Category Archives: accidents

María Elena Santiago & Buddy Holly – music & sadness

Buddy’s wife was born María Elena Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her mother died when Maria was 12 years old and, in 1953, her father had sent her to live with her aunt in New York City where she worked as a receptionist for a music publisher – ‘Peermusic’.  As a receptionist Maria Elena probably first met Buddy in August 1957 when, as rising stars, he and the Crickets first visited Peer Southern Music in the Brill Building on Broadway to meet their publishing manager Murray Deutch – Maria’s boss.

It was a day or so before Thursday 19th June 1958 – the day when Buddy recorded ‘Early in the Morning’ in New York’s Pythian Temple – that Buddy had asked Maria out. She had never been out on a date and told Holly he would have to ask her aunt for permission. Buddy promptly got her aunt’s permission and five hours into their first date, Buddy handed a rose to Maria and asked her to marry him!  On August 15, 1958, less than two months later, they were married in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

They settled down there until Buddy broke up with his band, ‘The Crickets’, and moved to New York. It was in October 1958 that Santiago-Holly went on tour with her husband and took on promotional duties. Buddy also formed the Maria Music publishing company with which “Stay Close To Me” was filed.  Buddy produced Lou Giordano’s version of the song which was issued on Brunswick records on Tuesday 27th January, 1959.

Buddy and Santiago had been married for just six months at the time of the crash.  Maria Santiago-Holly learned of Buddy’s death from the reports on television. She was a widow and did not attend the funeral – nor has she ever visited the grave site. She told the Avalanche-Journal: “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”

Maria Santiago-Holly suffered a miscarriage shortly after due, we are told, to “psychological trauma”

Buddy Holly’s funeral was held on Friday 7th February 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Holly’s wedding just months earlier. The pall-bearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis, and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend, because of his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party.

Buddy’s body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, in the eastern part of the city, with his headstone carrying the correct spelling of his surname – Holley – and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Buddy had gone – but his work would live on – and on – and on!

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Buddy and ‘Peggy Sue’ leave memories

In my younger days – the 1950’s that is – I was one of those thousands, or maybe millions, of British teenagers who latched on to the US ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performers. Elvis was my number one with Buddy Holly a close second.  I can remember hearing – and then getting dad to buy – ‘Peggy Sue’ as Christmas got close in 1957. It reached number 6 in the charts – Harry Belafonte was at number 1 from 22nd November until Jerry Lee Lewis took the number one slot on 10th January1958!  Buddy had 3 hits in 1958 – ‘Listen to me’ [2 weeks & peaking at 16]; ‘Rave On’ [14 weeks & peaking at 5] and ‘Early in the Morning’ [4 weeks & peaking at 4]. In January 1959 he had a brief – one week hit – ‘Heartbeat’. While I was enjoying ‘Heartbeat’ – and hoping that Buddy would be over here soon – Buddy was getting on a plane and moving on to another show.

He was in ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour that had begun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23rd January 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems.  The distance between the venues had not been considered and, adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses broke down twice in the freezing weather.  Added to this was Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized for frostbite to his toes which he had suffered while aboard the bus!  As a result Buddy decided to organise other form of transportation so, before their next appearance – planned for 2nd February in Iowa – Buddy chartered a four-seat Beechcraft from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City with Jennings, Allsup, and himself.  His idea was to depart after the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom show and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota.  This would allow them time to rest and wash their clothes.  It also meant that they could avoid a rigorous bus journey.

It was just before midnight when the Clear Lake show ended just before midnight.  There were some discussions on who was joining Buddy in the flight.  Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Ritchie Valens – he took out a brand new half-dollar and Ritchie called heads. Heads it was. Richie reportedly said “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.”  Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called ‘Heads Up’. Waylon Jennings also voluntarily gave up his seat – this one to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.

Roger Peterson, the pilot, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only.  Shortly after 1:00 am on Tuesday 3rd February 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after take-off. The bodies of the entertainers were all ejected from the plane on impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled in the wreckage.  Buddy Holly had sustained fatal trauma to his head and chest and numerous lacerations and fractures of his arms and legs.

We will be attending the funeral in a few days time.

The day that Eddie Cochran died

This year – 2017 – Easter Sunday falls on 16th April.    In 1960, Easter Sunday was on 17th April – the day this then teenager, and many others across Britain and beyond, remember as the day that Eddie Cochran died.  His death, in St. Martin’s Hospital, Bath, came as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash just outside Chippenham, late the night before.

Eddie and his great friend Gene Vincent had been touring the UK since mid-January on a package tour that had created a sensation amongst UK rock n roll fans.  By 1960 the first flush of raw rock’n’roll was long gone – much to the regret of many of us.  I had virtually all of Gene’s and Eddie’s discs at home.  They were well-hidden though because Dad had ‘accidentally’ damaged some Bill Haley 78s at Christmas.  Eddie & Gene were not going to have the same treatment.

Often described as ‘James Dean with a guitar’, Eddie had everything going for him. A young, good-looking guy, a hugely talented musician, who as well playing stunning guitar, could also handle bass and drums and most unusually for those times, also wrote his own songs.  Two of which – ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’, had been huge hits and today – nearly 60 years on – they are regarded as classics of the genre.
Eddie had arrived in the UK to join a tour that had started before Christmas.  Promoted by Larry Parnes the acts and musicians were all under contract to him and included Billy Fury – another of my idols – Joe Brown, Georgie Fame, Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle. The tour had a punishing schedule through a typical British winter – something California-resident Eddie was used to!  By the time the group reached the Bristol Hippodrome on Monday 11th April for a week-long residency, Eddie and his songwriter girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, were looking forward to going back home.

After the final Saturday night show they collected their things from their hotel. Sometime after 11.00pm, a Ford Consul driven by George Martin, with Eddie, Gene, Sharon and tour-manager Pat Thompkins, set off for London.   Eddie, Sharon and Gene sat in the back, with Thompkins next to the driver.  This was pre-M4 days and Martin chose the A4 down through Bath.  However, it was a bad road, especially at night, so he chose a short cut round Chippenham.  Pat Thompkins later recalled: “You come out from under the viaduct and come across a bridge in front of you. On your right is the A4 and then the bridge and on your left is the A4 to London. Well, he saw the A4 and turned right, going the wrong way. When he saw the milestone, he realized he was going the wrong way and hit the brakes.”

Martin lost control on the Rowden Hill bend – then a notorious accident black-spot – and spun backwards into a concrete lamp post.  The impact sent Eddie up into the roof and forced the rear door open, throwing him onto the road.  Martin and Thompkins were able to walk away from the wreckage uninjured but Gene, Sharon and Eddie were lying on the grass verge.

The noise brought local residents onto the scene and the police were called to the scene.  An ambulance from Chippenham arrived soon after, in total darkness and the three were taken to St Martin’s hospital.  Gene had broken his collarbone but Sharon only suffered shock and bruising.  The injuries to Eddie would prove fatal.  He had suffered severe brain damage and never regained consciousness.  He died at 4.10pm that Sunday afternoon.

Like Buddy Holly who came our way two years earlier, Eddie Cochran had a profound influence on young aspiring British musicians.  Joe Brown has often said what a great and innovative guitar player Eddie was, introducing styles and techniques that had never been seen here before.   Georgie Fame credits Eddie with introducing the music of Ray Charles to a mainstream UK audience, through his playing of Charles’ songs in his stage act.  Shadows drummer Brian Bennett, as a member of Marty Wilde’s band who were loaned out to Eddie for some of the live dates and his BBC radio sessions for the Saturday Club show, recalls Eddie showing him some great drum tricks. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both idolised Eddie and of course, ‘Summertime Blues’ was for years a Who stage-favourite.  Ironically, the biggest UK hits for Eddie’s songs ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘Somethin’ Else’, came in 1979, when The Sex Pistols took both of them to number three in the charts.

George Harrison had seen Eddie when the tour played Liverpool and even acquired an important  piece of Eddie memorabilia: ‘In 1999 I worked on a radio series for the BBC World Service with Paul McCartney, looking back at his early rock’n’roll years.  Paul recalled the-then unknown Beatles touring Scotland backing Johnny Gentle in 1960.  Eddie had given Johnny his stage shirt after the Bristol show and following a week of pestering by the young Beatle, Johnny eventually passed it to George.  Johnny came to one of the Eddie Cochran Weekender events in Chippenham, where I interviewed him live on air. He too said what an amazing talent Eddie was, and also said he wished he’d kept that shirt!’

When someone dies young, it’s always the eternal question – what would they have done in life?  In the case of Eddie Cochran, I think there can be little doubt he would have been the first ‘guitar-hero’ of the sixties, with Clapton, Beck, Page and Hendrix queuing up to play with him.   Jimi always said he wanted Eddie Cochran played at his funeral, and he got his wish.  What makes this whole story even more poignant is how young Eddie was when he took his seat in the car that night – just 21.

Today, that dangerous bend at Rowden Hill, Chippenham has long since been made safe. There is no longer any physical reminder of the tragedy, except for one thing – a plaque on the grass verge in memory of Eddie.  To this day that plaque marks the spot where he Eddie died.  It was erected by fans and unveiled at one of Chippenham’s Eddie Cochran Weekender events by Sharon Sheeley, on what was her first visit since that fateful night at Easter 1960.

PS: Included in the police team that came to the crash was a young Wiltshire cadet called Dave Harman.  Not too long after he changed his ‘name’ to Dave Dee and became a highly successful pop star himself.

This has been a much longer piece than I would normally post – and is being posted on both of my blogs [talkinghistoryblog & beejaytellingstories].  Wikipedia has a broader story of Eddie’s life and death.

It is quite possible that the story is either new to you and/or not something that presents any interest to you.  To me it is a part of my late teenage years.  I have most of Eddie’s work on disk or tape and, until quite recently, I still had my guitar from that long ago youth!

PPS: At a different time at a different place Gene Vincent would step on my fingers – but that’s another story!

A bolt from the blue

It really was a ‘bolt from the blue’ – a bolt of soft, exquisite lace falling from the top of a stack of bolts of blue linen. It bounced off Jimmy’s head and his reflexes were good enough to catch it before it hit the floor.

‘Oh my goodness; I’m so sorry. Are you OK?’ She was shortish, ‘softly built’ and of indeterminate middle age – and now looking very flustered.

‘I’m OK. Soft lace landing on a soft head does no damage’, he said. ‘It’s a very nice piece of lace I must admit. My wife would have loved something like that.’

‘Oh; can I cut you a length to take home for her? It’s the least we can do after dropping it on you.’

‘No, that’s OK – she passed away last year – in fact 12 months today it was.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Tears started to show in her eyes. ‘My Jim passed away this time last year as well.’ She sniffed, trying to bring herself away from the memories.

There – would it be wrong if I took you over there’ Jimmy said, pointing across to the snack bar, ‘and we both had a cup of coffee or something? Would your boss mind?’

‘He’s up on the next floor – and it’s my break anyway. I was going for a coffee when I knocked the lace on to you.’

‘So you’ll join me then?’       She looked round. There was no staff member to be seen. ‘Yes, thank you; that would be nice.’

‘We’ll take this lace with us for now shall we?’ Jimmy said. ‘Can’t have it falling on anyone else can we,’ he added with a chuckle.

She smiled too.

They found a seat in the corner of the snack bar. ‘I’ll get the coffee’, she said, smiling again, ‘It’s the least I can do. I did, after all, hit you on the head – and, anyway, I get it for free!’

The next 15 minutes were the best 15 minutes of his life since his Alice passed away thought Jimmy.

‘Oh look – it’s time I went back to work. It’s been very nice talking to you.’

‘It’s been my pleasure’, Jimmy said. ‘I see from your name badge your name is Alice. That was my wife’s name. You said your husband was Jim – my name’s James, but I’ve always been called Jim or Jimmy. There has been something special happening to us both today. Take care.’

Alice looked flustered. ‘I must go – thank you; I won’t forget today either.’

Jimmy stood there for a minute or two, then realised he still had the roll of lace. He went over to where the incident had happened. Alice was nowhere to be seen but another member of staff was there.

‘Hello, I’m looking for Alice,’ Jimmy said to the girl, ‘I have to give this bolt of lace back to her.’

The girl looked at him as if he was out of his mind. ‘We have no-one here called Alice as far as I know.’

‘But she knocked this roll of lace onto me half an hour ago – and we’ve just had coffee together,’ he said passing the lace to the girl.

She looked at him, and then down at the lace. ‘I don’t think we have had any lace like that in this store for a year or so. It was a big pile of lace like this that fell on Alice last year – the same day that her Jim died.’

She looked up to see his reaction. There was no sign of him.

Jim had disappeared – just like his beloved Alice.