Buddy Holly

  • Picture of Buddy Holly
  • Picture of Buddy Holly
  • Picture of Buddy Holly
  • Picture of Buddy Holly © William F. Griggs


Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known as Buddy Holly, was an American musician and singer-songwriter who was a central figure of mid-1950s rock and roll. Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, to a musical family during the Great Depression; he learned to play guitar and to sing alongside his siblings. His style was influenced by country music and rhythm and blues acts, and he performed in Lubbock with his friends from high school. He made his first appearance on local television in 1952, and the following year he formed the group "Buddy and Bob" with his friend Bob Montgomery. In 1955, after opening for Elvis Presley, Holly decided to pursue a career in music. He opened for Presley three times that year; his band's style shifted from country & western to entirely rock and roll. In October that year, when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets, Holly was spotted by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall, who helped him gain a contract with Decca Records.

Holly's recording sessions were produced by Owen Bradley. Holly was unhappy with Bradley's restrictions and the results of their work, and went to producer Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico. Attracted by the success of the records produced by Petty, Holly traveled with his band to the studio where, among other songs, they recorded a demo of "That'll Be the Day". Petty became the band's manager and he sent the demo to Brunswick Records, who were impressed. The label released the song without re-recording it. Because Holly's name was still linked to Decca, Brunswick credited the single to "The Crickets", which became the name of Holly's band.

In September 1957, as the band toured, "That'll Be the Day" topped the US "Best Sellers in Stores" chart and the UK Singles Chart. Its success was followed in October by the release of "Peggy Sue", which reached number three in "Best Sellers in Stores" chart, number three on the rhythm and blues chart and number six on the UK Singles Chart. In November, the album Chirping Crickets was released; it reached number five on the UK Albums Chart. By January 1958, Holly had appeared twice on The Ed Sullivan Show. Following his last performance, he embarked on a tour of Australia, which was followed in February by a tour of the UK.

During a visit to New York City, Holly met Maria Elena Santiago; the pair married and Holly moved to the city. The New York scene further interested Holly in record-producing and songwriting. At the same time, Holly and the Crickets started becoming unhappy with their manager. Petty's royalties were frozen by promoter Manny Greenfield, and Petty could not pay his royalties to Holly, who blamed his manager. Holly fired Petty in December 1958; the Crickets kept Petty as manager and Holly left the band.

In need of money, Holly assembled a new band consisting of future country music icon Waylon Jennings (bass) and Tommy Allsup (guitar), and embarked on a tour of the Midwestern U.S. After a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered an airplane to travel to his next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. Soon after takeoff, the plane crashed, killing Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and the pilot.

During his short career, Holly wrote, recorded and produced his own material. He is often regarded as the act that defined the traditional rock-and-roll lineup of two guitars, bass and drums. Holly was a major influence on later popular music artists and bands, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Elton John. He was among the first acts to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and later ranked by Rolling Stone at number thirteen on its list of "100 Greatest Artists".

Charles Hardin Holley was born on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas, at 3:30 pm.; he was the fourth child of Lawrence Odell "L.O" Holley and Ella Pauline Drake. His older siblings were Larry (born in 1925), Travis (born in 1927) and Patricia Lou (born in 1929). From early childhood he was nicknamed "Buddy". During the Great Depression, the Holleys frequently moved residence within Lubbock; L.O changed jobs several times. The family were members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church.

The Holleys had an interest in music; all the family members except L.O. were able to play an instrument or sing. The older Holley brothers performed in local talent shows; on one occasion, Buddy joined them on violin. Since he could not play it, his brother Larry greased the strings so it would not make any sound. The brothers won the contest. During the Second World War, Larry and Travis were called to military service. Upon his return, Larry brought with him a guitar he had bought from a shipmate while serving in the Pacific. At age eleven, Buddy took piano lessons but abandoned them after nine months. He switched to guitar after he saw a classmate playing and singing on the school bus. Buddy's parents initially bought him a steel guitar but he insisted that he wanted a guitar like his brother's. His parents bought the guitar from a pawn shop and Travis taught him to play it.

