In the many years since popular music began, few individuals have made as deep a mark as the late, great Buddy Holly. The seemingly ordinary, glasses-clad kid from Lubbock, Texas burst onto the music scene in the late 1950s with unique and original songs and styles—only to be taken from the world under utterly tragic circumstances. Although six full decades have passed since we lost this gem of an artist, his memory, his music, and his influence all continue to live on. Here are 42 rockin’ facts about the life, death, career, and legacy of the legendary Buddy Holly.
Buddy Holly Facts
1. A Holly by Any Other Name
While many performers go by stage names in public for various reasons, there are probably very few who changed their names for the reason that Holly did. While “Buddy” was the musician’s childhood nickname, the surname “Holly” was actually an intentional misspelling of his real last name, “Holley.” So why the subtle and seemingly meaningless change?
Well, the reason isn’t as exciting as you might have hoped—Decca records simply misspelled the name on his original contract. Buddy decided to keep it simple and just go with this new spelling from that point on.
By the age of 16, Holly and a friend formed a country music group called “Buddy and Bob.” The duo managed to make it onto local radio and television stations. Starting young never fails to lead to great things!
3. If You Knew Peggy Who?
“Peggy Sue” is widely considered one of Holly’s signature songs. It’s one of those songs whose title alone instantly reminds people of the unique stylings of the artist behind it. Nevertheless, few people know the story behind that unforgettable title. It was not actually the original intended name of the song. Originally, the song was going to be called “Cindy Lou” as a shoutout to Holly’s niece, Cindy Lou Kaiter.
Everything changed when Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison, convinced Holly to name a song after his girlfriend, Peggy Sue Gerron. So, technically speaking, this beloved song is actually a love song by Holly to his drummer’s girlfriend. Who knew!
4. The Day the Music Died
At the peak of his stardom, Holly organized an extremely well-hyped “Winter Dance Party” tour. The idea was that some of the top names in Rock ‘n Roll music would travel across the Midwest, performing epic concerts together. It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event for anyone who could get their hands on tickets. Instead, everything came crashing down.
Less than two weeks into the tour, Holly became frustrated with the winter road conditions—and especially with the discomfort and unreliability of the buses they had been using. He decided to charter a private plane to get to his next stop early and a little more relaxed. The plane seated three passengers, so Holly and fellow rock stars Ritchie Valens and ‘The Big Bopper” got on board and took off shortly after midnight on February 3, 1959.
Less than half an hour later, all three of these superstars were killed, along with the pilot, when the plane violently crashed into a rural Iowa cornfield.
5. Short But Sweet
Although he produced dozens of classic songs and impacted a whopping number of musicians and fans, Holly’s entire music career lasted only a year and a half. From the launch of his first record to his untimely death in the winter of 1959, it’s safe to say that Holly accomplished more than most of us could ever dream of.
6. An Instrument Fit for a King
Before he made it big, a young Holly once opened a series of 1955 shows for another soon-to-be rock star—the one and only King of Rock ‘n Roll himself, Elvis Presley. In fact, on at least one occasion, Presley even lent Holly his own personal guitar to use for his performance. Pass the tissues.
7. Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Rock Stars
Fans of country music legend Waylon Jennings may be surprised to learn that they have Buddy Holly to thank for his music. Long before he was a country star, a young Jennings was discovered and mentored by Holly. He kickstarted the fellow Texan’s career by hiring him as a bass player and arranging his first professional recording session in early 1959.
8. Love at First Date
Holly met a young girl named Maria Elena Santiago while she was working as a receptionist at the offices of a music publishing company in New York City. After seeing her around the office a few times, Holly decided to ask her out. Having never been on a date before, Santiago nervously told him that he needed to ask for her aunt’s permission before she could agree.
After getting the okay from auntie, the couple went out. It was love at first sight. Partway through the evening, Holly pulled out a rose and unexpectedly proposed to Santiago on the spot. The couple tied the knot later that same year.
9. Oh Boy!
When Holly got married in August 1958, one person who did not see reason to celebrate was his band manager, Norman Petty. Petty felt that if Holly’s lovestruck female fans learned that he was taken, they might lose interest in him and tank his record sales. As a result of this, Holly had to keep a huge secret from the public. He could never let his fans know that he was a married man.
10. Trend Setter
Although his career was extremely short, Buddy Holly is considered one of the most influential artists in Rock ‘n Roll history. In fact, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame goes as far as to claim that “Rock & Roll as we know it would not exist without Buddy Holly.” From his innovative guitar styles to his unique vocal techniques, Holly’s iconic music influenced and accelerated Rock ‘n Roll’s transformation.
11. A Lawyer’s Dream Come True
The Crickets, the band that Holly originally found success with, formed for a dark reason. At the time, Holly was involved in a contractual conflict. According to the sinister terms, Holly couldn’t record new material under his own name for a given period of time. Unhappy but determined to make music, Holly recorded with a band. Ah, red tape, the source of all great music.
12. The Butterfly Effect
When trying to decide on a name for their new band, Holly and his bandmates decided that it would be cool to name their band after an insect. Unsure of which particular bug to go with, they resorted to sifting through an alphabetical list of their options in the dictionary. By the time they got to the letter ‘C’ and decided on the name “Crickets,” the group had already considered and passed on the name “Beetles.”
Can you imagine the kind of crazy alternate course of history that might have progressed if Buddy and his group had taken the world by storm with that name in the late 50s, preventing John Lennon & Paul McCartney from being able to a few years later? One can only imagine…
13. Take Good Care of My Tour
Following the horrific tragedy of the plane crash that killed Holly, the Winter Dance Party tour was in desperate need of a replacement for the singer. Sold out audiences around the country still hoped to see some kind of a show. As a replacement for Holly on the tour, a then-unknown singer was given an opportunity to join the remaining big stars and fill in for Holly’s slot.
That unknown singer turned out to be future 1960s pop idol Bobby Vee. You might know him as the man who gave us classic hits such as “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” In a weird stroke of destiny, it was only because of Holly’s untimely death that the American public was introduced to this man—who would become one of the biggest stars of the era.
14. Raining in His Heart
Despite how it may seem, hitting the big time isn’t all fun and games. When Holly returned to his hometown of Lubbock in 1957 following his sudden rise to stardom, he made a heartbreaking discovery. His high school girlfriend, Echo McGuire, had not exactly been patiently and faithfully awaiting his return. While he was away, she left him for a former classmate of theirs.
15. That’ll Be the Day
One of the many interesting and ambitious plans that Holly hoped to pursue, before the tragic plane crash, was a collaboration with legendary soul singers Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. It is almost impossible to imagine how significant an album like that would have been to the history and evolution of popular music if it had been given the chance to exist.
16. I’m Still Seeing
The list of legendary musicians who Holly had an effect on never seems to end—and neither does the wide variety of ways in which their lives changed as a result of him. For example, a 13-year-old Elton John decided to buy himself a pair of glasses and start wearing them on a constant basis, even though he did not need them for his vision at the time. He just wanted to look more like Buddy Holly.
17. A Fitting Tribute
Although most of us likely know Don McLean’s 1971 international smash hit “American Pie,” many don’t realize that the classic song has a dark secret meaning. It is actually about none other than Buddy Holly—using the story of the 1959 plane crash as a metaphor by which to lament American culture’s loss of innocence over the course of the 1960s.
While McLean generally declines to analyze his lyrics too deeply, insisting that doing so would hurt their poetic power, he has acknowledged that the song was a way to cope with the loss of Holly.
18. The World’s Smallest Violin
When he was still just a young kid, Holly and his brothers came up with an ingenious plan to win a talent contest. Buddy pretended to play the violin (an instrument that he did not know how to play) while the rest of the brothers played their respective instruments alongside him. The goal was to make their band seem more elaborate to increase their chances of winning.
To prevent any wrong notes from being heard by the audience, the brothers greased the strings of the instrument so that no sound would be made—allowing Buddy to fake it as much as he wanted. He must have been pretty convincing. Team Holley won the contest!
19. They Grow Up So Fast!
In one of his many innovations, Holly was one of the first people in the Rock ‘n Roll genre to ever create a sequel song. He did this in 1959 with his single “Peggy Sue Got Married.” This song, as you’ve probably guessed, followed up on the life of the main character in his earlier hit “Peggy Sue.” Unfortunately, the song was recorded shortly before Holly’s passing, so he never lived to hear how the finished product came out.
20. We’re Number One!
Although Buddy Holly was one of the biggest stars in the country during his tenure in the public eye, only one of his songs actually ever reached Number One on the charts. As popular as songs like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy!,” and “Everyday” were and still are, only his initial breakout hit “That’ll Be the Day” ever reached the venerated top spot.
21. Brother Can You Spare a Dime
In a terrible twist, Buddy Holly only agreed to headline what became his last ever tour because of an utterly dark reason. The rock star was in serious financial difficulty—in fact, he was on the verge of bankruptcy. He thought that a short but jam-packed 24-town tour could create enough hype to generate some serious revenue and help with his financial troubles. He couldn’t have known that this seemingly harmless decision would cost him his life.
