Buddy Holly will be forever frozen in time. Killed at the tender young age of 22 in a plane crash in the middle of a snow covered Iowa cornfield. Ritchie Valens and J.P (The Big Bopper) Richardson by his side. All on an airplane they should never have been on, taking a trip they never should have taken. Only 22 years old.
I wasn’t alive when Buddy Holly was alive, and I don’t know how big of a star he actually was during his lifetime. I know he appeared on TV and sold out concerts. He had hit records. But was he part of the national conversation? Was he a respected artist of his time? I’m not sure, but I do know that Buddy Holly was not some kind of horn-rimmed glasses wearing, nerdy novelty act with a thick southern accent. Buddy Holly was the real deal. Buddy Holly did it all, and he did it all so well. He developed a distinctive style of singing that featured hiccups and growls that were all his own. His guitar playing was fluid and precise. His songwriting was sophisticated and his production was pristine.
For instance, listen to “Well…All Right,” recorded in 1958 when Buddy Holly was all of 21 years old. Holly was an enthusiastic, cherubic burgeoning rock and roll star deeply rooted in the music and heritage of his native Texas home. He was young and innocent, and yet mature beyond his years. Here he sings a beautiful love song, featuring a lovely hi-hat cymbal keeping a steady rhythm behind an acoustic guitar, not the Les Paul electric that many would see as his trademark.
“Well all right, so I’m being foolish
Well all right let people know
About the dreams and wishes you wish
In the night when lights are low.”
The rhythm of the cymbal stays consistent while the volume of the guitar strums on the 1 and 3 gets louder, and softer. Louder and softer. With a slightly different melody, this could have been a Hank Williams tune. The Beatles would be inspired by “Well…All Right,” as would The Rolling Stones and The Eagles. There is a direct line that connects everything. Just like so many great rock and roll songs before and after Buddy Holly, the lyrics could be about any girl, and every love affair.
“Well, all right, so I’m going steady
It’s all right when people say
That those foolish kids can’t be ready
For the love that comes their way”
Well…All Right was released just a couple of months before Buddy Holly died in that lonely Iowa cornfield, and it is hard to listen to this song and not imagine what might have been. Might Holly have explored more deeply the connection between rock and roll and country western music? How might his music production have changed through the 1960’s? What would the have done with a fuzz pedal, or a synthesizer? We can only imagine.
“Well all right, well all right
We’ll live and love with all our might
Well all right, well all right
Our lifetime love will be all right”
Sadly, I don’t believe there is any film of Buddy Holly singing this lovely song. Instead, here is fellow Texan Nanci Griffith singing the song on The David Letterman show in the 1990’s with surviving members of Buddy Holly’s band. A fine substitute version if there ever was one.
Written by Bob Montgomery, Norman Petty and Charles Hardin (Buddy Holly) Holley
Performed by Buddy Holly and The Crickets
Released November 5, 1958