During his early childhood, Buddy was influenced by the music of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Snow, Bob Wills and the Carter Family. At Roscoe Wilson Elementary, he met and became friends with Bob Montgomery; he and Buddy played together, practicing with songs by the Louvin Brothers and Johnny and Jack. They both listened to the radio programs Grand Ole Opry on WSM , Louisiana Hayride on KWKH, and Big D Jamboree. At the same time, Holley played with other musicians he met in high school, including Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison. In 1952, Holley and Jack Neal participated as a duo billed "Buddy and Jack" in a talent contest on a local television show. After Neal left, he was replaced by Montgomery and they were billed as "Buddy and Bob". The two soon started performing on the Sunday Party show on KDAV in 1953, and performed live gigs in Lubbock. At that time, Holley was influenced by late-night radio stations that played Blues and R&B. Holley would sit in his car with Curtis and tune to distant radio stations that could only be received at night when local transmissions ceased. Holly then modified his music by blending his earlier Country & Western influence with R&B.

By 1955, after graduating from high school, Holley decided to pursue a full-time career in music. He was further encouraged after seeing Elvis Presley performing live in Lubbock, whose act was booked by Pappy Dave Stone of KDAV. In February, Holley opened for Presley at the Fair Park Coliseum, in April at the Cotton Club and again in June at the Coliseum. By that time, he had incorporated into his band Larry Welborne on the stand-up bass and Allison on drums, as his style shifted from Country & Western to rock and roll. In October, Stone booked Bill Haley & His Comets and placed Holley as the opening act to be seen by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall. Impressed, Crandall persuaded Grand Ole Opry manager Jim Denny to seek a recording contract for Holley. Stone sent a demo tape, which Denny forwarded to Paul Cohen, who signed the band to Decca Records in February 1956. In the contract, Decca misspelled Holley's last name as "Holly"; from then on he was known as "Buddy Holly".

On January 26, 1956, Holly attended his first formal recording session, which was produced by Owen Bradley. He attended two more sessions in Nashville but with the producer selecting the session musicians and arrangements, Holly became increasingly frustrated by his lack of creative control. In April 1956, Decca released "Blue Days, Black Nights" as a single, with "Love Me" on the B-side. Denny included Holly on a tour as the opening act for Faron Young. During the tour, they were promoted as "Buddy Holly and the Two Tones", while later Decca called them "Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes". The label later released Holly's second single "Modern Don Juan", which was backed with "You Are My One Desire". Neither single made an impression. On January 22, 1957, Decca informed Holly his contract would not be renewed, but insisted he could not record the same songs for anyone else for five years.

Holly was unhappy with the results of his time with Decca; he was inspired by the success of Buddy Knox's "Party Doll" and Jimmy Bowen's "I'm Sticking to You", and visited Norman Petty, who had produced and promoted both records. Together with Allison, bassist Joe B. Mauldin and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, he went to Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico. The group recorded a demo of "That'll Be the Day", a song they had previously recorded in Nashville. Now playing lead guitar, Holly achieved the sound he desired. Petty became his manager and sent the record to Brunswick Records in New York City. Holly was still under contract with Decca and could not use his name; it was decided a band name was to be used. Allison proposed the name "Crickets"; Brunswick gave Holly a basic agreement to release "That'll Be the Day", leaving him with both artistic control and financial responsibility for future recordings. Impressed with the demo, the label's executives released it without recording a new version. "I'm Looking For Someone to Love" was on the B-side; the single was credited to The Crickets. Petty and Holly later learned that Brunswick was a subsidiary of Decca, which legally cleared future recordings under the name Buddy Holly. Recordings credited to the Crickets would be released on Brunswick, while the recordings under Holly's name were released on another subsidiary label, Coral Records. Holly concurrently held a recording contract with both labels.

