation

On board and also killed were Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson. Valens had tossed a coin for a seat on the doomed plane with rockabilly singer Tommy Allsup, who was the guitarist of Holly’s band during the tour. Holly had parted ways with Petty and The Crickets in December 1958. Allsup passed away in January this year at the age of 85.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Rock & Roll Pioneer Delivers Strong Final Bow

One more time Chuck Berry is playing guitar like he’s ringing a bell

While it’s no Berry Is On Top and Chuck Berry didn’t need this final album to establish his incredible legacy, it’s simply a great joy to listen to this record. Released today, Chuck is Berry’s first new record in 38 years and the first new album that appears following his death on March 18 this year.

When Berry announced Chuck on October 18, 2016, his 90th birthday, he obviously knew it was going to be his final record. He had stopped performing in 2014 due to his declining health. “This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy,” said Berry in the above announcement, referring to Themetta Berry, his wife of 68 years. “My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”

chuck_berry

The songs on Chuck are mostly taken from tracks Berry recorded between 1991 and 2014. Released by Dualtone Records, the album was recorded in various studios around Berry’s hometown of St. Louis. All recording work was finished prior to his death.

The record features the Blueberry Hill Band, Berry’s longtime backing group, including Robert Lohr (piano), Jimmy Marsala (bass) and Keith Robinson (drums). Additional musicians include his son Charles Berry Jr. (guitar), his daughter Ingrid Berry (harmonica) and even his grandson Charles III (guitar on Wonderful Woman), as well as Tom Morello (guitar on Big Boys), Nathaniel Rateliff (guitar on Big Boys) and Gary Clark, Jr. (guitar on Wonderful Woman).

Chuck kicks off with Wonderful Woman, a song with a classic Berry groove, featuring his signature guitar sound. Clark Jr., together with Berry’s son and grandson chime in on their guitars as well, making it a tune that features three generations of Berrys, as NPR pointed out.

Big Boys kicks the beat up a notch. Initially released in March as the album’s lead single, the tune is a bit reminiscent of Roll Over Beethoven. Here’s the official video.

3/4 Time (Enchiladas) is a waltz that sounds like it could have been recorded live at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar in St. Louis where Berry used to perform regularly from 1996 to 2014. The song illustrates his sense of humor about getting old: I like enchiladas/old Eldorados they’re shiny/old red guitars, rock & roll, nice girls and wine/that ain’t good for me but people I’m still feeling fine/I just hold on to my guitar and rock it out four, five times/sometimes it gets sideways/I stay up all night writing songs/I know it ain’t healthy/But somehow I keep going on.

Darlin’ is a sweet country ballad a father sings to his daughter, telling her he is getting older each year and that time is passing and getting shorter. Berry’s daughter Ingrid joins him on vocals, adding to the song’s emotional feel.

Another tune I’d like to call out is Lady B. Goode, a follow-up to Johnny B. Goode. The song pretty much has the same iconic guitar opening and a very similar groove driven by guitars and honky tonk-style piano. Like on Wonderful Woman, Berry’s son and grandson support him with their guitars. Lady B. Goode was also released as the album’s third single two weeks ago.

Initial reactions to Chuck are favorable. Rolling Stone calls the album “a classic as he always made them.” To Ultimate Classic Rock, “It’s a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll music — something Berry did better than almost anyone else.” Perhaps NPR sums it up best: “Your mind says “heard that before!” and your body cannot possibly care – because for that moment all that matters is Chuck Berry playing guitar like he’s ringing a bell, affirming the spirit of this music in ways that no performer, of any age, has done before.”

For more on Berry’s legacy read here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, NPR, Chuck Berry web site, YouTube