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Up Close With Bill Griggs: The Number One Historian of Buddy Holly and The Crickets
Part 2
By Dick Stewart, The Lance Monthly
(more articles from this author)
2003-11-25
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[Lance Monthly] Tell our readers more about your five-volume booklet set titled "Buddy Holly Day-By-Day" and how one can order it. I would think that all serious fans of the rockabilly ‘50s should have this set. How can one order it?

Bill Griggs For years, every time I could come up with a valid date for anything pertaining to Buddy Holly, I'd put it into my computer database. When I came upon all those paper items from Clovis, the database got so long it was hard to print out as I had been doing. I spent seven years, traking all these dated items and events, putting them in order, checking them out for accuracy, and ultimately wound up with my five-volume booklet set "Buddy Holly Day-By-Day."

Almost another year was spent with my proofreader, Tom Reed, in New York. Tom would suggest things like, "Bill, I think this should go here" or my biggest blunder that he uncovered: I would state in an entry, "On today's date . . . " and Tom reminded me that today's date was just that, today. We changed all those listings to "On this date . . . " It's things like that [that] drive me crazy, although most readers would know what I meant and take it at that.

Anyway, I believe there are 21 days of Buddy's career from the so-called "Black Tour" in August 1957 to February 3, 1958 that I can't tell you where he was or what event took place on that specific date.

I have stated that even the most ardent Buddy Holly fan will find many items they were unaware of. Some examples:

Did you know that Buddy and his friends once captured a shoplifter Brandishing a knife?

Did you know that the city of Lubbock once issued a warrant for Buddy's Arrest?

How much did he pay for his class ring?

He had had his teeth capped. Who was the dentist and how much did it cost?

From the hotels he stayed in on tour, the flights he took from venue to venue (Buddy flew more than most people are aware), what he paid for stage clothes, it's all there, along with over 190 photos of mostly paper items (checks, receipts, letters etc.)

If anyone mentions this interview and requests it, I'll add my latest publication "A Who's Who of West Texas Rock 'n' Roll Music" free of charge.

This set is still available. Each booklet is $15.00 so the set is $75.00 plus shipping. So, the SIX booklets would cost, postpaid:

States (media mail) $79.00, Canada (air) $82.00, Europe/South America (air) $89.00, Asia/Australia (air) 94.00, anywhere overseas by surface mail (very slow but cheaper) $84.00.

I take Paypal, my user ID is bill@rockin50s.com, or any check or money order in U.S. funds, drawn on a U.S. bank . . . Bill Griggs, P.O. Box 6123, Lubbock, Texas 79493

I appreciate the commercial, thanks.

[Lance Monthly] Just about every Holly bio I’ve read shows where you’ve been sought out for your knowledge, and you’ve been frequently quoted. How did these individual writers make contact with you, and are you happy with how they’ve displayed your historical offerings so far?

Bill Griggs As for all these biographies that state the same thing, that's because those authors read the biographies that preceded them and take from that. All that does is perpetuate any myths that might be in those older bios.

I've met with many authors and have been mentioned in many books as a source. When these authors come to visit me here in Lubbock, I give them all the same information. As a matter of fact, Ellis Amburn ("Buddy Holly - A Biography") and Philip Norman ("Buddy Holly – Rave On") came to me within a few months of each other. They each received the same information available at that time. When their respective books were published, it seemed they wrote about two different people. How can that be? (By the way, one of those two books really belongs in the trash can. I won't state which one it is, but it does not have a song title in its title!)

Each good biography has something to offer. Still the best overall read in my opinion is the one by John Goldrosen. Philip Norman had access to much of the (then) newly discovered paperwork from Clovis. Larry Lehmer discovered some brand new facts. There's a so-called Buddy Holly biography (a large-size book with a yellow cover, won't mention the title or author), who was interviewed on English radio (another hint!) shortly after it came out. He was asked what places he went to in Lubbock and who he talked to. His reply was, "I didn't go to Lubbock, I have too much going on here." So where and how did he get his information?

Of the major biographies, one author asked me to proofread his manuscript for errors. At first I refused, but finally relented after being asked a few times. I told this author that I'd check for factual errors but not writing style or his conclusions. There were some things in the book I did not like, but as these were opinions and/or conclusions of the author, I didn't say anything. In my opinion, this would have been a really good book had it not been for those few things. (Others have commented to me about the very same things.)

[Lance Monthly] The Boston rock ‘n’ roll riots in 1958, which came about from the reported violence at one of Alan Freed’s shows, not only led to the decline of Alan Freed himself, but the damnation of rock ‘n’ roll with FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover leading the charge. What are your thoughts on this, Bill?

Bill Griggs This makes my blood boil. Alan Freed is one of my heroes. There is an excellent Alan Freed biography titled "Big Beat Heat" by John Jackson. As I know John personally, I was also privy to much of his research, some of which didn't make the book. Quite a bit relates to the so-called Boston Riot. I say so-called because the actual trouble took place OUTSIDE the theater by people who most likely didn't even attend the concert. The "highbrows" of Boston were totally against rock 'n' roll back then. Consider this, the powers that be in that city actually banned the Link Ray tune "Rumble" from radio play when it was released, stating that it was "too raunchy." The song "Rumble" is an instrumental!

Alan Freed took the dive for Boston, and shouldn't have. He ultimately left New York, and after gigs in Florida and California, found himself totally out of work. He died, they say, of a broken heart. The actual cause of death was uremia, but those that knew Alan Freed personally say he really did die of a broken heart.

Alan got caught up in the payola scandal. No one ever proved that he took money to play a particular record. Alan played what he liked, period. However, he was paid by various record companies as a consultant to listen to test pressings of songs and tell the record labels whether he thought the song would be a hit or not. Was this innocent? Maybe not and maybe so, but it certainly wasn't payola as the dictionary defines it. Also, if someone gave Alan a copy of a new record release and Alan really liked it, he'd play it often and comment on it. Then, if that producer made a lot of money, he'd give Freed a check or buy him something and Freed accepted it, as it was after the fact. Is that payola? No, of course not.

What really burns me is that another famous deejay also testified before Congress and he got off scott free. And we all know better about that, don't we? John Jackson said it best. "In radio they call it payola; in Congress they call it lobbying." Did payola kill rock 'n' roll, as we knew it? Probably. The whole era was exciting because, musically, we had all those independent producers and record labels and almost anyone with a good song--and some with bad songs--could get a record released. After payola, this sorta changed and the majority of those independent producers and labels all but disappeared.

The movie "American Hot Wax" really captured the feeling of an Alan Freed concert and a great quote came out of that movie. When the police were trying to shut down his concert (sound familiar?), [actor] Tim McIntire (as Alan Freed) stated, "You can stop the concert . . . You can stop me . . . but you can't stop rock 'n' roll. Don't you know that?"

Yeah, we know that.

[Lance Monthly] Bill, I’m also fascinated with Alan Freed’s accomplishments, but many of the biographers seem to think otherwise. For example, Ellis Amburn states in his "Buddy Holly, A biography" bio that Alan Freed’s name appeared as contributing writer on "Sincerely," "Nadine," and "Maybellene." What are your thoughts on this?

Bill Griggs Back then, and even now, producers and others put their names on songs. I'm not saying it was right, or legal, but this was the way it was done. Whether Alan Freed had some type of agreement with the artist or not, I don't know. I do know that Norman Petty had that type of agreement. As I stated previously about Alan Freed, I said that to my knowledge, he never took money to play a record. Putting your name on the record is another story.

[Lance Monthly] Bill, what do you know about Nesman’s Studios in Wichita Falls at which Buddy cut some demos in 1955? [Editor’s note: Coming soon - An interview with Sally Nesman]

Bill Griggs I visited Mr. and Mrs. Nesman in Wichita Falls during the Spring of 1990 and the resulting story and interview was published in the June 1990 issue (#24) of my Reminiscing magazine, which preceded Rockin' 50s.

The studio was located in a self-standing building that had more space inside than [that of] the Petty Studio in Clovis. They were a very nice couple, and they said they remembered Buddy being there, but there was nothing particularly constructive gleaned from this meeting. They had no written records or other memorabilia that might have pertained to Buddy's visit there. They still had their acetate-cutting machine and I paid to have an acetate made of "Down the Line" that I still have. Mr. Nesman is now deceased.

[Lance Monthly] In Norman’s bio, "Rave On," he says that one of the reasons Niki Sullivan quit the Crickets is because he couldn’t get along with J. I. Allison. Could you elaborate on this for our readers?

Bill Griggs When a group of people goes out on a long tour, there is always some "picking on" and pranks played on one another. This also happened with the Crickets with everyone, at one time or another, picking on someone else. The problem, as Niki saw it, was that Jerry and Joe were so close that they picked on Niki as a team--two against one. Niki liked pancakes and even ate them at dinnertime. This was one of the things he got picked on about. However, Niki told me several times that the main reason he did not continue was because he hated waking up in the morning and not knowing where he was. He simply couldn't hack those long tours.

[Lance Monthly] Many believe that Holly’s widow, Maria Elena, purposely had Norman Petty left out of "The Buddy Holly Story." Is there any truth to that, Bill?

Bill Griggs I can't answer that. I wasn't there when the decision was made not to include Norman. I have an early revision of the script and Norman isn't mentioned in it either. Everyone is aware of the hatred between Maria Elena and Norman for various reasons. Whether this had anything to do with a decision to keep him out of the movie, I don't know. I do know that it was a big mistake in not including him.

[Lance Monthly] Did you have a chance to meet and interview Waylon Jennings before he passed away? What was your impression of him, and why did Holly pick him to play bass on his final tour when it seems that he could have easily found a musician with better bass skills?

Bill Griggs I knew Waylon and we got along just fine. Each time we'd talk about Buddy, a smile would come over his face, [and] then he'd get serious. You see, after all those years had gone by, he still fondly remembered his mentor--the person who really believed in him.

I was talking to Waylon in 1979 just before he gave a concert in Lubbock to help raise funds for the Buddy Holly statue. I asked him if he was going to sing his song "Old Friend" that mentions Buddy. He got very serious, then his tears welled up and he said, "Bill, if I did that, I wouldn't be able to get past the first verse."

When Buddy went on the WDP tour without the Crickets, he needed a new band. He already had Tommy Allsup, and through Tommy, got Carl Bunch. Buddy had aleady seen the talent in Waylon and had produced Waylon's first record, and [he] got him a recording contract with Brunswick (short-lived, but he did get it for him). Needing a bass player, he tossed some of his records to Waylon and told him to learn the bass parts to his songs. He'd have two weeks! Waylon said that once he realized that a bass is just the top four strings on a guitar, he had it made.

I admired Waylon for many things, [and] one quote of his I've retold many times: He said, "There are two ways to do something, their way and your way, and you should get the chance to try it your way one time." Waylon didn't really mind if you differed in opinion with him but don't lie to him. If you couldn't look him right in the eye and tell the truth, no matter what, he'd have no time for it. I like straight shooters like this.

[Lance Monthly] Although I didn’t have the pleasure to meet Waylon, I always felt, as you say, that he displayed a forthright kind of behavior. Did you stay in touch with him up until his death?

Bill Griggs When I said that Waylon and I were friends, he knew me and I knew him, and when we bumped into each other somewhere, he'd say hello and call me by name. I was invited backstage and so on. We did not keep in touch by phone or letter.

Waylon's people always tried to "protect" him from the fans etc. If you got to talk with him alone or in a very small crowd, you'd see him open up. He could be very shy in public.

Yes, Waylon was very forthright, an attitude I admired. You never tried to bullshit Waylon, and he wouldn’t do that to you. If he found out you were lying to him about anything, the relationship was over.

They nicknamed Waylon (and Willie) as an outlaw in Nashville, and that is exactly what he was. He didn't want to record with session players, he wanted to record with his own band. He wanted to take as much time as was needed to complete what he was doing. He wanted to do his own music, not what some producer "thought" would be good for him. Hence, the outlaw moniker, [and] on Waylon, it was true. He changed the way country music was made, and he got those lessons from his mentor, Buddy Holly. Think about where country music would be today had Waylon been on that plane!

[Lance Monthly] The Everly Brothers were very close to Buddy. Can you elaborate on this friendship?

Bill Griggs The Everly Brothers befriended these "country boys in tee shirts from Texas" on their first tour together. Buddy became very close to Phil (who was listed as a pallbearer for Buddy in 1959). It was the Everly Brothers who told the Crickets that they needed to have 'mod" clothes. Buddy and the Crickets then spent a lot of money at both Phil's Men's Shop and Alfred Norton's in New York City. Each time the Crickets were in the Big Apple, they'd go on a huge buying spree for new clothes.

It was also Phil Everly who told Buddy, "If you're going to wear glasses, then get GLASSES." That's when Buddy got those horn-rimmed glasses he has been so identified with.

Buddy wrote "Wishing" and "Love's Made a Fool of you" expressely for the Everly Brothers. As the Everly's had an agreement only to use Acuff-Rose tunes, this was one of the reasons the duo didn't record those songs. The other reason was that their manager stated, "These demos are done so well, that if buddy released them at the same time as the Everlys, they fight it out on the charts." As it turned out, Buddy's demos were released.

[Lance Monthly] Where did you first hear the genre name, "Rockabilly?" When I was a teen listening to tunes on the radio in the ‘50s by Holly and The Crickets, Berry, Lewis, Presley, Knox, and the Everly Brothers et al, the music was always referred to as rock 'n' roll. "Rockabilly" is really a new one on me, and so are many of the other sub-genre titles of rock ‘n’ roll.

Bill Griggs There have been a lot of arguments about when the term "rockabilly" was first used. Granted, record collectors began using the word to describe the simple type of early rock and roll (no drums, no backing singers, up front guitar etc.) sometime in the 1970s or thereabout. However, all a person has to do is take a look at any Billboard magazine from the middle 1950s. The term was used by them for the genre of music we now call rock 'n' roll. Billboard also coined the phrase "rockaballad" for the slower songs.

The term rock 'n' roll is what we teenagers called it. Record collectors love to pigeonhole types of music. For instance, I call all types of teenager music "rock" music, but the era also makes a difference.

During the 1950s, we had rock 'n' roll, then we had surf rock, then mersey-beat rock, acid rock, and so on. As the music for teenagers changed, the sub-genre also changed. Today's primary "music" is called, umm, well, it's, umm, well, all I know is, it isn't rock music!

[Lance Monthly] You’re right, Bill. One would have to be hard-pressed to categorize the mainstream music of today as "rock." I might also add that most of the modern-day mainstream vocalists don’t even play an instrument while performing. In earlier times, when rock was rock, talent scouts for labels searched out the homegrown garage bands for their overall instrumental and vocal abilities. Today it seems that the only requirement is for someone who can sing, look good, and who is willing to follow the manufactured plan, which includes a backup band of musicians that are doomed to anonymity. Is this how you see it?

Bill Griggs Yes. In my opinion, "looking good" might be the primary prerequesite with talent coming in further down the line. I'm sorry, but I really don't see too many singers today that can carry a tune properly without double-tracking their voice (to cover it up). I regularly watch "Saturday Night Live" and each week they have a new band or singer perform. I can not believe that a talent scout actually signed some of these people. Bring back the Flamingos!

[Lance Monthly] Bill, earlier you said that you became disillusioned as to the path rock was taking in the late ‘60s. Was it the advent of the distorted guitar and power chords that turned you off?

Bill Griggs That was part of it. The whole music scene as I knew it changed and changed drastically. Vocal groups all but disappeared, along with their beautiful attire and stage moves (the Motown groups were not vocal groups in that sense of the word).

During the 1950s, the artists all dressed on stage. It's a given that some of the outfits were outrageous, but they were dressed. Then came the rags and "devil may care" attitude about dress.

Protest songs sprang up, drugs really entered the music scene, along with psychedelic rock. Some liked it as the records kept selling, but I didn't like it.

[Lance Monthly] What can you tell our readers about Maria Elena’s life after Buddy’s death? Did she take an active role in Buddy’s music estate or did she turn those duties over to someone else?

Bill Griggs When the movie "The Buddy Holly Story" was being negotiated, Maria Elena was living in Florida with her then-husband, Joe Diaz and their three children. Whether she was taking an active role in the estate at that time or not, I can not say. I do know that I wrote to her several times during the mid-1970s when I was thinking about forming the Buddy Holly Memorial Society, and never received a reply. I finally went to Mrs. Ella Holley, Buddy's mother, to get the permission.

I didn't become licensed with the Buddy Holly estate until the movie had already been released. (Contrary to the opinion of a few, the BHMS was in its third year when the movie was released.

Maria Elena then moved to the Dallas area and that is when I began to see her take an active role with the estate.

[Lance Monthly] The great Bobby Vee has an interesting Holly connection. (He gave me the O.K. for an interview, but it’s slow go because of his very busy performance schedule.) Can you give our readers the history of Vee’s link to Buddy Holly?

Bill Griggs Bobby Who? Seriously, I'm proud to call Robert Thomas Velline a friend. We all know that [on] the night of February 3, 1959, the call went out for artists to help fill the bill after the tragic plane crash had taken place. Bobby and his band, The Shadows, offered their talents and were on that show.

I was talking with Bobby one day in his hotel room a long time ago and said, "You know, you are the only major artist that we know the date and time of your very first public performance." He thought about that for a moment and said, "You know, you're right. I never thought of that." Before his appearance at Fargo, he had never performed in public.

Bobby Vee is a trouper, [and] I've never seen him give a bad show. He's extremely entertaining, the crowd loves him, and his career simply went up and up since that innocuous performance back in 1959.

Is there a Buddy Holly influence with Bobby? Most certainly. Bobby said he had been a fan before that fateful show. Also, give a listen to his first record "Susie Baby" and to his version of "Dearest," among others. Oh yeah, the Holly influence is certainly there.

[Lance Monthly] Have you performed any extensive research on The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens? What can you tell our readers about these very talented performers and their brief music encounters with Holly?

Bill Griggs Until a couple of years ago, I hadn't done any special research on Ritchie or the Bopper except for the mutual items pertaining to them and Buddy Holly. I am asked quite often what I think the three of them might have been doing today, had they lived. My reply has never changed.

We know that Buddy Holly had already purchased some property in Lubbock and wanted to open a recording studio there. He had also formed a publishing company and had a record label begun on paper. I think he wanted total control of his music and wanted to write more, produce more, and discover more new talent.

Buddy today, in my opinion, wouldn't be touring much if at all. He'd be working that studio and perhaps traveling with his newfound talent, promoting them. Ritchie would have been huge! [He was] only seventeen when he died with his entire career in front of him. Being one of the first Hispanic performers to cross [over] to the pop field, he would have led the way for those that have since come after him. Also, Buddy had befriended Ritchie on that final tour and, according to Buddy's mother, had asked Ritchie to come to Lubbock and record at Buddy's studio. Think about that!

The Bopper: Most people think of him as a one-hit wonder. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I ran a copyrighted story in my "Rockin' 50s" magazine awhile back about the fact that in 1958, he was making music videos and calling them that! Most agreed that Rick Nelson's "Traveling Man" video from 1961 was the first made AS a music video. Now we know the Bopper did it three years previously. (The Bopper produced three music videos, and parts of each were shown on VH1's special "The Day the Music Died.")

[Lance Monthly] Is Ace Records the authorized reissue label for Norman Petty’s masters?

Bill Griggs I do know that Ace is the official release label for Fireballs’ and String-A-Longs’ reissues through Kenneth Broad in Clovis. Whether the contract includes other Clovis artists, I'm not sure.

[Lance Monthly] Bill, what was Bobby Fuller’s connection with the West Texas rockabilly period, and what can you tell our readers about this legendary artist?

Bill Griggs My magazine is titled Rockin' 50s. When I did the Cover/Spotlight article on Bobby Fuller, I received an angry letter addressed to Rockin' 60s magazine. The writer complained that I went back on my promise to stick to 1950's music. I wrote back and explained that it was the ERA I was covering, thus, no Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys etc., but that some great artists performed in the 1960s in the 1950's style, such as Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, Bobby Fuller, and so on. I sent the letter with a refund check for the balance of the subscription. That check came back so fast! He didn't want his subscription to stop and said he probably was out of line with his letter. (I knew he'd send the check back!)

Anyway, Bobby Fuller idolized Buddy Holly and most of his released material reflects this. Check out some of his early work, especially his version of "Not Fade Away" in which he played all the instruyments and voices. I've played this for some of my visitors and told them it was a Buddy Holly and the Crickets outtake and they accepted that remark. Of course, I always tell them later, it wasn't.

Bobby Fuller did record a few tracks at the Norman Petty Studio, but most of his stuff was either self-recorded at home in El Paso, or with his record company. Bob Keen, who previously had managed and recorded Ritchie Valens and Sam Cooke, managed Bobby. All three of these artists died violent deaths.

Fuller’s death was certainly premature, and occured under mysterious circumstances. I know some people today who, when talking about his death, will not mention the word murder. Briefly, Bobby had been out all night with his mother's Oldsmobile. The next morning, his mother was washing dishes and [at the same time] looking out the window at her empty parking space. She looked out about every five minutes. When she [finally] saw her Oldsmobile there, she went out and found Bobby, dead behind the wheel. The police arrived within minutes and it was discovered that Bobby's body was already into advanced stages of rigor mortis. There was no way he drove that Oldsmobile into that parking place that morning.

Bobby Fuller was a great performer. I liked his work and we were deprived of him much too soon. Although El Paso is certainly in West Texas, those in control of the West Texas Walk of Fame, located at the Buddy Holly statue, have changed their nomination rules [so] that nominees must have lived or [have grown] up [within] 150 miles of Lubbock. I've nominated [Fuller] several times, to no avail. Now, as El Paso is 300 miles from Lubbock, it's sad that Bobby probably will never be inducted.

Not to chastise the city, but I nominated Roy Orbison for induction while he was still alive. When I presented the paper with the paragraph of why he should be inducted, I was met with the remark, "Is he famous enough?" I threw up my hands.

Roy was certainly inducted later, but after he had died. Those people in charge simply don't have a clue in some respects. While I'm ranting about Roy Orbison, try this one for size. The day he died, I called the town where he grew up, Wink, Texas, and ordered 50 copies of the newspaper there. I then called his hometown of Vernon, Texas and the newspaper person there stated, "Why should we do anything special. He came from Wink." I explained [that] Roy had been born in Vernon and was told he had not! The very next day, the newspaper called and asked how many papers I wanted as they had learned that it had been Roy's home town.

This is one of the problems with research. I might know what I'm looking for, but the person in charge of the facility I'm trying to gain information from does not.

[Lance Monthly] Have you met and interviewed Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, or Little Richard? What can you tell our readers about these ‘50’s icons?

Bill Griggs Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard [are] rock 'n' roll icons to be sure. I was fortunate to have seen all three during their heyday of the 1950s. I saw Jerry Lee and Fats many more times than Richard [and I] have this to say about the three:

In my book, the one who was really there at the beginning was Fats. He began in 1949 and until his retirement, was doing the same thing as he was back then. The man is a gentleman and I like him. On one of my trips to New Orleans, it was all set up for me to interview this great man. We went to his home on Maris street where he greeted us very nicely. He then explained that he had just done an interview for the big booklet that came with the Fats Domino CD box set and could not do any interviews until that was released. Unfortunately, I haven't tried again for an interview. Perhaps I should.

During the 1950s, Little Richard played wild music but he really wasn't wild on stage. Jerry Lee was. Today, it appears the situation has been completely reversed. Richard is wild, [and] Jerry Lee unfortunately looks and performs like death warmed over. I never was in the situation of trying to get an interview with Little Richard. I have talked with him on the phone but never in an interview situation. I'd really like to do this sometime if given the chance.

I've met Jerry Lee a few times and once went through the proper channels [with] his management and had a formal interview arranged. This was during the 1970s. [A] friend [of mine] and I went to his dressing room before his performance as we had been directed to do. Jerry Lee was there and greeted us, sorta. He was so drunk he really didn't know where he was or what he was doing. After observing this for about ten minutes and getting nowhere, my friend and I simply walked out on him. I don't know whether he performed that night, as we left in disgust. If he performed, I don't know how he got through it.

As you brought up these names, let me digress for a moment. Many people ask, "Who started rock 'n' roll?" There's actually no set answer as it evolved over a few years time until Bill Haley burst on the scene with "Rock Around the Clock." This was the first rock 'n' roll record to go to number one on the national pop chart, but certainly not the first. Bill Haley has claimed the title. He was singing and yodeling western songs in the 1940s.

Jerry Lee doesn't even enter the equation. His career began in 1957 and rock 'n' roll was already off and running by then. Elvis had records released in 1953-1954, good ones, but he didn't hit the national scene until 1956. Elvis's claim to fame in this regard is that it was him who brought Black music to a White mainstream audience.

Little Richard claims he is the architect of rock 'n' roll and started it all. He'll tell you he was making records in 1951. Excuse me but those were blues-shouter-type records, not rock 'n' roll. It wasn't until "Tutti Frutti" that we heard rock 'n' roll from Richard. I will say that Richard was probably the artist who had the longest string of danceable records of any major artist.

Gene Vincent came on the scene early on and was rock 'n' roll, but this was in 1956. Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, etc. and most guitar-driven rock 'n' roll came along during the mid-1950’s, the so-called second wave.

So, let's see, who is left? Well, it's the artist whom, to my knoweledge, has never made a claim as to being first, but recorded "The Fat Man" in 1949. I'm sure people will jump on me for this, but I feel, of the major artists, Fats was the one there first. And what was the first rock 'n' roll song? Nah, let's not go there!

[Lance Monthly] Have you met or corresponded with Holly’s lawyer, George Shiffer?

Bill Griggs I have only corresponded with one lawyer who was acting on direct behalf of Buddy Holly and that was Harold Orenstein, for whom Mr. Shiffer worked. It was Mr. Orenstein who gave me written permission to use most of the legal letters quoted in my "Buddy Holly - Day By Day."

[Lance Monthly] In Ellis Amburn’s Holly biography, he states that when Ed Sullivan invited Holly back for a third appearance on Ed’s show for double the pay, Buddy refused because of Sullivan’s "wrecking of "Oh Boy" during his previous appearance. What are your thoughts on this?

Bill Griggs Although I have many problems with things that Mr. Amburn wrote, this part is true. The Ed Sullivan program was live and, as a rule, always ran overtime necessitating some cuts.

When Buddy and his group was in rehersal for his second appearance on January 26, 1958, Ed told him that the show was going to run long and Buddy would have to do only one song instead of two. Ed Sullivan then informed Buddy that "Oh Boy" was "too raunchy" and that Buddy should do something else. By then, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were riding high in popularity and Buddy told Ed Sullivan that he had promised his friends back home that he'd do "Oh Boy," so it would be that song or nothing.

Ed Sullivan introduced Buddy [on his show] as Buddy Hollard. To get even, during the break of the song, Buddy and the guys double-timed their playing and played as loud as they could (check out the existing video!). What you don't see is what happened as soon as the song was completed and the Crickets exited the stage. The camera went back to Ed Sullivan and he was mad! He looked as if he had swallowed a bird. However, the show was live and had to go on, so it did.

That brings me to your question. The Ed Sullivan staff did call Buddy about making a third appearance and he said no. When they called back (whether it was actually Ed Sullivan or not, I don't know), Buddy was offered double [the] money for a third appearance. Buddy angrily said something like, "I don't need you or your show" and hung up.

[Lance Monthly] In Phillip Norman’s Holly biography, he wrote that Holly’s parents, in their final days, were forced to sell their son’s music to Paul McCartney because of pressure from the IRS. How could that have been possible if Norman Petty owned the publishing rights to most of Buddy’s music?

Bill Griggs You asked so I'll reply, but I really hate to talk about this part. What was sold were the actual song rights (artist's rights), not the publishing. Anyone can record, say, "Peggy Sue" but you need the permission of the publisher (MPL) and then pay the publishing royalties. Those royalties are then divided among the listed writers (Holly, Petty, and Allison) after the publisher takes [its] share.

If you wanted to release a recording of "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly, then you'd need the publisher’s permission after you get permission from the artist's record company (MCA). You'd then pay the publishing royalties to the publisher (usually collected by the Harry Fox Agency), and you'd pay royalties or a one-time up-front fee to the record company for the artist's rights. [Editor’s note: These are referred to as mechanics royalties.] The record company would then pay the contractual percentage to the artist or the artist's estate. It was these royalties that were sold, for reasons I'd rather not get into, but it was [and] is a very sad situation indeed.

What can you tell our readers about Norman Petty’s loyal secretary, Norma Jean?

Bill Griggs I met Norma Jean a couple of times and must say that talking with her was the same as talking with Norman Petty. She even had a voice in the lower register so, on the phone, she sometimes sounded like Norman. She ran the business and knew all of the day-to-day things that had to be done. She was as loyal as they come.

[Lance Monthly] O.K. Bill. I’m counting on you. Please dispel the myth: Does Buddy Holly really have an illegitimate son or daughter in his or her 40s? Those Holly biographers sure try to make a case for its validity.

Bill Griggs You lose on this one, Dick. I can't really dispel the "myth." First of all . . . (continued next month)


Home » Music Spotlight » Up Close With Bill Griggs: The Number One Historian of Buddy Holly and The Crickets
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