"That'll Be the Day" was released on May 27, 1957, with "I'm Looking For Someone To Love" on the B-side. Petty booked Holly and the Crickets for a tour with Irvin Feld, who had noticed the band after "That'll Be the Day" appeared on the rhythm and blues chart. He booked them for appearances in Washington D.C, Baltimore and New York City. The band was booked to play at New York's Apollo Theater on August 16–22. During the opening performances, the group did not impress the audience, but they were accepted after they included "Bo Diddley" in their shows. By the end of their run at the Apollo, "That'll Be the Day" was climbing the charts. Encouraged by the single's success, Petty started to prepare two album releases; a solo album for Holly and another for The Crickets. Holly appeared on American Bandstand hosted by Dick Clark on ABC on August 26. Before leaving New York, the band befriended the Everly Brothers.

"That'll Be the Day" topped the US "Best Sellers in Stores" chart on September 23, and was No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks in November. On September 20, Coral released "Peggy Sue" backed with "Everyday" with Holly credited as the performer. By October, "Peggy Sue" had reached number three on Billboard's pop chart and number two on the rhythm & blues chart, while it peaked at number six on the UK Singles chart. As the success of the song grew, it brought more attention to Holly, with the band at the time being billed as "Buddy Holly and the Crickets".

In the last week of September, the band members flew to Lubbock to visit their families. Holly's high school girlfriend, Echo McGuire, had left him for a fellow student. Aside from McGuire, Holly had a relationship with Lubbock fan June Clark. After Clark ended their relationship, Holly realized the importance of his relationship with McGuire and considered his with Clark a temporary one. Meanwhile, for their return to recording, Petty arranged a session in Oklahoma City, where he was performing with his own band. While the band drove to the location, the producer set up a makeshift studio. The rest of the songs needed for an album and singles were recorded; Petty later dubbed the material in Clovis, New Mexico. The resulting album, The "Chirping" Crickets, was released on November 27, 1957. It reached number five on the UK Albums Chart. In October, Brunswick released the second single by the Crickets, "Oh, Boy!" with "Not Fade Away" on the B-side. The single reached number ten on the pop chart and thirteen on the rhythm and blues chart. Holly and the Crickets performed "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 1, 1957. Following the appearance, Niki Sullivan left the group because of the intensive touring. On December 29, Holly and the Crickets performed "Peggy Sue" on The Arthur Murray Party.

On January 8, 1958, Holly and the Crickets joined America's Greatest Teenage Recording Stars tour. On January 25, Holly recorded "Rave On!"; the next day he made his second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, singing "Oh, Boy!" He departed to perform in Honolulu, Hawaii, on January 27, and later started a week-long tour of Australia. By February, the band toured England, playing fifty shows in twenty-five days. The same month, his debut solo album, Buddy Holly, was released. Upon their return to the United States, Holly and the Crickets joined Alan Freed's Big Beat Show tour for forty-one dates. In April, Decca released That'll Be the Day, featuring the songs recorded with Bradley during his early Nashville sessions.

A new recording session in Clovis was arranged in May; Holly hired Tommy Allsup to play lead guitar. The session produced the recordings of "It's So Easy" and "Heartbeat". Holly was impressed by Allsup and invited him to join the Crickets. In June, Holly traveled alone to New York for a solo recording session. Without the Crickets, Holly chose to be backed by a jazz and rhythm & blues band. He chose to record "Now We're One" and Bobby Darin's "Early in the Morning".

During his visit to the offices of Peer-South, he met Maria Elena Santiago. Holly asked Santiago out on their first meeting, and proposed marriage to her on their first date. The wedding took place on August 15. Petty disapproved of the marriage and advised Holly to keep it secret to avoid upsetting Holly's female fans. Petty's reaction created friction between him and Holly, who also started to question Petty's bookkeeping. The Crickets, frustrated because he controlled all of the proceeds from the band, also conflicted with Petty.

