May 03, 2011

The Last Time I Saw Buddy Holly

by Johnny Hughes © 2011

When I was in the first grade, Niki Sullivan (one of the original Crickets with Buddy Holly) and his parents lived with my family in a very small house. There was a piano, guitars, and music every night.

Niki did not leave the Crickets before they made it big. They made it big on the first tour, Lubbock to New York, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. He was in the band when That'll Be the Day started being a hit. They made it big before they ever left Lubbock via radio. When they got the advance for the first tour, they went to Coach Brown's Varsity Shop, and got suits, which changed their look from Levis, rolled up sleeve T-shirts. Later, they'd buy more matching outfits, Buddy in white and them in black, color coordinated.

As you know, the first tour booker (never saw them in person, but heard them on the radio) thought they were black and sent them out on a bus tour with several big black acts that toured around. They ended up in New York and played the Apollo in Harlem. The bus was cold, the black guys would straighten their hair with this really smelly stuff. I think, memory hazy, they were offended by Little Richard, whom we had all seen at the Cotton Club. They gambled with the blacks, dice and cards. Buddy didn't really care if he lost. Somewhere in the middle of the tour, Buddy bought a Cadillac. I rode in it, it was off pink, as close to Elvis as he could get. I once sat in Elvis' car, but no ride.

Niki took a job delivering flowers for a florist while they were home. My memory here is hazy, but after they got off the first tour, they were broke. I got Joe B., Jerry, and Buddy to come play poker and they set a fifty cent limit.

It was at this point that Matt Sullivan, Niki's dad, began to question record producer Norman Petty's criminal business ways. However, it was Buddy who got cheated the most of all, because he made the same as the rest in basic royalties and tour fees, although he made bigger songwriter royalties.

I also believe that Niki and Buddy remained friends, when Jerry and Joe B. sided with Norman. Peggy Sue's greater, funny lie was that Buddy left the band where they could get another singer, as if Buddy was fired.

The last time I saw Buddy, I was driving a truck for Lubbock Electric. He was riding a motorcycle. I invited him back to the business to have coffee and he followed me. He knew one of the electricians his age. They were two years older than me. We went to the upstairs coffee room which filled up. They made me go back to work. Later, I was cleaning an electric motor with naptha by spraying it, and Buddy came to the back to say goodbye -- our final goodbye. I was spraying naptha from a high-pressure hose. He was dancing around trying not to get naptha on his fancy pants which I remember as red and white, big stripes like a barber pole. I'd sprayed his direction as a joke. I have asked Maria Elena about those pants and she didn't remember them.

For a seminar at the Buddy Holly Center, I told Joe Nick Patoski that story and asked him, as moderator of a panel with the family and Maria Elena, to ask each of them of their last memory of seeing Buddy. Each told a moving story, until the often-angry widow just said, coldly, "It was in New York."

Made me wonder.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.

No comments: