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070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’

Posted by jeff on Jun 29, 2016 in Personal, Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Last week’s SoTW aroused so many responses from dormant Deadheads out there that we thought we’d continue that string and share with you the story about the night I sang with The Dead. Yes, boys and girls, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh on acoustic guitars and backing vocals behind lead singer Jeff Meshel.

The Infamous Bathtub Brothers: Mitty, Bill, Rod (photo), Mike, Jeff

It was 1969, good old 1969—”There was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air,” as Dylan put it in ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. Bill and Mike and Me (aka The Infamous Bathtub Brothers) were very active in the nascent underground hippie scene in reactionary Cincinnati. Bill had recently moved out, leaving me alone in the MacMillan apartment building with 89-year old Mrs. Alice(“I shore wouldn’t want to be one of them Rolling Stones”) Wilson. Bill moved into a bizarre 3-floor, unnumerably-roomed home. To get to it, you turned into an alleyway, drove through several blocks of hard-core slum, into a forest, and then walked down a hill 50 steps to get to the back door. The front door was accessible by climbing several hundred steps from some other street, but in those years I knew no one who had the energy to try that. Bill was living there with his Great Pyrenees Mitty and a very long string of transient female friends. So when The Dead came to town to play a gig at the university, it was only logical that they stay at his place.

While you’re reading, here’s the great Buddy Holly original hit:

And here’s Buddy’s first, inferior version of the song:

And here he is singing it live.

Understand that ‘The Dead coming to town’ in those days meant the band and their various roadsters and courtiers, as well as a traveling circus of bestowers of good times, the Merry Pranksters. They traveled the land sowing LSD much as Johnny

Not Bill’s House–Too Many Intact Windows

Appleseed had done his apple seeds. I don’t know what kind of music Johnny liked, maybe Stephen Foster, but The Pranksters were the original Deadheads.

Maybelline

So, they all crashed at Bill’s Place, and a weekend-long good time ensued. A long time has passed, so that must be the reason my memories are a bit spotty. I do remember driving Jerry Garcia and the guys downtown to buy guitar strings in Maybelline, my VERY small Triumph Herald. I vaguely remember watching the concert from inside the PA system. Yes, actually sitting inside one of the very loud-speakers. But I very clearly remember one of the jam sessions, when Messrs Garcia, Weir and Lesh were sitting in one of Bill’s many living rooms, playing their acoustic guitars, just having a good time.

At one pause, I guess I felt comfortable enough with them to suggest a song. “How about ‘That’ll Be the Day’?” I asked.

“Oh, cool,” said Jerry.

“Cool,” said Bob.

Jerry Garcia (Photo by Rod Pennington)

“Cool,” said Phil.

“But I don’t know the words,” said Jerry, looking at Bob.

“I don’t know the words,” said Bob. “Do you?” he asked Phil.

“I don’t know the words either,” said Phil.

Gulp.

“I know the words,” said I.

And then ensued the legendary jam session, me singing lead, JerryBobandPhil accompanying me and singing backup. Well, it may be stretching the term ‘legendary’ a bit. I don’t know, can you have your own personal legends?

Yours Truly (Photo: Rod Pennington)

Unfortunately, this was before the day when everything the Dead played was pirated, so there’s no extant recording of this musical landmark. Just in my mind, my memory, and my heart. I’m fortunate enough to have one picture of Cherry Jerry from that weekend, courtesy of Rod Pennington. I can offer you one version of me performing it alone, but I sure would have preferred to have some former Warlocks playing guitar.

What was this song that Les Dead were so happy to play?

In June, 1956, 20-year old country-blues guitarist/singer Buddy Holly and his drummer friend Jerry Allison drove up from their native Lubbock, Texas, to Nashville to make some demo recordings. They recorded 5 tracks, one of which was a song Buddy and Jerry had written, ‘That’ll Be the Day’. The producer and the recording engineer called it ‘the worst song of the bunch, one of the worst they had ever heard.’ In the alley outside the studio, Buddy and Jerry cornered the kid who had been sweeping up the studio and asked him what he thought. He said ‘That’ll Be the Day’ was the best of the lot. But even Buddy realized that the recording session hadn’t gone too well. In June, 1957, they went to Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico to give the song another shot. Petty wanted a demo to take to New York, to try to interest The Suits in this new sound, to cash in on the burgeoning hillbilly/rhythm&blues amalgam making waves by such artists as Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. It was soon dubbed rock&roll.

Petty did just two takes of the song, and took it to New York. The demo recording caught fire, and in the summer of 1957, ‘That’ll Be the Day’ became Buddy Holly’s first hit, a #1 million-seller.