Holly and Santiago frequented many of New York's music venues, including the Village Gate, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, and Johnny Johnson's. Santiago later said Holly was keen to learn fingerstyle flamenco guitar, and would often visit her aunt's home to play the piano there. Holly planned collaborations between soul singers and rock & roll, and wanted to make an album with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. He also had ambitions to work in film, and registered for acting classes with Lee Strasburg's Actors Studio.

Santiago accompanied Holly on tours. To hide her marriage to Holly, she was presented as the Crickets' secretary. She took care of the laundry and equipment set-up, and collected the concert revenues. Santiago kept the money for the band instead of their habitual transfer to Petty in New Mexico. She and her aunt Provi Garcia, executive of the Latin American music department at Peer-Southern, convinced Holly that Petty was paying the band's royalties from Coral-Brunswick into his own company's account. Holly planned to retrieve his royalties from Petty and to later fire him as manager and producer. At the recommendation of the Everly Brothers, Holly hired lawyer Harold Orenstein to negotiate his royalties. The problems with Petty were triggered after he was unable to pay Holly. At the time, New York promoter Manny Greenfield reclaimed a large part of Holly's earnings; Greenfield had booked Holly for shows during previous tours. The two had a verbal agreement; Greenfield would obtain five percent of the booking earnings. Greenfield later felt he was also acting as Holly's manager and deserved a higher payment, which Holly refused. Greenfield then sued Holly. According to New York law, because the royalty proceedings of Holly were originated in New York and directed out-of-state, the payments were frozen until the dispute was settled. Petty then could not complete the transfers to Holly, who considered him responsible for the missing profit.

In September, Holly returned to Clovis for a new recording session that yielded "Reminiscing" and "Come Back Baby". During the session he ventured into producing by recording Lubbock DJ Waylon Jennings. Holly produced the single "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)" for Jennings. Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music, recording and publishing scene. He and Santiago settled in Apartment 4H of the Brevoort Apartments located at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, where he recorded a series of acoustic songs, including "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and "What to Do". The inspiration to record the songs is sometimes attributed to the ending of his relationship to McGuire. In October, Holly recorded tracks for Coral; these were backed by saxophonist Benny Goodman and an eighteen-piece orchestra composed of former members of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The three-and-a-half hour session produced "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", "Raining in My Heart", "Moondreams" and "True Love Ways".

Holly ended to his association with Petty in December 1958. His band members kept Petty and their manager, and Holly also split from the Crickets. Petty was still holding the money from the royalties, forcing Holly to form a new band and to return to touring.

Before the tour, Holly vacationed with his wife in Lubbock, and visited Jennings' radio station in December 1958. For the start of the "Winter Dance Party" tour, he assembled a band consisting of Jennings, Allsup (guitar) and Carl Bunch (drums). Holly and Jennings left for New York City, arriving on January 15, 1959. Jennings stayed at Holly's apartment by Washington Square Park, on the days prior to a meeting scheduled at the headquarters of the General Artists Corporation, which organized the tour. They then traveled by train to Chicago to join the rest of the band.

The tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems. The distance between venues had not been considered when scheduling performances. Adding to the disarray, the tour buses were not equipped for the weather and twice broke down. To gain time to sleep and launder clothing after a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, and to avoid the long bus journey to Moorhead, Minnesota, Holly chartered a plane for himself, Ritchie Valens, Jennings and Allsup. Jennings gave up his seat to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), who was suffering from influenza and complaining that the bus was uncomfortable for a man of his size.

The pilot, Roger Peterson, took off in inclement weather, even though he was not certified to fly by instruments only. In the early morning hours of February 3, Holly, Valens, Richardson and Peterson were killed when the plane crashed into a cornfield shortly after take-off.

Holly's funeral was held on February 7, 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Hollys' wedding just months earlier. The pallbearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend due to his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party. Holly's body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery in the eastern part of the city. His headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Santiago, who was pregnant, watched the first reports of Holly's death on television. The following day, she miscarried; the miscarriage was attributed to "psychological trauma". Holly's mother, who heard the news on the radio in Lubbock, Texas, collapsed. Because of Santiago's miscarriage, in the months following the accident, the authorities implemented a policy against announcing victims' names until after families are informed. Santiago did not attend the funeral and has never visited the grave site. She later 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."

