13. Buddy Holly
By John Mellencamp
Buddy Holly was a complete and utter hillbilly. I'm very proud of that. So much of our musical heritage is from the country. People always ask me, "Why do you stay in Indiana?" Well, I have to. Just about every song, every sound that we emulate and listen to was created by a hillbilly, born out of the frustration of a small town where there ain't much to do in the evening. That's one thing that I loved about Buddy Holly.
Buddy Holly was one of the first great singer-songwriters — he wrote his own material and in the end was producing it, too. He came from such a rural area and was able to speak to so many people in so many locations. He was one of the first to get away from the Tin Pan Alley songwriting factory and communicate directly, honestly with his audience.
I was just a little kid when I first heard Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue." You may not understand what it was like being about nine years old in 1957 or '58, but it was quite a treat. All of this music was just coming out of nowhere — Memphis and Texas. I was in a band when I was in sixth grade, and we played "Not Fade Away." You shouldn't even be in a band if you haven't played that song. It's two chords, beautiful melody, with a nice message. Holly's songs never really left my consciousness. When I set up my iPod, there he was, those same songs that I've heard for all these years. They sound just as good as the first time I heard them.
Holly's melodies and arrangements were a huge influence on the Beatles. With the whirlwind they were on in 1964, the first thing John Lennon asked when he got to The Ed Sullivan Show was, "Is this the stage that Buddy Holly played on?" That shows a lot of quiet admiration. Listen to the songs on the first three Beatles albums. Take their voices off, and it's Buddy Holly. Same with the Rolling Stones.
Record companies encourage young artists to copy what's been there before. But nobody was pushing Holly in any direction. That was just all him and his instincts. Those songs are great, and some are only a minute and 25 seconds long. Think about delivering a song like that today. The magic that Buddy Holly created was nothing short of a miracle. The fact that he died at 22 is just ridiculous. That tells you all you need to know about just how focused and visionary he was.