Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Buddy Holly Story / Buddy Holly Center

buddy holly center lubbock texas
Buddy Holly Center, Lubbock Texas
When traveling through Lubbock Texas on a western road trip I had the opportunity to visit the Buddy Holly Center and learn more about the Buddy Holly story. Whether you're old enough to remember a lot about Buddy Holly or young enough to just appreciate all genres of music, you will truly enjoy a visit to this remarkable place.

According to the Buddy Holly Center web site, the Center has dual missions... preserving, collecting and promoting the legacy of Buddy Holly and the music of Lubbock and West Texas, as well as providing exhibits on Contemporary Visual Arts and Music, for the purpose of educating and entertaining the public. I will add that they do an excellent job of both. The Buddy Holly Center is located in downtown Lubbock on Crickets Avenue. if you find yourself traveling through or near Lubbock Texas whether on business or on a Texas vacation, the Buddy Holly center should really be a part of your Texas trip planner. In addition to this fine Lubbock museum you'll find a great selection of Lubbock restaurants and hotels.

The Buddy Holly Center is a site housing an extensive collection of Buddy Holly memorabilia, changing arts exhibits, and a gallery showcasing West Texas musicians. This Lubbock museum is a must stop for anyone remotely interested in the early years of rock and roll.

buddy holly statue
Buddy Holly statue created by Grant Speed
In January, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper", Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Sardo, Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch set out on a three week tour of the cold mid west. The story of Buddy Holly's hit records and short life and career have been told literally thousands of times. It's an interesting story that goes back to the very earliest days of rock and roll. Many might remember seeing his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Holly's relatively brief career, his highest fame lasted about two years, ended when the small single engine plane he, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) and Ritchie Valens  crashed after midnight in an apparent blizzard near Clear Lake Iowa in 1959.

The group and others had just finished a concert at Clear Lake's Surf Ballroom to an audience of over a thousand. At the time of the Buddy Holly plane crash the group of three were on their way to play a concert the next evening in Moorehead MN. The rest of the group would make the trip on their bus which had severe heating problems in almost zero temperatures. The plane was chartered at Holly's request so that the three entertainers could avoid the freezing bus trip. As it turned out by a quirk of fate, the two other passengers who were to originally accompany Buddy Holly on the plane were actually Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. Both ended up giving their seats away to the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens just before the flight.

Some interesting facts about the tour, "Winter Dance Party", emerged after the tragedy. One was that the young twenty-one year old pilot who was flying the aircraft for a charter company was not legally certified to fly under instrument only weather conditions. He was certified for visual conditions only which meant he really should not have been up in the air under those dark and blizzard conditions.

buddy holly center
Entrance to Buddy Holly Center
The plane crash investigation afterward concluded that the pilot obviously became disoriented due to the weather and was not trained well enough to read the attitude gauges and subsequently ran the aircraft into the ground. Another was that the tour bus heater was so inoperable that one of the band members of Buddy Holly's "Crickets" was hospitalized at the time in Minnesota for frost bite. That gives you a good idea of just how bad the tour bus ride was and would have been.

A few other interesting facts about Buddy Holly's career was that his legal name was actually spelled Holley. His birth name was Charles Hardin Holley but during the early days of his career it was changed to Holly for touring and publicity purposes. It appears that the name was spelled that way a few times on publicity material and the spelling just stuck. Another interesting fact was that his successful recordings were produced in a studio in Clovis New Mexico, about 90 miles northwest of Lubbock Texas. The Norman Petty Studio in Clovis recorded for singers such as Ray Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Gilmer, Sonny West and Buddy Holly. Many other recorded there as well. Petty was also a musician himself as well as a recording engineer and recorded himself at the the studio. Norman Petty was also serving as Holly's manager to some degree. After Buddy Holly's death, Petty reportedly overdubbed some of Holly' unfinished recordings to add to the Holly collection. Petty posthumously was named Clovis New Mexico Citizen Of The Year in 1984.


Buddy Holly at the time of his death in February 1959 was married only for a very short time. Holly married Maria Elena Santiago on August 15, 1958 only about two months after first meeting. Their honeymoon was in Acapulco Mexico. It was reported that Holly also entertained the possibility of a future acting career such as that of singer Elvis Presley. He went as far as enrolling in acting classes.

buddy holly center sign
Buddy Holly Center sign with glasses logo
The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock Texas has quite a lot to offer anyone interested in the music of the late 1950's. A video is shown about Buddy Holly and others of that era. Included are some very good music videos by the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson. In fact, these could be considered the earliest music videos produced. The video is both very entertaining and informative. Among the many exhibits in the Buddy Holly Center is the actual guitar that Holly used during his last performance in Clear lake Iowa. Since the guitar was being transported on the tour bus, it was not damaged. There is also some of Holly's personal property such as his 45 RPM record case and jackets holding his personal collection. Also included are clothing, recording contracts, tour itineraries, Holly's glasses, homework assignments and report cards. There are also many interesting photos of Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, the Crickets, the Big Bopper and others spread throughout the museum. The pictures are very interesting and each tells a story. The Buddy Holly Center collects, preserves and interprets artifacts pertaining to Lubbock's most famous native son

Another interesting fact about the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa is that they continue today to memorialize Buddy Holly and the old Winter Dance Party. The annual event held at the Surf Ballroom was the idea of a local radio announcer called the "Mad Hatter". His name was Darryl Hensley and the idea took off. The event began in 1979 and is held during the first week of February.

Surf Ballroom as it appeared in 1988. Public domain photo
The statue of Buddy playing his guitar is located at the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza which is across the street from The Buddy Holly Center on Crickets Avenue. The plaza also includes the Walk of Fame. The statue of Holly shown on the photo above was created by sculpturer Grant Speed of Utah. Grants Speed was also well known for his statue of famed Texas Panhandle rancher Charles Goodnight. Goodnight's statue is located at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon Texas. Another of Speed's sculptures in Lubbock is a life size horse and rider piece created for Texas Tech University depicting the school's mascot, the Red Raider.

Two other interesting travel stops while touring West Texas is the Charles Goodnight Home located in Goodnight Texas just east of Amarillo. Rancher Charles Goodnight is referred to as the Father of the Texas Panhandle. Also, the unique old Harvey House dining room along the railroad tracks in Slaton Texas, about 10 miles south of Lubbock. The historic Slaton Harvey House is now operated as a delightful B & B.

You'll also be interested in our article and photos of the Roger Miller Museum in Erick Oklahoma.

The Buddy Holly Center is located at 1801 Crickets Avenue in Lubbock Texas. The Center is in the renovated old Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway Depot. The depot was designed  by prominent Fort Worth architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick, in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style. This is an excellent addition to your Texas vacation planner.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

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