Up Close with David Bigham of The Roses
A member of a legendary vocal group that backed Buddy Holly in most of 1958
Interviewer's note: Anyone who has just a little knowledge of the history of rock has heard of Buddy Holly and The Crickets and how their music has inspired generations of musicians both in the U.S. and abroad. But to dig just a little bit deeper into the origins of West Texas rockabilly would easily reveal a number of very talented artists and groups that were a part of Holly's legacy. The Roses was such a group and it played a key role of major significance. Not only did these legendary vocalists make its presence in Buddy Holly and The Crickets' recordings for most of 1958, The Roses were the only group to actually tour with them as backup vocalists that same year. “The Lance Monthly” is much obliged to David Bigham of The Roses for his fascinating recollections of a time when rock and roll was fun, easy to dance to, and not so darn serious.
[Lance Monthly] David, where and when were you born, and what was it like growing up as a kid in your hometown? Was it all work and no play?
David Bigham I was born in Ducktown, Tennessee June 2, 1937. I grew up in Odessa, Texas, and graduated from Odessa High school in 1955. My childhood was play and fun until Junior High, when I started working as a newspaper carrier. Then in high school, I started working for an oilfield trucking company on weekends and during the summer.
[Lance Monthly] How big a birth family did you have and did music play a major roll with you and your family members?
David Bigham I have one younger sister. She, my dad and I sang in a church quartet and my mother played the piano. My dad also played the guitar. My parents could read music, but I was never able to do so.
[Lance Monthly] At what age did you feel a career in music would be a possibility and was singing in a group your greatest interest?
David Bigham At the age of 15, I entered high school, auditioned for a cappella choir, and became a member of the boys' quartet. From that, the quartet formed a group called The Four Roses and started singing rock ‘n' roll songs. The Four Roses teamed up with Roy Orbison, and we did quite well. At that point, music became a real interest to me. Yes, singing in a group was the only thing I wanted to do. I loved the harmony.
[Lance Monthly] Where and how did you meet Roy Orbison and would you describe him as being the nice guy that the media had always made him out to be? Was he attending the same high school as you?
David Bigham I met Roy Orbison in 1956. We were both enrolled at Odessa Junior College. We were also doing gigs around Odessa together. Roy was a very intense and dedicated musician. But, at the same time, he was very easy going, friendly and a genuine person.
[Lance Monthly] Had Orbison recorded any material before he teamed up with The Four Roses, or did he and the group perform a few of his original songs live before some (or all of them) became recorded hits at a later time?
David Bigham Roy was already recording at Sun Records when we met him. We did some of the songs with him at the gigs around Odessa. In December of 1956, The Four Roses traveled to Memphis with Roy and recorded "Devil Doll" and "Sweet N Easy to Love" on the Sun Label.
[Lance Monthly] Who were the original members of The Four Roses, and were they all from Odessa?
David Bigham The original Four Roses were all from Odessa and attended Odessa High School. The members were Jimmie Williams, first tenor; Johnny Martin, second tenor; Irby Gleaton, baritone; and myself, bass. In late 1956, The Four Roses regrouped and Robert Linville, Ray Rush, Jim Russell, and myself became the Four Roses. Bill Bailey, guitar; Bo Clark, drums; and Donald (Tas) Baker, coronet joined the group. We performed around the area for school dances, local TV appearances, and other school programs. It might be noteworthy to say the group's name The Four Roses came from a cheap whiskey called Four Roses. The reason The Four Roses regrouped was Jimmy, Johnny and Irby were still in high school and could not travel to Clovis and Memphis for the recording sessions. Later, Jim Russell dropped out to further his education. The Four Roses became known as The Roses, which became the group's recording name.
[Lance Monthly] So I assume that Sun Records' owner, Sam Phillips, was the engineer at your sessions with Orbison. What kind of person was Sam? How would your describe his overall demeanor and how did he and Orbison head it off?
David Bigham We did meet Sam Phillips, but Sam was not the engineer. There were two other men that engineered and did the studio set up. I do not recall their names. Sam was a very cordial person, but we didn't spend that much time with him. To the best of my recollection, Roy and Sam seemed to have gotten along fine.
[Lance Monthly] What were the names of the songs that you did with Orbison, approximately how many takes were done before a keeper was announced, and was the recording atmosphere mellow, stressful, or in-between? In addition, did any of these songs chart?
David Bigham We recorded "Devil Doll" and "Sweet and Easy to Love" with Roy. We probably did both songs in about four or five takes. We had rehearsed these songs prior to going to Memphis. So, everyone knew their parts, which made the sessions very easy. The atmosphere was somewhat mellow. Neither of the songs charted. They were naturally played quite frequently in the hometown area.
[Lance Monthly] Could you describe for our readers Sun Records' studio set-up during The Roses/Orbison sessions and who else may have been present besides The Roses and Orbison? In addition, do you recall whom the backup musicians were (drummer, guitarist etc.)?
David Bigham The studio was somewhat plain at the time, especially when compared to the Norman Petty Studio. I don't recall meeting any other artists at the time of our session. The back up band were staff musicians for Sun Records. I don't recall any of their names. Roy, of course, was playing the lead guitar.
[Lance Monthly] Did you meet any of the other high-profile Sun Records' recording artists, and if yes, what were your impressions of them?
David Bigham No, we did not meet any other high profile artists.
[Lance Monthly] Where was Sun Records' location during The Roses/Orbison sessions and did your group offer to back Orbison as a favor without consideration of being paid?
David Bigham I don't know the street address, but it was in the original Sun Record Company building in Memphis. Roy paid for the trip. In fact, we rode to Memphis in Roy's 54 Cadillac. We were not compensated for the session. We did it because Roy was our friend and we could have the experience and excitement of being on a record and hoping that something would become of it. I guess that you could say Roy compensated us by bringing us to Clovis, making it possible for the Roses to become the staff vocalist for the Norman Petty Studio.
[Lance Monthly] Rumor has it that Roy Orbison's writing and singing style was shaped by the love of a girl who left him. Can you elaborate on this?
David Bigham I am not aware of a girl leaving him, but I do know Claudette was Roy's girlfriend and a song was written for her. They later married. I believe that a lot of his songs were written about his family and events of his life.
[Lance Monthly] David, when Orbison began using the Norman Petty Studios, did The Roses continue to do some backup vocals on his recordings? If so, what were the titles of these songs and did any of them chart?
David Bigham Roy began using [the] Norman Petty Studio in early 1957, [and] yes the Roses continued to do vocal backing for Roy at Norman Petty Studio. The songs were "Fool's Hall of Fame," "Domino," and "Ooby Dooby." To the best of my knowledge, none of them charted.
[Lance Monthly] What was your first impression of Norman when you met him, and how would you compare him to Sam Phillips with respect to behavior and overall music savvy?
David Bigham I thought that Norman was an extremely young person to be the owner of a recording studio. Norman and Sam were as different as night and day. Norman was a very well mannered, soft spoken, and easygoing man. Sam was a distant person. His personality was entirely different than Norman's. They both were exceptionally talented in music.
[Lance Monthly] Why did The Roses replace The Pics in 1958? Did the Pics want to make a go of it on their own?
David Bigham One of the Pics had a problem [in that] there were occasions of being late or not showing at all for a session. Norman and Buddy discussed using The Roses and both agreed that The Roses would be used on Buddy's next recordings.
[Lance Monthly] When did you meet Buddy Holly, and what was your first impression of him?
David Bigham I met Buddy Holly in March of 1957. My first impression of Buddy was, "This is Buddy Holly?" Buddy was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt and this was prior to Buddy's dental surgery. Therefore, Buddy didn't look like he did in the ‘58 pictures and so forth. Buddy was a down to earth type person, so it was easy to become friends with him.
[Lance Monthly] Did you ever witness any friction between Holly and Petty during the recording sessions in which The Roses participated?
David Bigham No, I never witnessed any friction between Buddy and Norman. They always seemed to work well together. They respected each other's talents.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Roses enter into contract with Petty as Holly's 1958 backup vocalists, and how were The Roses compensated in the studio?
David Bigham We were not under contract to be Buddy's vocalists. We were, however, under contract with Norman Petty as staff vocalist for the studio and were paid session fees for recordings.
[Lance Monthly] David, were The Pics offended by the dismissal, and did they try to get a decision reversal by Petty and Holly?
David Bigham I'm sure The Pics made an effort to regain their position, but nothing was ever mentioned or discussed with The Roses. There was a definite sound difference between the two groups. That may have been a factor as well.
[Lance Monthly] Although, as you say, Buddy and Petty were cordial at the sessions that involved The Roses, it's been widely written that there was a major fall-out between the two of them over the subject of finances. David, can you elaborate on this for our readers, such as when the breakdown of their relationship occurred and how it came about?
David Bigham Norman and Buddy respected the people they worked with. We never witnessed said conflicts. As far as the reports are concerned, my question is where are these reports coming from? Buddy died in 1959, so I don't believe the reports came from him. I don't believe, if Norman was withholding funds, that he would have boasted about it. Reliable sources have informed me they could find no evidence of monies being withheld and receipts show that funds were being distributed.
[Lance Monthly] Could you give our readers the hit Holly titles in which The Roses did the backup vocals?
David Bigham The Roses did backing vocals on "It's So Easy," "Think It Over," "Lonesome Tears" and "Fool's Paradise." The songs, "It's So Easy" and "Lonesome Tears" were recorded live, and "Think It Over" was over-dubbed.
[Lance Monthly] Why did the Roses discontinue working with Orbison? Was this Sun Records' decision?
David Bigham The Roses discontinued working with Roy because they became staff vocalists with The Petty Studio. I don't know of the circumstances of the relationship between Roy and Sun Records.
[Lance Monthly] Describe what went through your mind and where you were when you learned that Buddy and The Roses had scored its first smash hit. Did you think at that moment that The Roses would be a permanent fixture of Buddy's band?
David Bigham Norman received “Cash Box” publications and we could track the songs that were charted. Naturally we were excited to watch the songs rise in the charts, but we never dreamed that we would be touring with Buddy and the Crickets. We thought we were just providing voices for the records and that nothing would ever develop from it. Buddy and Norman were in the control room with the door closed and we had no idea what they were discussing. After what seemed an eternity, Buddy opened the door [and] asked the Roses to step inside. We didn't know what kind of trouble we might be in. Norman was sitting in his chair in front of the control board with a big grin across his face and said, "How would you like to tour with Buddy and the Crickets?" Norman went into detail about the length of the tour, travel arrangements, and compensation. It took us all of a second to say yes. We were on cloud nine. The Roses also did vocal backing for Buddy Knox, [and] the song that charted was "Somebody Touched Me." [In addition] The Roses did vocal backing for Waylon Jennings' first recording of "When Sin Stops," which was the flip side of "Jolie Blon." Buddy produced Waylon's recording.
[Lance Monthly] David, what do you recall about Lubbock's Hi-D-Ho drive-in restaurant? Did you hang out there a lot?
David Bigham We never spent much time in Lubbock, so I never frequented the Hi-D-Ho Drive Inn. But when Buddy and the Crickets came to Clovis, we did frequent a drive inn called [the] Foxy Drive Inn, which, by the way, is still in operation by the same family. The drive inn is in a different location now then it was back then. They have been doing radio spots for Foxy here in Clovis saying Buddy Holly was a customer. It really brings back memories of the good times we all had.
[Lance Monthly] Buddy originally cut some demos in 1955 at the Nesman's Studios in Wichita Falls. What do you know about this studio?
DAVID BIGHAM I don't know anything about that studio. I have never heard of it.
[Lance Monthly] In Philip Norman's "Rave On," the author writes that Norman Petty had a tendency to occasionally vanish during session breaks for long periods of time, giving the reader the impression that he was up to no good. What are your thoughts on that?
David Bigham During our association with Norman and the studio, I don't recall Norman ever leaving for long periods of time. Once Norman started a session, we worked until a suitable tape was done. Sometimes, if the session was extremely long, we would all take a break in the studio apartment to relax and refresh and have a go at it again.
[Lance Monthly] Buddy Holly was quite the Elvis Presley fan. Were you?
David Bigham I was somewhat of an Elvis fan. We were always interested in the vocal backup on Presley's records.
[Lance Monthly] Did you meet Jack Vaughn, guitarist for Norman Petty's trio? If so, what can you tell our readers about him in reference to his demeanor and talent?
David Bigham When we came to Clovis, Jack had already left the Trio. I never met Jack, but was impressed with his guitar playing and his vocal work he did with The Petty Trio.
[Lance Monthly] Teen smoking was very "in" during the ‘50s and there are some photos that show Buddy with cigarette in hand. Would you say that Buddy was a heavy smoker who tried his best in kicking the habit during his breakout success?
David Bigham I very seldom saw Buddy smoking a cigarette. He was not a heavy smoker and I don't think he had a difficult time at all giving them up. [Crickets'] Jerry Allison was a heavy smoker and Joe B. very seldom smoked.
[Lance Monthly] Two important people in Buddy's life were Echo McGuire and Sue Parrish. Echo, of course, was Buddy's first true love, and Sue collaborated with Holly in the writings of some songs. Can you give our readers a brief bio on each one?
David Bigham The first time I met Echo McGuire was in Lubbock at a Buddy Holly festival in the '90s. She has some interesting stories to tell about her relationship with Buddy, and she and her husband seem to be nice, well-adjusted people. I have never met Sue Parrish and know nothing about her. The only female that we met was Peggy Sue, who, of course, was Jerry Allison's girlfriend at the time and later his wife.
[Lance Monthly] You did backup vocals for Buddy Knox and Waylon Jennings. What do you remember about these legendary performers?
David Bigham Buddy Knox was a down to earth, good ol' boy. He was very easy to work with and a very likable person. Waylon Jennings however, was somewhat arrogant. Waylon at the time, was a DJ at a radio station at Lubbock, and couldn't really sing that well. He later established his own style and became very successful with it.
[Lance Monthly] When did The Roses and Buddy Holly begin their tour together, what venues did they play, and how long did it last?
David Bigham Jerry Allison, Joe B., Tommy Allsup and the Roses (Robert Linville, Ray Rush, and myself) drove from Lubbock to New York City in the new 58 DeSoto station wagon that Norman had purchased for the Crickets. We pulled a tear-shaped trailer, painted white with "The Roses" in big bright red letters on the sides. We had our luggage, Jerry's drums, Joe B.'s Bass, and Tommy Allsup's guitar in the trailer. We arrived in New York City in the later part of September ‘58. We spent several days in New York being outfitted for our stage attire, photo shoots, rehearsals, and of course site seeing.
The tour [Allan Freed's 16-day fall edition of the 1958 Show of Stars] began on October 3rd when we traveled to Worchester, MA:
Worchester Auditorium 4th, Hartford, CT; State Theater 5th, Montreal, Quebec; The Forum 6th, Peterborough, Ontario; Memorial Center 7th, Kitchener, Ontario; Memorial Auditorium 8th, Toledo, OH; Sports Arena 9th, Indianapolis, IN; Indiana Theater 10th, Louisville, KY; State Fair Coliseum 11th, Columbus, OH; Veterans Auditorium 12th, Youngstown, OH; Stanbaugh Auditorium 13th, Pittsburg, PA; Syria Mosgue 14th, Akron Oh; Akron Armory 15th, Rochester, NY; Community War Memorial Building 16th, Scranton, PA; Catholic Youth Center 17th, Norfolk, VA; Municipal Auditorium 18th, Charlotte, NC; Park Center 19th, Richmond, VA; The Mosque, then back to New York City for a couple of days [before returning] to Clovis.
[Lance Monthly] Who were the other artists that toured with The Roses and Holly, and what do you remember about them?
David Bigham The other artists on the tour were Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Jimmy Clanton, The Elegants, The Coasters, The Danleers, Bobby Freeman, The Olympics, Jack Scott, Duane Eddy, Harold Cromer, Deon & The Belmonts, and Sil Austin & his Orchestra.
Clyde McPhatter was a very talented person, but he had a real bad drinking problem. I still remember Clyde getting on the bus and going to the very back and sipping on a fifth of scotch until we arrived at the next venue. I felt it was such a waste. Frankie Avalon was a very handsome young man and was somewhat friendly and a great showman.
Bobby Darin was somewhat of a snob, but also was a very good showman. Jack Scott was a shy and confused young man, but he did a good job on his song "My True Love."
Duane Eddy was also somewhat shy, but was a great guitarist. Duane came through Clovis in March of 2003 and toured the studio for the first time. He was quite impressed and it had been 45 years since I had seen him. We had a nice visit. I wasn't around the others that much, so I don't have many memories of them.
[Lance Monthly] What were the highlights of the tour, as well as the negatives?
David Bigham The highlight of the tour was being able to tour the country, as well as Canada, and to perform for very receptive crowds. Fortunately all the artists got along well together. They were a great bunch of people. The negative part was the gruesome schedule that we had to meet. We would do a show in a city, then we loaded buses and cars and traveled to the next city before we could get to bed. We would do two shows before traveling to the next city and so on. I was very fortunate to have been a part of musical history and being able to tour with Buddy.
[Lance Monthly] Did you meet Alan Freed, and if so, what was your take on him?
David Bigham I did not meet Alan Freed; however, I did meet Paul Anka, who was associated with him.
[Lance Monthly] What was Anka's connection with Freed and what was his demeanor?