22. Maybe Baby
As for many celebrities who have lost their lives under unusual circumstances, fans have invented all kinds of wild conspiracy theories about what really happened to cause Holly’s death. From speculation that he convinced the pilot to let him try flying the plane to the claim that someone on board got angry and started a violent fight with their fellow passengers in midair, alternative explanations of what caused these stars to die are never lacking.
Unfortunately for those looking for a mystery, the evidence (including multiple autopsies of the bodies) has overwhelmingly and conclusively demonstrated that the crash was the result of poor weather conditions resulting in a pilot error.
23. Not Fade Away
Holly’s widow, Maria Elena, still struggles to this day with feelings of survivor’s guilt and deep regret over not having joined her husband on his final tour. She insists that her instincts would have kicked in and she would have stopped Holly from getting on the plane.
24. Ed Doesn’t Matter Anymore
In an era where The Ed Sullivan Show was often the be-all and end-all of an act’s success, Holly did the impossible. He actually turned the show down.
While most performers would have given anything for such an invitation, Holly and his crew didn’t get along too well with the host when they appeared on the show previously. Apparently, Sullivan had rigid demands about which songs they could and could not perform. As a result, the Crickets told Sullivan’s people that their services would no longer be needed.
25. I See…
There are conflicting stories out there about how Holly ended up choosing his now-iconic glasses. One version of the story claims that fellow iconic rock stars, the Everly Brothers, suggested that Holly try out the new style of Tonight Show host Steve Allen. Another version of the story suggests that his eye doctor, who was a fan of the style of comedian Phil Silvers, gave Holly the tip. No matter how it happened, Buddy made bespectacled fashion history.
26. Oh, Pretty Man?
The long list of music legends who we might never have heard of if not for Holly’s influence continues with Rock ‘n Roll icon, Roy Orbison.
As an acutely shy and self-conscious young artist, Orbison had many reservations about entering show business as a profession. However, once he saw Holly confidently and successfully exciting the masses with his unassuming and homely appearance, Orbison changed his mind. He felt inspired to never let his insecurities about his appearance prevent him from performing.
27. Rave On the Phone
Holly’s short career was not short enough to avoid one of the music industry’s major contract disputes. After his initial recordings with Decca failed to sell, the company lost interest in him. The problem was that they still owned the rights to the songs he wrote while under contract with them. This meant that Holly could not move on with his career until they agreed to release him from his contract.
Knowing that he was secretly working to re-record some of those songs, Holly hatched a brilliant plan. He called up the record company and secretly recorded his conversation with the company executives as he tried to negotiate his rights with them. Although Holly’s disputes with the label were not resolved during this phone call, the secret recording still exists and can be heard on YouTube. It makes for an incredibly fascinating historical relic.
28. The Keys to Success
Despite growing up to be a music star, Holly’s path to greatness was not without its blips in the early days. At the age of 11, Holly actually quit the initial piano lessons that he had signed up for after only a nine-month tenure. The lesson here? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
29. Winning the Battle and the War
Holly was first introduced to the guitar when his older brother returned from World War II having bought one off a shipmate to entertain himself while deployed. After this (and seeing one of his classmates play guitar on the school bus one day) was all it took to get the young man hooked on the string instrument.
30. Ticket to Write
In a tragic twist, Holly never lived to see his greatest contribution to music: his influence on the Beatles. Just as North America will never forget the evening the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, John Lennon and Paul McCartney never forgot the night they watched Holly & the Crickets perform on the British variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
Not only did Holly’s performance spawn their love of rock n’ roll music, it even inspired their on-stage personas and eventual choice of name. They followed the Crickets’ lead and named their band after an insect. Holly’s influence on the future Beatles was so heavy that they even chose his song, “That’ll Be the Day,” as one of the ones they recorded at their first ever recording session.
31. Can’t Buy Me Love, But Can Buy Me Royalties!
The Beatles’ love of Holly’s music didn’t end once they made it big with their own songs. Sir Paul McCartney showed his admiration with a tender gesture. He purchased the publishing rights to Holly’s musical catalogue.
32. Getting Chirped
Despite being the band that he is forever associated with, and despite his career having been so short, it may interest some people to learn that the Crickets actually broke up during Holly’s lifetime. Holly’s later recordings were done as a solo artist with a completely different and unrelated team of backup musicians. The reason for the abrupt end to a group that had just begun its rise to fame?
Holly decided to move to New York City to pursue new opportunities for his career, while his fellow Texan bandmates didn’t like the idea of leaving home for the big city. The breakup was amicable, however, and they had all still hoped to work together again in the future when possible. Sadly, that day would never come.
