T-shirt Tuesday: Buddy Holly and the Crickets

T-shirt Tuesday: Buddy Holly and the Crickets

This incredible ringer tee comes from a commemorative concert for Buddy Holly and the Crickets in Clear Lake, Iowa in 1982. Since 1979, a very special yearly tribute to the rock 'n roll icon has been held in Clear Lake, the site of his last performance before the fateful plane crash in 1959.

Marked as “the Day that Music Died,” Holly, along with Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "the Big Bopper" Richardson, and their pilot Roger Peterson were killed suddenly in a plane crash.

Holly and the Crickets were in the early stages of the Winter Dance Party Tour across the Midwest, consisting of new Crickets Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch. The tour was set to travel across the Midwest, joined by rising stars Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, and Dion DiMucci and the Belmonts. The beginning of the tour had been a success, led by Holly swooning audiences with his melodies and heartfelt smile.

But with the whole crew travelling in shared buses in subfreezing conditions, sickness overtook many performers. Frustrated with these conditions, Holly chartered a private plane to depart from Clear Lake and arrive at the next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota. The plane took off late at night in the middle of brutal wintry conditions and the pilot lost control, crashing near Clear Lake and killing all its passengers.

The crash did not halt the tour, continuing with fifteen-year-old Bobby Vee standing in for Holly at their next show in Moorhead. But its impact reached an entire generation, marking a loss of innocence for early rock ‘n roll fans, memorialized in Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, and became a central figure of mid-50s rock and roll in his 22 short years of life. His music style was influenced by gospel, country, and rhythm & blues. After high school, he formed a country band that would play on a local radio station and frequently open for big acts touring through town.

The most significant of these acts was Elvis Presley. After the group opened for him a few in times in '55, Holly knew he had found his true calling and began pursuing a career in music, shifting his style to sound more like Elvis, and more rock 'n roll. 

In ‘56, the band recorded songs under the name Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes. The first incarnation included Holly, Jerry Allison, Joe Mauldin, and Niki Sullivan. Sullivan then dropped out and the trio carried on as the Crickets. They saw early success with the help of recording engineer, Norman Petty, releasing their first breakthrough record in ‘57, "That'll Be the Day,” written and recorded by Holly.

Holly went solo a year later, moving to Greenwich Village in New York City. He found success on his own, recording in this time, "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," "Raining in My Heart," and "Moon Dreams."

After his death, disc jockeys began calling the group Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Unissued recordings and compilations of Holly’s work were released in a steady stream throughout the 1960s. Music and film adaptations have immortalized his horn-rimmed glasses and hiccups. 

Acts like Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and the Rolling Stones have cited Buddy as one of their biggest influences. It’s also said that the Beatles chose their name in homage to the Crickets.

The Crickets contributed to the genre as a whole, too, pioneering what is now-standard for rock line-ups, featuring two guitars, bass, and drums. Holly was also one of the first artists to use double-tracking on his albums.

The commemorative Winter Dance Party has been held annually since 1979 at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, to keep the music alive and remind people, “the music only dies if someone decides to stop playing it.” 

The Mad Hatter, also known as Darryl Hensley, was the KZEV Radio station owner. He’s credited as the creator of the yearly tribute at Surf Ballroom after he made a comment in jest on-air. In its first year of the being held, little turn-out meant Hensley had to give free tickets away. But not after long word spread and the event began selling out weeks in advance.

At the 50th anniversary, Surf Ballroom saw performances by Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely, Wanda Jackson, Los Lobos, Chris Montez, Bobby Vee, Graham Nash, and Peter and Gordon Tommy Allsup, and more.

The life and legacy of Buddy Holly reminds us of the saying, “give people their flowers while they’re still here to smell them.”