Buddy Holly Remembered: Tribute Albums and a TV Special Keep the Music Alive

With a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to commemorate what would have been his 75th birthday, the pioneering rock-n-roller remains as popular as ever among music fans and performers.

It’s been more than 50 years since Buddy Holly died in Clear Lake Iowa. One of four passengers, including fellow rock-n-roll pioneer Ritchie Valens, traveling via chartered prop plane halfway through a three-week tour of the Midwest, Holly was 22. All told, the bespectacled singer and his Crickets band had three years of activity, more than twice the amount of time he spent being married to his wife Maria Elena, yet his impact is still felt today. In fact, the sounds of Buddy Holly are as alive as ever.

To wit: the two just released tribute albums, Rave On Buddy Holly, issued by Concord’s Fantasy Records in June, and Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, out on Verve Forecast, featuring a total of 35 different artists, from Ringo Starr and Lou Reed to Cobra Starship and the Black Keys, each paying homage to Holly by reinterpreting his songs. On Tuesday, which would have marked Holly’s 75th birthday, the late singer also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and on Wednesday, some dozen performers came together at Los Angeles’ Music Box for a PBS special honoring his legacy and music -- it will air in December.

Fans of Holly’s, famous or otherwise, argue that the recognition is long overdue if only for the sheer volume of game-changing hits he managed to record in his brief but prolific career – songs that would influence the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. In fact, Paul McCartney is partly to thank for the Rave On collection as he, along with his label Fantasy, supported and encouraged the idea of a tribute from the get-go. But the legendary musician is certainly not alone in his admiration.

“Nick Lowe talked about how Buddy Holly was the first rocker who came out of the audience onto the stage,” Randall Poster, Rave On co-producer (with Geyla Robb) and noted music supervisor told THR (Lowe contributed a version of Holly’s lesser-known “Changing All Those Changes”). “That accounts for a lot of the enduring connection that people have to Buddy Holly -- that he just sort of seemed like you and me. He wasn't a superman, he was kind of ordinary and looked a little ordinary.”

His music, however, was anything but, as PBS’ all-star lineup, assembled by Peter Asher, noted producer (Linda Rondstadt, Cher), artist (60s British duo Peter and Gordon), manager (James Taylor), executive (The Beatles’ Apple Records) and Listen To Me musical director, proved in an instant. From Stevie Nicks' take on “Not Fade Away” to a marimba-fied “Every Day” sung by Patrick Stump, formerly of Fall Out Boy, to a duet by Michelle Branch and Graham Nash on “Words of Love,” the flavors varied but the emotion was the same: Holly is missed.

“Will they remember any of us in 100 years?” asked Nash, the one double-dipper, who performed “Raining From My Heart,” a cover he contributed to Rave On, at the Listen to Me show. From the stage, he went on to describe he and his Hollies bandmates “crying our eyes out” at news of Holly’s passing. “Buddy was one of us,” said Nash, who was 17 in 1959.

“What an amazing songwriter,” said Nicks, a sentiment echoed by Lyle Lovett who remarked, “In two and a half minutes, he taught you everything you need to know about life and love." Poster, too, has a deep appreciation for Holly’s skills as a lyricist. “He took ordinary emotions and raised them to the level of poetry -- that is what gives Buddy Holly’s work this relentless power.”

In the audience sat Holly’s widow along with a slew of entertainment luminaries including Phil Everly, Priscilla Presley and Nigel Lythgoe. No one was shy about clapping or singing along, with Everly joining the chorus of seasoned performers for the finale jam session on “That’ll Be the Day.”

See the full set list below:

Stevie Nicks - "Not Fade Away"
Lyle Lovett - "Well … All Right"
Lyle Lovett with James Burton - "I'm Looking for Someone to Love"
Shawn Colvin - "Learning the Game"
Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy - "Everyday," "Oh Boy"
Chris Isaak - "Crying, Waiting, Hoping"
Michelle Branch with Graham Nash - "Words of Love"
Graham Nash - "Raining in My Heart"
Graham Nash & Peter Asher - "Take Your Time"
Boz Scaggs - "Maybe Baby"
Boz Scaggs, Graham Nash & Peter Asher - "Rave On"
Raul Malo - "Listen to Me"
Michelle Branch & Chris Isaak - "Heartbeat"
Gabe Saporta & Victoria Asher of Cobra Starship - "Peggy Sue"
Gabe Saporta & Patrick Stump - "Think It Over"
Paul Anka - "I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore"
Stevie Nicks - "It's So Easy"
Raul Malo - "True Love Ways"
Malo, Colvin, Lovett, Everly, Branch and ensemble - "That'll Be The Day"