33. Words of Love
In one of the most heartbreaking (and spooky) cases of dramatic irony ever, Holly and his then-bassist Waylon Jennings casually joked around on the evening before the fatal plane crash. In a back and forth about how Holly managed to escape the uncomfortable bus for the luxury of a plane, Holly teased Jennings by saying “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up” just before leaving for the flight. Jennings’ joking reply became a terrible prediction. He said, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”
Jennings had no idea what kind of new meaning this innocent little joke would take on in the hours that followed—and he never forgot it. He later explained in his autobiography that he felt guilty about the incident for the rest of his life.
34. Take Two
Although most Holly fans can instantly recognize his hit recording of “That’ll Be the Day,” they may be surprised to learn that a second version of the song actually exists and was released in the same year. Even stranger, this second and lesser-known version was actually the original recording that Holly had made of the song.
Prior to even forming the Crickets, Holly and a prior band recorded the song in 1956—but after not liking the way it turned out, the studio shelved the project and did not release it to the public. Then, a year later, once the Crickets’ version had become a huge hit, the studio that had recorded the original suddenly changed its mind and put their version of it out after all—trying to get in on some of the action.
Unfortunately for them, it was too late. Despite the success of the new version, the older version failed to gain any traction even at the height of the song’s popularity.
35. Chances Are
Perhaps the spookiest aspect of the tragic plane crash was the strange and oddly specific set of circumstances that led to the three stars ending up on board the doomed vessel. Originally, Holly ordered the plane for himself and his bandmates, including his then-bassist, Waylon Jennings. However, the Big Bopper felt under the weather, so everyone decided that he should ride in the comfort of the plane.
Meanwhile, feeling entitled to the luxury of a plane seat, headliners Ritchie Valens and Dion DiMucci convinced Buddy’s other bandmates to leave the last spot open for one of them. To decide who would get the coveted spot, the two singers flipped a coin. Valens won, to Dion’s dismay—giving him the last seat and, unbeknownst to either of them, sealing his eternal fate.
In case you are wondering, yes—this means that it was by pure chance that the three biggest names on this tour ended up being the three victims of this deadly crash.
36. On the Big Screen
By all indications, Holly hoped to do so much more in his life and career. In fact, shortly before the accident, Holly visited some of New York City’s unparalleled museums. They inspired the singer to begin taking acting classes in the hopes of someday starting a film career. If only.
37. Well, All Right…
Because the crash happened during the winter in a snowy, rural area, certain small items on the plane were not recovered until the snow began to melt months later. Among these items were Holly’s iconic black glasses. Someone at the local police department filed them away in an envelope and seemingly forgot all about them—until an officer stumbled upon them while sorting through old evidence more than 20 years later, in the year 1980.
The sudden discovery of the glasses all these years later ignited a fierce custody battle. Holly’s widow and his parents wanted them back as a token by which to remember their lost loved one. To further complicate things, a Delaware-based Holly superfan got involved too—offering his entire life savings of $502.37 to receive the glasses himself.
The widow eventually won the case, got the glasses back, and eventually sold them to a Lubbock museum. They are on permanent display to this day.
38. Too Much to Bear
Due to the overwhelming emotional trauma she experienced after the tragic plane crash, Holly’s widow, Maria Elena, did not attend her late husband’s funeral. In an utterly heartbreaking display of her sadness, to this day, she has never once visited his gravesite.
39. True Gun Ways
Despite the lack of evidence for the plane crash conspiracy theories and the seemingly clear evidence to the contrary, there is one little-known detail that made everyone’s jaws drop. Shortly after the crash scene was cleaned up by the authorities, the farmer whose property the plane crashed into made an extremely strange discovery. He found a gun lying in the midst of the remaining debris on his field—and the gun appeared to have recently been fired.
40. The Mystery Deepens
Not only that, but subsequent investigations confirmed that the registered owner of the gun was none other than Buddy Holly himself. Why in the world did Holly bring a gun with him on what was supposed to be a short and uneventful private plane ride? When, why, and by whom was it fired? Even though the autopsies refute the idea that any of the victims had been shot, the story behind the presence of this gun remains an unsolved mystery even after all these years.
41. From Bad to Worse
Holly’s then-pregnant wife, Maria Elena, learned the news of her husband’s unexpected death in a truly brutal way. Instead of receiving a personalized call, the poor woman learned about her beloved husband’s demise from a television news report. In total shock and disbelief, the tragic news threw her body into a profound state of turmoil. But that’s not even the worst part: she suffered a miscarriage very soon after she learned about her husband’s terrible fate.
42. Never Again
As a result of the utterly horrific way in which Holly’s widow found out about her husband’s death, and the tragic aftermath of that discovery, authorities implemented a new policy. They ensured that media sources could no longer share the names of victims of tragedies until their family members had been informed privately.
This was probably a good call—and who knows how many already grieving people’s emotional health was helped, at least to some extent, by this policy ever since.