The Last Days of Buddy Holly

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"Buddy was a major influence on the Beatles. And in John's case, he had to wear heavy horn-rimmed glasses, just like Buddy, which he would always whip off when any girls came near. But post-Buddy he didn't have to, and that was an added bonus for him. Buddy to us was your neighbor. He looked like some of the kids you saw around in school.

"Listening to and singing Buddy's songs puts you in a good place. It hits that era, and you're a teenager again. It takes you right back with a slam. For me it evokes beautiful memories because that's when I was just getting into music. John and I would sing 'Words of Love' together just sitting at home: He'd sing it and I'd fall in behind him on the harmony. And this became the backbone of a lot of Beatles works — John singing lead and me singing harmony. And we spent hours trying to work out how to play the opening guitar riff of 'That'll Be the Day,' and were truly blessed by the heavens the day we figured it out. That was one of the first songs we ever learned to play, and it was in fact the very first song John, George and I ever recorded."

On February 2nd, 2009, the Surf Ballroom and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Winter Dance Party with a concert at the Surf Ballroom, MC'd by DJ Cousin Brucie Morrow and featuring, among others, Graham Nash, Bobby Vee, Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Joe Ely, Wanda Jackson and the Crickets. Also expected to attend will be Buddy Holly's widow, Maria Elena Holly. Maria Elena, who now lives in Dallas, met Buddy in June 1958 in New York when she was 25; they got married two months later. "I know it sounds a bit mystical, but I felt that I somehow knew Buddy from before," she says.

"One day this guy comes in through the door of Peer-Southern Music, where I was working as a receptionist, and I acted very reserved — 'Can I help you?' — and he was with the Crickets and said, 'Oh, we're not in a hurry,' and then turned to them and said, 'You know what? I'm going to marry that girl.'

"He asked me out for that evening, and because I'd never even been on a date before, I had to get my Aunt Provi's permission. He took me to P.J. Clarke's saloon, and sometime during our dinner, Buddy left the table and returned with a red rose and proposed to me right then and there. I thought he was joking and said, 'Do you want to get married now or after dinner?' He said he was serious and that he was going to come to my aunt's apartment, where I was then living, at nine the next morning to ask for my hand.

"He showed up promptly at nine, got my aunt out of bed and said, 'Did Maria tell you that we're getting married?' My aunt looked at him and said, 'Are you pulling my leg?' 'No, ma'am.' 'Don't you think you should take some time and think this over?' she asked him. And Buddy said, 'No, I don't have the time.' "

After getting married in Lubbock, Buddy and Maria Elena moved back to New York and rented a $1,000-a-month one-bedroom apartment in the Brevoort, on Fifth Avenue and 9th Street, where he recorded on his Ampex home tape recorder the legendary songs now known as the "Apartment Tapes" (among them, "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and "Peggy Sue Got Married"), just released on the multi-CD sets Down the Line: Rarities and Memorial Collection.

Both night owls, Buddy and Maria Elena would often get out of bed at midnight, roll up their pajamas under their raincoats, and stroll through Greenwich Village and drop into folk and jazz clubs. And almost every morning, Buddy would take Maria Elena and his Gibson guitar to nearby Washington Square Park, where, unrecognized in his dark glasses, he would sit by the fountain and play with the young musicians and give them pointers. He'd advise them, "Look at anything you see here in the park and then write something about that — that's how you compose."

In October 2008, Maria Elena visited the Brevoort for the first time in 50 years. "I didn't think I could take it," she says. "I was weepy, but a friend took me in and announced to the doorman, 'This is Mrs. Buddy Holly.' And I know this sounds strange ... but I felt Buddy's presence there, and I visualized him smiling and thought I heard him say, 'Finally you came for me.' Because they say that when you die, you come back to the place you left. I hadn't realized that Buddy had been waiting there for 50 years. And I've brought him home with me now."

Photos: Rockers Lost Before Their Time
Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Buddy Holly
Exclusive Album Stream: Stars Salute Buddy Holly on 'Listen To Me'
Buddy Holly's Widow Embraces Wave of Tributes

This story is from the February 5, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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