(NOTE: As of February 2020, Larry Holley is still alive in Texas. Great news!)
I spoke with Larry Holley in December 2008, when he was 83, for a story both about the 50th anniversary of the death of his younger brother, Buddy Holly (who dropped the “e” in his last name for professional purposes), and the release of a pair of multi-disc Holly albums, The Memorial Collection and Down the Line: Rarities.
Larry, who lives in the family’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, was the spokesman for the Holley family, and wrote a memoir, I Don’t Know How I Did It. He was a fun chap, but I called him a few weeks later to clarify some things and he wouldn’t speak to me because he thought I was a spy for the family’s legal adversaries at MCA Records.
HOW BIG IS THE BUDDY HOLLY BUSINESS?
Nobody knows. There’s been so many fingers in the pie. We know what we get. We know what Maria (Buddy’s widow, whom I also interviewed) gets. She gets the same as we do. I can’t blame her for being a little bit peculiar about wanting to keep everything … If they use Buddy’s name some way or other, she wants something out of it. She got on that kick when Elvis Presley, his estate, started doing that, and so did John Lennon’s. Oko Ono, or whatever her name is. I never liked John Lennon’s work anyhow. I liked Elvis.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH WITH JOHN LENNON?
The sorry songs he wrote!
OH REALLY?! NOT A BEATLES FAN?
They’re not my type at all. He actually made the remark they were more popular than Jesus Christ. That, in my opinion, was blasphemin.’
BUT THEY WERE BIG BUDDY HOLLY FANS. THE BEATLES AND THE STONES-
-Yeah, they liked Buddy all right. Paul McCartney’s a good kid. I say “kid.” He’s grown now! But I’ve been with Paul some, and I like him.
YOU AND MARIA CO-OWN THE COPYRIGHTS AS WELL?
Not all of them. We own some. Maria owns more than I do, because Mother needed the money and she wanted to sell some of the stuff to Mr. Eastman, that was Paul McCartney’s father-in-law. We went up and sold them for enough so she could pay her income tax. Mother being old and Daddy had lost his mind. He had a stroke, and she didn’t even file income tax for seven years. Boy, they come down on her all of a sudden, the Internal Revenue did. And she called me and wanted me to go to New York with her. She didn’t tell Maria. It made Maria aggravated, and I don’t blame her. Maria said, “I’da loaned her the money if I’da known she’d needed it.” But Mother didn’t want Maria to know. So we went up there and sold some of the catalog to Mr. Eastman. But there’s still plenty of money coming in. Ain’t no telling how many millions, billions that Buddy made. There ain’t no telling. There’s so many fingers in the fire. Mainly the royalties are ASCAP and BMI and Peermusic. And of course Maria still gets some from Paul McCartney (who administers her share of the copyrights), but we sold our part to Paul McCartney.
THE MONEY THAT YOU AND MARIA GET EVERY YEAR, WOULD THAT BE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS?
It ain’t nothing like millions of dollars. But it’s a good living. It’s not even near millions of dollars a year. But we’re talking about 60 years here, but it’s been coming in steady, and it’s still stayin’ just about the same.
DO YOU SO SOMETHING SPECIAL TO MARK FEBRUARY THE 3RD EVERY YEAR?
No, no we don’t. They have a deal in Iowa to celebrate the time he got killed, and I don’t go to that because it makes me sad. I went up there one time to identify the body after the plane crash and I haven’t been up there since … Maria went up there once or twice, but she don’t much like to go either. It makes us sad. They celebrate Buddy’s birthday (Sept. 7) here at Lubbock, and since Maria was wanting a little money out of it, the city got stingy and wouldn’t pay her, she put a stop to some of it. And now word got out that she don’t want anybody to use Buddy’s name or nothing. But she’s not that way at all. She just wants to have some say in it, and people to come and ask her instead of just doing it.
OF ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE BUDDY’S SONGS, WHO COMES THE CLOSEST?
I think (Chicago musician) Johnny Rogers, and (Buddy musical star) John Mueller does a pretty good job, but he can’t do all the songs like Johnny Rogers can.
HOW ABOUT SOME OF THE BIGGER ARTISTS LIKE THE ROLLING STONES?
No, no, they didn’t even come close to Buddy. They murdered it! Seriously. I’m serious. You can tell by looking at ’em they’re on dope!
I GUESS IT’S GOOD FOR THE CATALOG, REMINDS PEOPLE WHO BUDDY IS WHEN THEY DO THESE SONGS
Oh yeah, Buddy’s very famous. But there are people right here in Lubbock who don’t know him.
BUT WHEN YOU FLY INTO LUBBOCK, OR DRIVE IN AREN’T THERE BIG SIGNS SAYING “BIRTHPLACE OF BUDDY HOLLY”?
It’s all fouled up in Lubbock. The city of Lubbock is stingy. The city of Lubbock is not ran right, I don’t think. And when Maria something out of it, they didn’t want to pay her, so she put a stop to it. They’ve got a Buddy Holly Center here, but there’s not very much in it.
DO YOU DREAM ABOUT HIM?
Yeah, I’ve dreamed that me and him was together, writing songs, that we was out fishing together. I’ve had some good dreams about him. I inherited his motorcycle. He gave it to Daddy, and Daddy gave it to me, and then I sold it for a dirt bike because I didn’t like that old street bike. It shifted on the wrong side, the brakes were on the wrong side. It was a British motorcycle. I knew I was going to get killed if I kept riding it. But then I rode this dirt bike, I had about 30 of them, I rode them for 60 years, 50 years anyway.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here on Kindle, or here as paperback. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com.
Copyright © 2009, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING