Hey Buddy: In Pursuit of Buddy Holly, My New Buddy John, and My Lost Decade of Music
By Gary W. Moore
Reviewed by BONNIE BARTEL LATINO
Many Atmore book lovers met Illinois native Gary Moore last May when the Atmore Public Library chose his book, Playing with the Enemy, as the 2010 Reading Initiative. At that time he was working on two other non-fiction manuscripts that sounded like they were destined to become fascinating books.
However within a couple of months his life took an unexpected u-turn when his wife asked him to take her and her 77-year old mother to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to the Winter Dance Party for her mom’s birthday. The dance party recreates the final tour of rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, J.P. (the “Big Bopper”) Richardson, and Richie Valens before their deaths in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. The event was stamped into history as, “the day the music died,” by Don McLean’s iconic song, “American Pie.” Although Gary was unenthusiastic about the road trip, he adores his wife. He agreed to take her and her mama to Cedar Falls on the appointed night.
At the concert, Gary became captivated, not as much by Buddy Holly’s music as by the song “Hey Buddy,” a tribute song to Holly, written and sung by musician John Mueller who performs on stage as Holly. From the moment Gary heard the song, he became obsessed with finding out all there is to know about Buddy Holly. Since his hardback publisher, Ted Savas, is from Iowa, only miles from the crash site, Savas soon agreed that Gary should pursue this unanticipated passion. Perhaps the stars and moon perfectly aligned when Gary walked into the Winter Dance Party last summer. As a writer, an accomplished musician, and a licensed pilot, who better to research and write this story?
Make no mistake. Hey Buddy is not a biography, nor is it an investigation into the crash. Although the husband and wife owners of the charter service, which owned the doomed plane, repeatedly told Gary that the truth about the crash has never been told. Within the book’s pages, Gary has politely, but insistently, called upon the elderly couple to make their information public. He also suggested that a team of experts should take another look at the crash and the wreckage – if it still exists as the couple claims.
Hey Buddy explores Buddy Holly’s legacy and its impact on today’s music. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen have all acknowledged Holly’s influence. Gary wonders how much more powerful Holly’s impact might have been had he survived. Holly was only 22 at the time of his death.
Along the way Gary shares insight into the sheer humanity of Buddy Holly. For instance, with Holly’s first royalty check, he quietly bought new pews for his church in Lubbock, Texas. Throughout the interviews Gary conducted in Iowa, he found that many residents still have a type of guilt that is eerily akin to how many Texans have said they felt after President John F. Kennedy was killed in their state.
Gary’s quest to learn more about Holly also makes him take a look at his own past and the tumultuous 1960s. Ultimately he realized that because of a traumatic event he experienced as a teenage member of his high school band in the Chicago area, that he had associated all music of that era with flag burning, bomb tossing radicals like Abbie Hoffman and the SDS (Students for a democratic society). With the exception of classical and religious, he avoided music for the next decade. In retrospect, he realized that because of that long ago event he also blocked out the music of three pioneers of rock and roll who died on that snowy 1959 night. When he begrudgingly took his mother-in-law and wife to the Winter Dance Party, he had barely heard of Buddy Holly. After all, Gary had been a five-year old child when Holly died.
On his journey Gary also interviewed another teen idol from back in the day, Bobby Vee. He even scored a coveted telephone interview with Don McLean and found a vast array of avid Buddy Holly enthusiasts who weren’t even born when Holly died. He finds a fan so intense that she had her idol’s face and signature black-rimmed glasses tattooed across her shoulder. Gary also interviewed numerous disk jockeys and visited the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock and a studio in Clovis, New Mexico, where Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded. By the time the author and his magnificent obsession reached the crash site and also Buddy Holly’s Texas grave, he has lured readers to join his pilgrimage.
Other books and at least one movie have been written about Buddy Holly. Hey Buddy is effective as narrative non-fiction thanks in large part to the author’s point of view. Gary Moore’s unflinching honesty as he examined his own past; his almost naïve idiosyncrasies; and his self-effacing personality can’t help but charm even the most jaded music lovers.
Gary Moore has been featured in national publications, on syndicated radio, and on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox News.
Hey Buddy, released January 20 by Savas Beatie, LLC, is available from bookstores everywhere and from Amazon.com. It is also available in Kindle format.
Atmore native Bonnie Bartel Latino is a former columnist for Stars and Stripes newspaper in Europe. She is also a member of the Military Writers Society of America.