In September/October 2013, I finally did my Buddy Holly pilgrimage. It involved trips to Lubbock, Texas, where he was born in 1936; to Clovis, New Mexico, where he recorded between 1957 and 1958; and to Clear Lake, Iowa, where he died in 1959.
Not much more can be said about Buddy Holly that has not already been said, but I’ll just state that every half-serious rock ‘n’ roll fan should venture to these cities once in their lives. Because of their relatively remote locations, they do not get the foot traffic seen by equally important sites like Detroit’s Motown Museum and the Memphis trilogy of Graceland, Sun and Stax. But that means they can be enjoyed in relative peace and solitude.
First stop was Clovis, an agricultural community of about 38,000 people located about 200 miles east of Albuquerque. Tours can be made by appointment with curator Ken Broad, an old friend of Norman Petty, the late impresario who produced Buddy’s records. Donations are gratefully accepted for this shoestring operation. The building, in a fairly dodgy part of town, is still owned by the Petty estate. It has escaped demolition so far, but who knows what the future holds?
Nowhere else on the planet can you sit in the chair that Buddy sat in, listen to his music as he first listened to it at the mixing desk, and sing into the microphone through which he expressed his love for Peggy Sue and urged us to Rave On.
The mixing desk is a mint condition version of the original desk, which can be seen in the separately run Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum. Alas, I did not got there as it is open only on weekdays.
The living quarters, where Buddy and the Crickets relaxed between sessions, is basically unchanged. It’s like walking onto the set of an early episode of Mad Men. A photo exists of him sitting on the yellow couch.
Then we drove 100 miles southeast to Lubbock (be careful about losing an hour as you cross the Texas state line). Members of Buddy’s family, including his two older brothers, still live in this college town, which also gave us Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Bobby Keys.
First stop was the Buddy Holly Center and the newly added adjacent childhood home of Crickets member Jerry Allison. No photos are allowed in the Center, whose displays include school report cards and artwork; some incredibly big contact lenses that Buddy wisely jettisoned; his Gibson acoustic guitar; articles of clothing; and the glasses he was wearing when he died. The souvenir store was a bit disappointing and featured a lot of self-published books by members of Buddy’s family.
Across the street is the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza where a life-sized bronze statue of Holly stands guard in front of the West Texas Music Walk of Fame. From there, it’s a 3-mile drive to the City of Lubbock Cemetery, Buddy’s final resting place. You can also see the church where his funeral took place and at least one of his childhood homes.
A few days later, I flew up to Des Moines and drove 120 miles north to the pleasant resort of Clear Lake. It’s a pity Buddy didn’t visit the town during the summer. Instead, he came here on Feb. 2, during the dismal Winter Dance Party tour of the Midwest. His last gig was at the beautifully preserved Surf Ballroom, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and still hosts concerts. Fans can visit during the day to view its extensive collection of memorabilia relating not only to Buddy, but also to his ill-fated travel buddies J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens. There is also a well-stocked souvenir store.
Across the road from the Surf Ballroom is a relatively new memorial that looks impressive at night:
The three left terra firma for the last time at Mason City Municipal Airport, 2 miles east, where there is no reference to its place in rock history. I guess airports don’t like to focus on crashes.
Their Beechcraft Bonanza ended up in a cornfield shortly after takeoff, about seven miles northwest. The site is reached along a path through the private property of a generous farmer. Look for the big pair of glasses at Gull Avenue and 315th Street. The field remains barren, paradoxical given that Buddy’s legacy is so bountiful.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above story, 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 in paperback. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com.
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING