Ahead of Asa Murphy’s highly anticipated show, “Buddy Holly Lives,” coming to Devizes, I contemplate the fateful day Don McLean claimed “when music died,” and ask, can music really die?
Huddled under blankets with Dion, on their way to Mason City Municipal Airport, a twenty-two-year-old Charles Holley gazed through the bus window at the sub-zero February night, he was frustrated. He’d only agreed to do this “Winter Dance” tour because, bitter with his resignation, his ex-manager Norman Petty was withholding royalties; he was broke, and had a baby due.
The tour had been a disaster from the off, the heater on the tour bus kaput, leaving the musicians freezing. The drummer Carl Bunch already hospitalised from frostbite, Jiles Perry Jr, aka The Big Bopper had influenza which was spreading around the group, and Charles, who was known to the world as Buddy, was also concerned, due to an unofficial date at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, that he had no clean suit for the next performance.
Surf Ballroom owner Carroll Anderson didn’t care, unwillingly agreeing to charter them a plane to avoid the 365-mile journey through towns they’d already played in, he did so, as cheaply as he could. It is said the young pilot Roger Peterson was both unlicensed to fly at night and unaware of the impending snowstorm.
Things must have been looking up for the three assigned seats on the plane; Buddy Holly, Richardson and Ritchie Valens, who’d won his seat with the flip of a coin. There was banter at the airport, Buddy kidding “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up!” was retorted with “well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes,” from bass player Waylon Jennings; a jest which would haunt him for the rest of his life.
The rest is history, Don McLean labelled it “the day that music died.” Yet rock n roll’s future was uncertain in any case. As well as this fatal accident, Elvis had joined the army, Jerry Lee Lewis was disgraced on a UK tour when his wife’s passport revealed her to be aged thirteen, likewise Chuck Berry was serving five years for sex with a fourteen-year-old Apache girl, and, irritated with the industry, Little Richard returned to recording gospel. Although the turn of the decade saw Eddie Cochran’s taxi crash near Chippenham, it proved music certainly hadn’t died; extraordinarily prolific, Buddy Holly left a huge back catalogue which would be post-humorously pressed, inspiring a new generation, especially in the UK.
Buddy Holly and his original band, The Crickets had toured the UK the previous year, 1958; closet gigs to us were the Gaumont Theatre in Salisbury, now the Oden Cinema, and the Colston Hall Bristol. These performances were surprisingly unfilled, rock n roll still in its infancy in Britain. It would be bands enthused by rock n roll who’d take it to new levels. Skiffle group, The Quarrymen made amateur recordings of “That’ll be the Day,” later changing their name to the Beatles, inspired by Buddy’s insect band name.
Arguably no Buddy, no Beatles, but here’s a tenacious link; no Buddy, no Devizine! My Mum, caught up in Beatlemania, looked to who they cited as their influence, and became a fan of Buddy three years after his death. She met my Dad at an evening class, jokingly recalling, “I only talked to him because he had Buddy-Holly glasses!”
I guess my parent’s love of rock n roll rubbed off on me; this maudlin tale, the circumstance Britain saw a gap in the market, repackaged the genre and sold it back to the USA fascinates me! Yet sixties music had to appear in an advert for jeans to be trendy in the eighties, so I did get laughed at for my T-shirt of the Buddy Holly Story Musical in 1989, but I didn’t care. It was the first time I’d been to a West End show, only enhancing my interest in my parent’s music, despite adopting the contemporary youth cultures and music.
Now though, we’ve come full circle; imagine my interest when I heard a popular Buddy Holly tribute show is coming to Devizes in April, with its own sad story behind it. Popular Liverpudlian swing singer Asa Murphy stars as Buddy in “Buddy Holly Lives,” a stage show which sold out the Epstein Theatre in Liverpool. Its very name suggests what I express here, the legend may have, but the music didn’t die.
I’d like to think there never was a day when music died; perhaps a few mortally wounded it, such as the day in January 1984 when Pete Waterman asked Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, to work with him at his production company. But music is surely immortal, you can’t kill music, not even if you chuck Britney Spears at it!
Anyway…. I digress; spoke to Asa about the forthcoming show, “is it a play about Buddy, or a concert of his music?” I asked.
“It’s a mixture of both, eighteen songs with actors as narrators telling the story of Buddy’s Career,” Asa explained, “and a live Band. It’s an interactive show with the audience dancing at the end!”
“Naturally,” I responded, “I’d expect nothing less!” But, has he played as Buddy Holly before?
“No,” he informed, “first time.” Of which I replied with “oh boy,” then apologised for my pitiable pun. Asa certainly looks and sounds the part, the show receiving astounding reviews in Liverpool.
Musician, producer and engineer at The Music Workshop, Peter Lamb has organised this exciting event, in celebration and memory of Bruce Hopkins, who sadly passed in November. Asa worked with Bruce back in June, when despite Bruce fighting an aggressive form of prostate cancer, they staged fundraising concerts at the Bear Hotel, for Prostate Cancer UK.
Previously the keen musician, retired businessman, founder of Devizes Fine Kitchens and former chairman of Devizes Football Club staged the Patney Picnic summer event in his family’s garden, and over the years raised about £30,000 for charity. Asa explained the importance of this event, “the show is touring the UK in 2019, I promised Bruce we would bring it to Devizes.”
Buddy Holly Lives will be at The Corn Exchange on Saturday April 6th, tickets are £20 and will be available from Devizes Books next week. “It’s in celebration of Bruce’s life and charity work,” Asa continued, “plus we will be making a donation to a charity of his family’s choice.” Which sentimentally strengthens our theory that, despite the sorrow of loss, there was never a day when “music died.”