OPINION: The music didn't die; it just changed
I didn't hear anyone at the Grammy awards mention Buddy Holly, but I thought about the Texas singer and songwriter during a segment of the show that honored two other pioneers of rock and roll.
Today is the anniversary of Holly's death in 1959. That was 59 years ago. I was a lad of 15. I hadn't yet purchased my first electric guitar, but I was shopping. I knew I needed an electric guitar if I wanted to play Buddy Holly-style licks. And, good heavens, did I want to play Buddy Holly licks. He was out there "impressing the girls,'' as Bobby Bare sang in "All-American Boy,'' a song popular at the time.
I did own an acoustic guitar, a Montgomery Ward arch-top. It was a pretty nice instrument if old-fashioned in design, like something a rhythm player in a big band might strum. I was learning a bunch of chords with that guitar and Mel Bay's book, "Modern Guitar Method,'' and I was dreaming of driving a big, long Cadillac and "fighting the girls off of my back,'' as Bare also sang. Kids my age all over America were doing the same thing. Some of them were probably showing enough promise to start bands and make real music. I hadn't reached that point by Feb. 3, 1959.
I hope people still remember the story of that day in rock and roll history. All of those kids learning guitar back then certainly will never forget. Holly had become a genuine superstar by that time, with a string of hit records, among them "That'll be the Day.''
As rock stars did in those days, he was headlining a package show with Ritchie Valens and the "Big Bopper,''' J.P. Richardson. They'd just played the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Shortly after takeoff for Moorhead and the next gig, the plane crashed. The three musicians died, along with pilot Roger Peterson.
People call it the day the music died. That isn't quite true. All across the country, singers and musicians were belting out their own style of rock and roll music. A couple of the most popular and influential at the time were Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Both of those old rockers died last year, and the Grammys paused from its focus on pop music to remember two innovators, pioneers in the business.
Berry and Domino each scored a first major hit record the same year, 1955. About that time, Buddy Holly was just starting to become known, opening a few times for Elvis Presley and hooking up with Norman Petty in that recording studio in Clovis, N.M. Berry's big hit that year was "Maybellene.'' Domino hit the charts with "Ain't That a Shame.''
Those songs were chosen for the Domino-Berry remembrance last Sunday. Jon Batiste, keyboard player and music director for Stephen Colbert's "Late Show,'' took the lead on "Ain't That a Shame.'' Gary Clark Jr., a pretty decent blues guitar player, handled things on "Maybellene.'' Joe Saylor of the "Late Show'' band accompanied Batiste and Clark on drums.
For me, it was a highlight of the evening. I readily admit I'm not a big fan of most of the music that was featured on the Grammy program. A lot of it probably is good. I'm sure many of the performers are talented and hard-working. I don't listen to much popular music, and I'm getting old, so I don't hear as well when I do. But there's also a brain function involved, I read in "Slate.''
"Researchers,'' the article said, "have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than to anything we'll hear as adults.''
There you go. I enjoyed the Domino-Berry moment on the Grammy show because my brain wouldn't let me respond any other way. I came of age with "Blueberry Hill'' and "Johnny B. Goode,'' and other songs like that, and my brain won't give them up.
Music didn't die on this date 59 years ago. It changed, though. It continues to change. I'd change with it, but my brain has a mind of its own.