David Bigham Alan Freed was either Paul's manager or agent. I do not recall which. Paul was a very nice young person. He was only 16 years old at the time. Paul began writing the song "Dianna" back stage while he was visiting. Several of the performers, including The Roses, had a little input. Lots of fun! It was a time I will always hold dear, and I cherish the memories.
[Lance Monthly] Guitarist, Tommy Allsup took Niki Sullivan's place on this tour. Although it has been widely written that Niki and Jerry Allison didn't get along, was it this dislike for each other alone that prompted Niki to leave The Crickets?
David Bigham Niki Sullivan's departure from the Crickets occurred before we ever came to Clovis in 1957. Tommy Allsup did not come to Clovis until 1958. So there was about a year or more time between Niki and Tommy. I am not aware of any personality conflict between Jerry and Niki, so therefore, I cannot comment on it.
[Lance Monthly] Were all the venues on this tour packed to the rafters with screaming fans, and which venue do you recall as being the best?
David Bigham Yes, all of the venues were packed with screaming fans. The lineup of the tour was so broad that there was music for all to enjoy. The best venue was Montreal, as it was the largest facility and was packed to the rafters. I can't really say there was a bad venue because each one was very receptive to the musicians.
[Lance Monthly] When Petty later talked Allison and Joe B. into distancing themselves from Holly because of Buddy's demand for royalties due him from Petty, what were your feelings in reference to that, and did Petty try to lead The Roses away from Holly as well?
David Bigham I am not familiar with Norman attempting to distance The Crickets from Buddy, and Norman did not make any remarks to The Roses concerning the Holly and Crickets' situation. Once again, [neither] Norman nor Buddy discussed their business matters in the presence of others.
[Lance Monthly] Can you recall for our readers the moment you learned of Holly's death in the February 3, 1959 Iowa plane crash?
David Bigham Robert and I had just awakened and Robert turned on the TV. Once the tubes warmed up and the picture came on, the names, Buddy, Richie, and The Big Bopper were announced as dying in a plane crash. Shortly [thereafter], the phone rang and Norman asked us to come to the studio to help answer the phone calls that were coming in. We were shocked and stunned beyond words. The Roses, and Don and Phil Everly were honorary pallbearers at Buddy's funeral. The church was so full that people were standing outside. It was truly a great loss to all who knew and loved him.
[Lance Monthly] Your group's bio says that Ray Bush was late for everything, and you and Robert gave him a fair warning to be punctual the next time The Roses left town. Not only did he not show up for the time The Roses set (which prompted The Roses to leave without him), but you and David never saw Ray again until your meeting with him in November 2001. What caused him to be so tardy and why do you think he no longer wanted to be a member of The Roses? Was it because he wanted to break out on his own? Apparently, Ray, upon leaving The Roses, did quite well in the music business as A&R man on several of David Box's recordings and was credited with discovering BJ Thomas.
David Bigham Ray was always late and always had his reasons. Tommy, Robert, and myself told Ray that we were leaving at 10:00 A.M. sharp the next morning. At 10:00 A.M., Ray was a no show and the three of us left New York City without him. We did see Ray after that, because we did a session with the Crickets and Earl Sinks after Buddy's death. The songs were "Love's Made a Fool of You" and "Someone Someone." Shortly after that time is when I left Clovis and did not see Ray again until August 2002 in Lubbock, Texas.
[Lance Monthly] David, do you still give Petty Studio tours?
David Bigham Yes, but they are by appointment only and the person to contact is Kenneth Broad at (505) 356-6422 or e-mail him at email@example.com . Kenneth is more than happy to do tours regardless of the size of the group. I help when I am available.
[Lance Monthly] Thank you very much for sharing your priceless recollections with “The Lance Monthly,” David. You are truly a gentleman, an outstanding vocalist, and a principal, legendary contributor during a time when West Texas rockabilly was shaping the future of rock ‘n' roll. What are your final thoughts?
David Bigham I was very fortunate to have known and sung with such great people as Budd Holly, Buddy Knox, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Bowen, and Don Lanier. It was a fun time, a good time, and I never really thought I would have been part of rock ‘n' roll history. I feel deeply honored to have worked with Norman and Vi Petty, and a great musician, George Atwood, who is now 82 years old and resides at Twin Falls, Idaho. [It was] such a wonderful experience. Thanks, Dick for the pleasure of doing the interview. You brought back a lot of memories. Keep on Rockin!