The song itself is one of the first and one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. The title came from the cynical catch-phrase of John Wayne’s character Ethan Edwards in the John Ford epic Western, “The Searchers”. It’s a movie I watch every few years, and it never fails to move me. It’s searing, terrifying, and profound, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s Scorcese and Speilberg talking about what that movie has meant to them. But it really doesn’t have anything to do with the song, which Rolling Stone magazine ranked as #39 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. According to Jerry Allison, Buddy’s musical conception and playing on this cut was greatly inspired by a song by Lonnie Johnson (b. 1899), a prolific, brilliant, seminal bluesman, ‘Jelly Roll Baker‘. Indeed the impact is audible. While we’re here, here’s another really neat live clip of Mr Johnson.

Over the next year and a half until his death in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 (“the day the music died”), Buddy Holly recorded a string of hits that made him a pop star. They also comprise an oeuvre which over the next half century earned him the reputation as one of the finest artists ever to operate in the popular music idiom.

Buddy Holly’s reputation has never faded. He was a star in his lifetime and widely mourned at his death. In SoTW 002 (‘Learning the Game’, the undubbed acoustic version), I wrote “He’s a musician’s musician. Keith Richards credits him with inspiring the Stones to create original material. Bruce Springsteen said, ‘I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on–it keeps me honest!’ Paul McCartney made an excellent, adulatory documentary movie about him.”

The Quarrymen

The year after Buddy Holly died, two Liverpudlian kids named John Lennon and Paul McCartney took their band, The Quarrymen, into a recording studio to make their very first record. They understood that you learn your craft by copying the masters. Their recording of ‘That’ll Be the Day’ is an attempt at a note-by-note copy of the original. In 1979, Sir Paul bought the publishing rights to the Buddy Holly catalogue from Norman Petty.

Throughout the many 1960s, the Golden Age of rock&roll and rock music, Buddy Holly’s reputation continued to grow, albeit slowly. And it has continued to grow even more since then, exponentially.

But when I met The Dead, even though there were already a number of Holly covers floating around, he had not yet achieved panatheonic status, so I guess my suggestion was pretty cool for its day. The Beatles recorded ‘Words of Love’ in a carbon copy of Buddy’s original. Here’s the 1964-vintage Rolling Stones in an incredibly intense clip of the Holly rocker ‘Not Fade Away’, their first hit. You don’t want to miss this one, I promise you. Oh, and here’s Buddy’s sterling original.

It was only later that The Dead adopted ‘Not Fade Away’ into their permanent repertoire. They performed “Not Fade Away” 530 times over the course of their career, making it their seventh most-performed song. The song also appears on eight of their official live recording releases.

Here’s a recording of The Dead playing ‘Not Fade Away’ in 1973. It’s the earliest version of theirs I could find, and I’m not responsible for the visuals.

Here’s the very lovely Linda Ronstadt singing her hit version of ‘That’ll Be the Day’ live in 1978. I’ll tell you one thing—no matter what you say about her music, she’s a whole lot better looking than Buddy Holly, Mick Jagger and Jerry Garcia put together.

A sour postscript to this story. I once happened upon a discussion on a local radio show of two snotty Ma’arach-voting Dead experts. They had scoured the many data bases on the subject and were discussing how many Buddy Holly songs had been performed by The Dead. I called in and said, “You missed one,” and told them the story with which I began this epistle. Their response was, “Yeah, so?”

I guess maybe one’s private legends should be kept private. Still, maybe someone out there found this story entertaining or at least informative. For me, I’m just tickled to spend my Friday morning writing about Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ paying homage to it, 53 years after it was recorded. And I sure am grateful that 41 years ago I had taken the trouble to learn the words to that song by heart:

Well, that’ll be the day – when you say goodbye;
Yeah, that’ll be the day – when you make me cry.
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie,
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die.

Well, you gave me all your loving and all your turtledoving,
All your hugs and kisses and your money, too.
You say you love me, baby, and still you tell me maybe
That someday, well I’ll be through.

Well, that’ll be the day – when you say goodbye;
Yeah, that’ll be the day – when you make me cry.
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie,
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die.

When cupid shot his dart he shot it at your heart,
So if we’ll ever part then I’ll leave you.
You say you’ll hold me, and you tell me boldly
That some day well I’ll be through.

Well, that’ll be the day – when you say goodbye;
Yeah, that’ll be the day – when you make me cry.
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie,
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’

046: James Taylor, ‘Never Die Young’

003: Garcia/Grisman, ‘So What’


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002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’

Posted by jeff on Jun 28, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

This week we’re paying a visit to the pantheon.

Buddy Holly’s professional career lasted less than two years, cut short by a plane crash in Iowa in February, 1959 (as described by Don McLean in “American Pie”). BH is of the same age, locale and musical background as Elvis. But as Lennon said, “Elvis died in the army.” And Buddy Holly lives. His songs have been recorded by a wide range of artists without a break for the past 50 years. His reputation continues to grow.

