HOLLY : NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
What’s the best way to listen to Buddy Holly?
A protean rock n roll figure but - in our non rock n roll age - Bud is all but denied a place in the canon that now pertains.
No surprise, really.
About 10 years ago, I got to pitching a piece on Frank Sinatra’s Summer Of Love (Sinatra’s 67 Revolution? Ellington AND Jobim in the era of Acid and Mia farrow? Check it out, baby). Then I was headed off at the “starting to froth about the possibilities such a piece might hold” stage, by commissioning ed at ONE OF THOSE monthly mags.
“I’m not even sure we could run a piece on Elvis, now, Gavin....” he explained.
Times move on, f’sure.
But, certainly, for those of us first borne aloft as rockin listeners in 60s infancy, nostalgia for instantly mythologised first stage warriors is recurring.
As great a “what if?” he had lived conundrum as Hendrix each passing year the primal opportunity present on Disc 5 of Bud’s Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings (And More!) 6 Disc CD set (2009) amps up the thrill to core bones.
Hell, I’d say (controversially for a vinyl lover) that this box can be as good an answer to the question posed up top as you ken git.
It was DECADES before we, those of us who first heard Buddy on the radio, had this sort of closeness to the source There he is on three raw, undubbed, snakey takes of Slippin And Slidin, exercising the elastic vocal frequency that so inspired Armoury (and, through mind memory laser, Time Out Of Mind, ) Era, school house rumpus kicking, Robert Allen Zimmerman and Roll On, Quarrymen digging, period John Lennon as they both, Fab and Bard, took first purposeful steps to the hero podium.
Cross cultural glee and abandon saw Buddy mine the American ethno colour line passionately and naturally.
The Not Fade Away Box even has in-home studio chat with Chicano bride Maria Elena, all too tragically soon to become a plane crash widow. There’s versions of Chuck’s Berry Brown Eyed Handsome Man Bo Diddley’s Love Is Strange, Diddley’s Titular 1958 debut album opening title track (his debut single three years prior it got Bo banned offa Ed Sullivan). Buddy astonishingly subsumed Diddley Daddy’s hambone beat brilliance in Not Fade Away, itself gratefully alighted on, in due course, by The Rolling Stones.
Extensive repackaging, overdubbing and archive plundering of the Holly canon undoubtedly prolonged take off from the what if stage of his post plane crash “career.”
Nowadays the official Buddy website pitches Buddy Hologram (sadly they don’t actually call him that) on tour, a double bill with Roy Orbison that allows them to play in both the UK and the US ON THE SAME NIGHT.
Now that’s surely progress? Of a kind….
The official Holly website’s pride of retail place is given to an expensive (just shy of £1000) watch, Raymond Weil designed in conjunction with Buddy’s still with us widow Elena, a contribution from each sale going to the Holly Musical Foundation . A purchase Guaranteed to Not Fade Away, I’m sure.
As for Buddy’s recorded music, well everyone has got all of what they need of THAT, surely?
Yes and no, officer.
There sure are a surfeit of Buddy discs, black plastic and shiny (and individually stamped, watermarked) CDs in my collection.
When the Holly Jones came a knocking I reached for the snazzily illustrated 1984 comp with sleeve notes by my dear departed bud David Laing.
Nice to see Dave there as it was (his 1971 book on Buddy being one of the first ever rock biographies) the set commits the cardinal sin of reprocessing mono originals into stereo.
Sacre bleu - the result Sounds like a muddy invasion has occurred at the point of origination.
I needed that essential, elemental twang, primetime Bud’s sonic completeness, compositional mastery aligned to real, live, in the studio rawness.
So it was Out with the 1984, short career spanning, 10 picture sleeved single set, bad to the bone, no faff.
The Complete Buddy Holly a 6 vinyl disc box set circa 1978 was the first box its kind given to our rockin’ forefathers and the cuts on these singles are credited as being taken from there.
The 45 reissues were quite an undertaking. The (very good) cover illustrations sourced from an illustrators competition. Judges (and noted artists) David Oxtoby and Humphrey Ocean provided two of the illustrations themselves.
Even so off centre pressing and a little sibiance is apparent.
Subsequent or congruent to the boxset remaster maven (and forum host) Steve Hoffman worked his dark art on the Buddy Holly Greatest Set.
I only have this on (inferior, first generation) CD and, in a forum post, Hoffman says the digital remastering credit is erroneous and his remastering is/was analogue.
But technology has moved on apace since the late 70s allowing not only Buddy Hologram to go out and meet his (possibly in future cryogenically unfrozen) public but the superior, decidedly, digital mastering overseen by Grammy winning producer Andy McKaie on the Not Fade Away Box.
It took a while for Buddy recordings to meet their digital age match but even the classic singles sound better on the Not Fade Away (of which AllMusic.com says “easily eclipses any other Buddy Holly collection, offering the best presentation and sound, its bound hardcover book packaging lending it stature”) box. Then you get all the extras to fuel the “what if?” speculation with Holly’s invention and ability far from exhausted not even fully explored on the prolific output his too short life allowed.
Sadly I never got the finished NFA box so I missed out on the book, the notes, the illustrations and pics (copies currently have a £450 starting price, if you can get one).
The original albums plus session work sides included on the budget 4 CD Real Gone proudly declare remastered product but the uncredited work falls far from the finesse of the Not Fade Away set. That still tells you how its gonna and ever will be.