In April, Buddy Holly’s brothers Larry and Travis; his former bandmates Tommy Allsup, Larry Welborn and Carl Bunch; and members of his twang-rock disciples the Flatlanders and the Mavericks gathered in Azle, Texas, to record Stay All Night — Buddy Holly’s Country Roots. Out September 7th, the twenty-track compilation features new recordings of songs Holly cut his teeth on and incorporated into his own songwriting. It also includes a pair of Holly’s own unreleased tracks, “I Saw the Moon Cry Last Night” and “I Hear the Lord Calling For Me,” that he and Jack Neal first played on their weekly radio show on KDAV in Lubbock, Texas.
Holly, one of the first rock stars to write his own songs, wracked up hits such as “That’ll Be the Day,” “It’s So Easy,” “Peggy Sue,” “Maybe Baby” and “Not Fade Away,” before his death at the age of twenty-two in the 1959 plane crash that also claimed the lives of Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, in what became known as “The Day the Music Died.”
Growing up the youngest of four children in Lubbock, the horn-rimmed Buddy was never regarded as particularly musical by older brothers Larry and Travis. “Buddy had tried the violin and he didn’t like it and we just didn’t figure he had any talent at all,” says Larry Holley (Buddy would later drop the “e” from his last name). “But you know a kid’s got to come to a certain age and find an instrument. The first song I heard him learning was ‘Lovesick Blues’ by Hank Williams. And then it was Hank Thompson and Marty Robbins, and eventually he got to listening to the radio at night to people who blues-ed things up. About the time Elvis came out, he thought that was really nice and he learned to do everything by Elvis real quick. First thing we knew, we turned around and he was playing better than we could.”
Holly’s mother used to sing with her twin sister and encouraged her youngest son’s earliest songwriting efforts. “Buddy must have took after mother because mother was always sort of guiding him on his songs,” says Larry. “She’d say, ‘I can write a song,’ and he’d say, ‘Oh mother, you can’t write a song.’ She said, ‘What about this? Maybe, baby, if I had you.’ Buddy picked up on it and first thing you know he had it. She was the one to give him that. Buddy would get an idea from somebody and then make a song out of it. He’d make up a song over night.”
In addition to the blues and country from radio, Holly was exposed to gospel music in church, and on Stay All Night his brothers perform a pair of standards — “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,” and “Softly and Tenderly” — still played during services in their hometown.
The young Buddy got the ultimate stamp of approval in high school when his band opened for Elvis Presley. “He got a group together and began to realize he might be able to make it in the music industry,” says Travis. “Elvis told him ‘You’re ready now.'”
Covered and cited as an influence by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, among many others, Holly’s body of work continues to hold up more than forty-five years after his death. “He had more talent in his little finger than most people have now,” says Travis. “He was so versatile and innovative. He could take old songs that came back through the Appalachians from the coal mining days and make them sound brand new.”
A CD release concert featuring many of the musicians from Stay All Nightwill be held at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas, on September 3rd. For more information about the album, go to westtexasroots.com.