He’s a musician’s musician. Keith Richards credits him with inspiring the Stones to create original material. Bruce Springsteen said, “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on–it keeps me honest!” Paul McCartney made an excellent, adulatory documentary movie about him.

The month before his death, Buddy recorded six songs he had written himself, alone with his acoustic guitar, in his living room at Apartment 4H of the Brevoort Apartments at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. For many years, these were known only in adulterated versions, over-dubbed with a cheap rock-and-roll band and chintzy backing vocals.

They included ‘Peggy Sue Got Married‘, ‘That Makes It Tough‘ and ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping‘. But the real gem for me is ‘Learning the Game‘, a painfully honest song that touches the adolescent bewilderment and insecurity most of us never fully outgrow.

All the songs display a sophistication of personal expression – especially cynical resignation –unheard of in a teenage context in 1959. Known today as “The Apartment Tapes”, they predate the singer-songwriter by just a few years chronologically, but by light years conceptually.

Buddy was 22 and a half when he recorded this, and when he died. At that age, John Lennon was recording “Love Me, Do”, and Bob Dylan had recorded one album of original material.

But for me, the stories and the loss and the legend are of secondary importance. What really matters is how beautiful and truthful a song is ‘Learning the Game‘.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’
122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’
155: Buddy Holly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

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155: Buddy Holly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

Posted by jeff on Nov 30, 2012 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Buddy Holly – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

The kids in our mailroom have been on strike now for two days over the massive overload caused by my inadvertently broken promise. They’ve been climbing over the mailbags full of the letters pouring in demanding to know the answer to The Question That Has The World On The Edge Of Its Figurative Chair: the third and climactic final of that iconic triptych, Spookily Existential Posthumous Hit Records (SEPHR).

I apologize. There was a trip to the other side of the world, there was a war. Force majeure, darlings. But we’re back in the saddle, a promise is a promise, and this is one I’m pleased as punch to have the opportunity to keep.

We told you about how Otis Redding recorded ‘(Sitting on) The Dock of a Bay’ three weeks before he died in a plane crash.

We told you about how Sam Cooke released ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ weeks before he was shot in a seedy motel in unsavory circumstances.

SoTW mailroom this week

We’re going to skip all the SEPHR runners-up: Hank Williams’ ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’; Chuck Willis’ two-sided hit ‘Hang Up My Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes’ b/w ‘What Am I Living For’; and Eva Cassidy’s ‘What a Wonderful World’). We’ll skip right to the final member of our morbid trilogy. The envelope, please.

This week we’re going to share the story of Buddy Holly’s last recording session and the song ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, recorded in October 1958 and released in January 1959, exactly a month before ‘the day the music died’.

Show of Stars, including The Crickets

My admiration for Buddy Holly (1936-1959) is immeasurable. I’ve written about his influence on the Beatles and the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones (SoTW 70, ‘That’ll Be the Day’), about his originality (SoTW 122, ‘You’re The One’), and about his stunningly beautiful music (SoTW 2, ‘Learning the Game’). If I may quote myself, I wrote in one of them “Could be I invented Song of The Week just to have a platform to sing Buddy Holly’s praises.”

I think he’s one of the finest artists in popular music, period. I’m not alone in that appraisal. Bruce Springsteen: “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on – it keeps me honest.” Buddy Holly was the John Keats of rock and roll, a pure artist, with an innocent, disinterested aesthetic. Keats (1795-1820) lived to the age of 25, but was too sick with tuberculosis to write for the last year and a half of his life. Buddy Holly’s life was truncated at 23 in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.

(Back of the bus) Paul Anka, Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly made his money travelling by bus on endless one-night Rock and Roll tours with the likes of Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Dion and the Belmonts, and wunderkind Paul Anka (b. 1941). By the age of 17 he already had a remarkable string of self-penned hits, including ‘Diana,’ ‘Puppy Love,’ ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder,’ and ‘You Are My Destiny.’ Okay, they’re not ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or ‘All My Loving’, but give the kid credit; he was one of the first singers to write his own material.

But he was a pill. Nikki Sullivan, Buddy Holly’s rhythm guitarist: “Paul was a brat. All the time he was getting into trouble, or doing something wrong. He just couldn’t sit still–a thousand, billion volts of energy. We were onstage in St. Louis, and Paul was horsing around backstage when he kicked the microphone plug out of the floor and all the mikes went dead. We just stood there onstage, helpless. It was just a few minutes, but it seemed like three or four days until the microphones got plugged back in and we could start over. At this point, Buddy was boiling up inside, just ready to explode. When we walked off, the clapping stopped the minute we got offstage, into the curtains–it wasn’t a very long clap. So it’s totally quiet, and the MC is walking out on to the stage to introduce the next act, and Buddy yells, ‘Who in the hell kicked out the goddamn plug?’ It rang throughout the auditorium. He calmed down after a bit and went back to the room, and later Paul Anka came back and apologized. And in fact, from that incident, Buddy and Paul became very close, and even rehearsed a few songs together from then on.”

LtoR: Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis

Anka asked Holly if he’d record a song he’d written. “Sure, why not, let me see it,” said Buddy. “Oh, but it’s not finished yet. I’ll bring it to you when I’m done with it,” said Paul.

Buddy Holly’s final recording session was his first and only with strings, October 21, 1958. Anka finally finished the song and brought it to Buddy on the very day of that session. Buddy quickly learned it from him and ran to Dick Jacobs, the arranger/producer. Holly played it on guitar and sang it, and Jacobs worked out a quick arrangement. Dick Jacobs: “I had no time to harmonize the violins or write intricate parts, so I wrote them all pizzicato. That was the most unplanned thing I have ever written in my life.” (Pizzicato means ‘plucked’, for all you who don’t speak Italian or Music.)

Four songs were recorded: the lightweight ‘Moondreams’; the lush ‘True Love Ways’ (a college friend said on hearing it for the first time, ‘A girl could get pregnant just listening to that’); the wondrous, heart-wrenching ‘Raining in My Heart’; and ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’.

Three weeks later, Buddy recorded ‘You’re the One’ in a radio studio back home in Lubbock, Texas. In December, he recorded six songs in his New York apartment, including his compositions ‘Learning the Game’, ‘What to Do’, and ‘That Makes it Tough’.  Buddy was 22 and a half when he recorded these songs. At that age, John Lennon was recording “Love Me, Do”, and Dylan had recorded one album of original material.

On January 5, the single of ‘Raining in My Heart’ b/w ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ was released. A month later, Buddy Holly was dead.

I can’t say ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ presents any earthshaking ontological or eschatological world view. After all, it was written by the 17-year old Paul Anka. But I think a case could be made to draw a line from it to ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ via ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’: “With all due pain and regret, screw you, honey.”

But there isn’t much music that affects me as strongly as this song does. Back in the days when I played guitar, it brought me to tears more than once.

There are a number of noteworthy covers. Here’s Paul Anka telling the back-story and singing it at a Buddy Holly tribute. Here’s Linda Ronstadt singing it early on in her career, and here she is ten years later. I sure wish she’d kept those boom-chukka drums out of the arrangement, because it’s fine up till then. Eva Cassidy showed better taste in her impeccable treatment.

But of course we’ll always go back to the original, the utterly honest Buddy Holly version, with all its helplessness and hopelessness, regret and resignation, passion and pain.

There you go and baby here am I.
Well, you left me here so I could sit and cry
Golly gee, what have you done to me?
Well I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

Do you remember baby, last September
How you held me tight each and every night?
Oh baby how you drove me crazy,
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

There’s no use in me a-cryin’.
I’ve done everything
And now I’m sick of trying.
I’ve thrown away my nights
Wasted all my days over you.

Now you go your way baby and I’ll go mine
Now and forever ’till the end of time
And I’ll find somebody new and baby
We’ll say we’re through
And you won’t matter anymore.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’
070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’
122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’

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122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’

Posted by jeff on Dec 9, 2011 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Acoustic George

We had such a good time last week with George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (the acoustic demo), why should we leave well enough alone? This week’s double-sided SoTW is going to visit a pair of songs that have always been indivisibly associated in my mind – both short (under two minutes), slight demos by artists whose oeuvre I’d assumed I knew completely, only to discover these gems decades after I thought the book had been closed. And as if that’s not enough, the later artist was profoundly influenced by the earlier one.

Acoustic Buddy

And if that’s still not enough, the songs sound so much alike it’s spooky, a single acoustic guitar strummed at an insistent rock tempo, with just a little percussive  ornamentation by his buddies in the studio.

We’re talking about the discarded Beatles George-song from 1964, ‘You Know What to Do’, and the even more obscure undubbed version of a Buddy Holly demo from 1958, ‘You’re The One’. Buddy Holly (1936-1959) is one of the greatest talents to arise from the world of rock music. He recorded professionally for 18 months before he died in a plane crash (“the day the music died”). I listen to his very small output regularly, as do Paul McCartney and Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen and everyone who understands anything about fine rock music. He wrote much of his own material, thus inventing the singer-songwriter format and serving as an acknowledged role-model for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The first recording of the Quarrymen was a cover of ‘That’ll Be the Day’, one of Holly’s biggest hits.

Electric Buddy

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