Holly's singing style was characterized by his vocal hiccups and his alternation between his regular voice and falsetto. His "stuttering vocals" were complemented by his percussive guitar playing, solos, stops, bent notes and rhythm and blues chord progressions. He often strummed downstrokes that were accompanied by Allison's "driving" percussion.

Holly bought his first Fender Stratocaster, which became his signature guitar, at Harrod Music in Lubbock for US$249.50. Fender Stratocasters were popular with country musicians; Holly chose it for its loud sound. His "innovative" playing style was characterized by its blending of "chunky rhythm" and "high string lead work". He played his first Stratocaster, a 1954 model, until it was stolen during a tour stop in Michigan in 1957. To replace it, he purchased a 1957 model before a show in Detroit. Holly owned four or five Stratocasters during his career.

At the beginning their music careers, Holly and his band wore business suits. Upon meeting the Everly Brothers, Don Everly took the band to Phil's men's shop in New York City and introduced them to Ivy League clothes. The brothers advised Holly to replace his old-fashioned glasses with horn-rimmed glasses that were popularized by Steve Allen. Holly bought a pair of glasses made in Mexico from Lubbock optometrist Dr. J. Davis Armistead. Teenagers in the United States started to request this style of glasses, which were later popularly known as "Buddy Holly glasses".

Encyclopædia Britannica stated that Holly "produced some of the most distinctive and influential work in rock music". AllMusic defined him as "the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll". Rolling Stone ranked him at number thirteen on its "100 Greatest Artists" list. The Telegraph called him a "pioneer and a revolutionary a multidimensional talent (who) co-wrote and performed (songs that) remain as fresh and potent today".

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included Holly among its first class in 1986. On its entry, the Hall of Fame remarked upon the large quantity of material he produced during his short musical career, and said it "made a major and lasting impact on popular music". It called him an "innovator" for writing his own material, his experimentation with double tracking and the use of orchestration; It also said he "pioneered and popularized the now-standard" use of two guitars, bass and drums by rock bands. The Songwriters Hall of Fame also inducted Holly in 1986, and said his contributions "changed the face of Rock 'n Roll". Holly developed in collaboration with Petty techniques of overdubbing, reverberation, while used innovative instrumentation later implemented by other artists. Holly became a "one of the most influential pioneers of rock and roll" who had a "lasting influence" on genre performers of the 1960s.

In 1980, Grant Speed sculpted a statue of Holly playing his Fender guitar. This statue is the centerpiece of Lubbock's Walk of Fame, which honors notable people who contributed to Lubbock's musical history. Other memorials to Buddy Holly include a street named in his honor and The Buddy Holly Center, which contains a museum of Holly memorabilia and Fine Arts gallery. The Center is located on Crickets Avenue, one street east of Buddy Holly Avenue in the erstwhile Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway Depot. In 1997, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave Holly the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2010, Grant Speed's statue was taken down for refurbishment and construction of a new Walk of Fame began. On May 9, 2011, the City of Lubbock held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza, the new home of the statue and the Walk of Fame. The same year, a star bearing Holly's name was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, commemorating his 75th birthday.

Teenagers John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw Holly for the first time when he appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The two had recently met and begun their musical association. They studied Holly's records, learned his performance style and lyricism, and based their act around his persona. Inspired by Holly's insect-themed Crickets, they chose to name their band "Beatles". Lennon and McCartney later cited Holly as their main influence.

Lennon's band the Quarrymen covered "That'll Be the Day" during their first recording session in 1958. Years later, during breaks in the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, CBS coordinator Vic Calandra talked with McCartney and Lennon. Lennon asked him about Holly's performances; Calandra said the musicians repeatedly expressed their appreciation of Holly. The Beatles recorded a close cover of Holly's version of "Words of Love", which was released on their 1964 album Beatles for Sale (in the U.S., in June 1965 on Beatles VI). During the January 1969 recording sessions for their album Let It Be, the Beatles played a slow, impromptu version of "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" – which Holly popularized but did not write – with Lennon mimicking Holly's vocal style. Lennon recorded a cover version of "Peggy Sue" on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll. McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly's song catalog.

