Monday, March 2, 2009

Buddy Holly's Widow Speaks On "The Day The Music Died"

For those of you who missed it, Feb. 3rd was the 50th Anniversary of "the day the music died" when:
On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, United States killed three American rock and roll musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson [1]. The day was later called The Day the Music Died by Don McLean in his 1971 song "American Pie".[2][3]

Buddy Holly's widow said this of the late Buddy Holly:

Buddy Holly Makes His Widow's Heart Go Boom 50 Years Later

The third of February marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens -- an occasion immortalized in Don McLean's 'American Pie' as "the day the music died." However, for Holly's widow, Maria Elena, he has never been far from her side. She has spent the past half century keeping his music and legacy alive.

Best known for hits including 'That'll Be the Day,' 'Peggy Sue,' 'Maybe Baby' and 'Rave On,' Holly is one of rock 'n' roll's true pioneers, creating a larger, lasting body of work in two years than most artists build during a lifetime. Holly's music, alone and with the Crickets, is plumbed in two new compilations: the 60-cut 'Memorial Collection' and the 59-selection 'Down the Line: The Rarities,' both of which contain previously unreleased material.

To commemorate the tragic anniversary, Maria Holly will be in Clear Lake, Iowa, at the Surf Ballroom & Museum, the site of Holly's last show, for a Feb. 2 concert organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She talked with Spinner about her brief yet magical time with Holly, new directions he was exploring musically and culturally, and her enduring love for him in the years after his death.

You met Buddy when he came into Peer-Southern Music, the music publishing company in New York where you worked. Were you a fan?

I'd never seen a picture of him or even knew who he was in person, because when I met him he'd just come from a tour in the U.K. I knew of him because I used to mail the 45s to the disc jockeys, I knew the name and songs.

Did you think he was cute?

I thought he was sexy-looking. It was like, "Boom!" It was strange to me, since I'd never been on a date. And he felt the same way. It was, like they say, love at first sight. I didn't hear the bells, but I felt the boom, boom. I felt it in my heart.

Two months after meeting, you and Buddy married. You lived in New York's Greenwich Village surrounded by various folk and jazz clubs. How did that influence his music?

We were both night people. He'd get up in the middle of the night and start writing. He was a little restless; we'd roll up our pajamas and put our coats on. He enjoyed listening to the poetry. Sometimes people would play the guitar in some of the coffee houses. It was something to put his mind at ease because he was so involved in writing. He loved anything to do with poetry and music.

Did you ever play any music for him from artists that you liked?

Yes I did. As a matter of fact, he was planning with my aunt, who was one of the execs at Southern Music, to do an album [in Spanish]. [At the time of his death, he] was in the process of my aunt trying to get songs that he would be able to do. At the same time, I was trying to teach him how to pronounce the words correctly and with a person from Texas, that's not so easy [laughs]. But, you know what -- he was really learning.

'Rarities' includes undubbed versions of what are known as the 'Apartment Tapes.' They showcase Buddy's voice in its unadorned purity.

He had that little [Ampex tape recorder] there with that mic and it was just very raw. He would erase and come back while he was composing. He would come first sometimes with the music, and then he'd write lyrics, or vice versa. A lot of people ask, "What comes first?" and I say I saw it both ways.

The Apartment Tapes also include a snippet of a conversation you and Buddy had in your apartment in 1958. What runs through your head when you hear that?

Oh, dear, that was the most difficult one when I was listening. I had to stop and I went back and pictured myself in the apartment. I started visualizing where he was sitting. Where I was. The whole apartment. It was pretty hard for me to listen to this, but I wanted to hear. [In the conversation] I was trying to get him to take a break because he was constantly writing ... I did a lot of different things to bring him out of what he was doing and sometimes even to get him to eat something. He forgot about everything else when he was writing.

He was exploring different musical paths when he died at 22. What direction do you think he was going in?

He wasn't afraid to try things, so that was a plus for him. I think he would have gone into different ways. As a matter of fact, he also was very much interested in music like Mahalia Jackson and Ray Charles, gospel. We even went to California, looking for [Charles], but unfortunately he was on tour. [Buddy] wanted to do a duet with him and also with Mahalia. He said, "I'll get him sometime or another."

People talk about Buddy's voice, his songwriting and his glasses. What else do you wish people know about him?

Buddy was very, very generous. Even though he was the one closing the shows, he was not hesitating to sit for others. With the Everly Brothers, he sat down and played the drums because the drummer didn't show up. It never fazed him if he had to sit in for someone or do something for the others. He was sure of himself. He never contemplated the status; [it was] "If you need me, I'm here." I admire him for that. And love him more and more every day.

You've said you couldn't listen to his music for years after he died. What was it like the first time you finally heard it again?

I still have problems. I can hear it when I go on appearances when they have a special tribute because I see the fans being so energized, but here in the house, it's sometimes very difficult. I just can not handle it. So even after this day, after 50 years, it's something...People say time cures all and I say it does not, it does not cure that and especially the way I loved him. He was here one moment and he's gone the next day.

What do you remember about that last trip? You didn't go because you were pregnant.

I remember distinctly that I already had my suitcases done and I had them at the door and he said, "No, honey, I don't want you to go. Take care of my baby and I'll be back in two weeks. So don't worry, I' ll call you every night." [Maria Elena miscarried after Buddy's death. She later had three children with her second husband.] I still blame myself. If I had insisted on going and said, "No, I'm going," I'm sure ... OK, I was a little pushy when I needed to be, so, actually, this is the only regret that I have about what happened to him. I still remember constantly and I say, I wonder, if I had [gone], if he would still be [here] because I would not have let him get on that small plane. I didn't know he did that, absolutely not ... I still sometimes get upset.

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