Two nights before Holly's death, 17-year-old Bob Dylan attended the January 31, 1959, show. Dylan referred to this in his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech for his Time Out of Mind being named Album of the Year; Dylan said, " ... when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him ... and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was ... with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way".

Mick Jagger saw Holly performing live in Woolwich, London, during tour of England; Jagger particularly remembered Holly's performance of "Not Fade Away" – a song that also inspired for Keith Richards, who modeled his early guitar playing on the track. The Rolling Stones had a hit version of the track in 1964. Richards later said, " passed it on via the Beatles and via  ... He's in everybody".

Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad "American Pie" was inspired by Holly's death and the day of the plane crash. The song's lyric, which calls the incident "The Day the Music Died", became popularly associated with the crash. McLean's album American Pie is dedicated to Holly. In 2015, McLean wrote, "Buddy Holly would have the same stature musically whether he would have lived or died, because of his accomplishments ... By the time he was 22 years old he had recorded some 50 tracks, most of which he had written himself ... in my view and the view of many others, a hit ... Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the template for all the rock bands that followed".

Elton John was musically influenced by Holly. At age thirteen, although he did not require them, John started wearing horn-rimmed glasses to imitate Holly. After eight months, the glasses diminished his vision and John had to start to wear prescription lenses on a regular basis. The Clash were also influenced by Holly, and referenced him in their song "Corner Soul" from the Sandinista! album. The Chirping Crickets was the first album Eric Clapton ever bought; he later saw Holly on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. In his autobiography, Clapton recounted the first time he saw Holly and his Fender, saying, "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven ... it was like seeing an instrument from outer space and I said to myself: 'That's the future – that's what I want'".

The launch of Bobby Vee's successful musical career resulted from Holly's death; Vee was selected to replace Holly on the tour that continued after the plane crash. Holly's profound influence on Vee's singing style can be heard in the songs "Rubber Ball" – the B-side of which was a cover of Holly's "Everyday" – and "Run to Him." The name of the British rock band the Hollies is often claimed as a tribute to Holly; according to the band, they admired Holly but their name was mainly inspired by sprigs of holly in evidence around Christmas 1962. In an August 24, 1978, interview with Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen told Dave Marsh, "I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on; that keeps me honest". The Grateful Dead performed the song "Not Fade Away" in concerts.

Holly's life story inspired a Hollywood biographical film, The Buddy Holly Story (1978); its lead actor Gary Busey received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Holly. The film was widely criticized by the rock community, and Holly's friends and family, for its inaccuracies. This led Paul McCartney (whose MPL Communications by then controlled the publishing rights to Buddy Holly's song catalog) to produce and host his own documentary about Holly in 1985, titled The Real Buddy Holly Story. This video includes interviews with Keith Richards, Phil and Don Everly, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Holly's family and McCartney, among others.

In 1987, Marshall Crenshaw portrayed Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba, which depicts him performing at the Surf Ballroom and boarding the fatal airplane with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Crenshaw's version of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" is featured on the La Bamba original motion picture soundtrack. Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, a jukebox musical depicting Holly's life, is credited for being the first of its kind. It spawned the genre that later included Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You. The musical opened in the late 1980s and its most recent UK tour occurred in February 2011.

Steve Buscemi appeared as Holly in a brief cameo as a 1950s themed restaurant employee in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction, in which he takes Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega's orders (portrayed respectively by Uma Thurman and John Travolta).

Holly was depicted in an episode of the science-fiction television program Quantum Leap titled "How the Tess Was Won"; Holly's identity is only revealed at the end of the episode. Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) influences Buddy Holly to change his lyrics from "piggy, suey" to "Peggy Sue", setting up Holly's future hit song.