Museum showcases Petty, rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Buddy Holly is one of the featured photos on a mural at the Norman and Vi Petty Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum, located on the lower level of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce. The museum will have its grand opening Saturday.

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Norman Petty is known around the world for helping launch the careers of some famous musicians.

But did you know Petty graduated from Clovis High School in 1945?

It says so right in the yearbook.

Violet Ann Brady, his future bride, graduated a year later. Both yearbooks are side-by-side in the Norman and Vi Petty Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum, which will make its grand opening Saturday in conjunction with the annual Clovis Music Festival.

Those aren’t the only artifacts in the museum, naturally.

Memorabilia relating to singing stars such as Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox, the Fireballs, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings and more — all who recorded at Petty’s Clovis studio — have been hotly pursued by members of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce in recent months.

“All my staff is addicted to eBay now, trying to find stuff,” said Ernie Kos, executive director of the chamber.

The museum occupies about 7,500 square feet of the basement at the chamber offices, at the intersection of Grand and Main streets in Clovis.

At an expense of approximately $300,000, mostly funded through state capital outlay grants, the museum pays tribute to the Pettys and the influence of their recording studio on Seventh Street.

In fact, life-size facsimiles of the studio and the production room where Petty often worked his magic are also part of the facility.

“My husband always said there would be a museum,” said Anne Linville, wife of Robert Linville — a member of Petty’s studio backup singers called The Roses.

“I always thought he was dreaming big, but he really believed in it,” she added.

Upon entering the museum, visitors first see a large guitar overhead that’s similar to one on the outside of the building. Both oversized instruments were constructed by Clovis Sign Co., according to Kos.

Other local donations were also critical to the opening of the museum. One family donated a collection of more than 100 radios, the high school provided the yearbooks, and numerous photographs were given over for the project.

The layout of a standard 1950s diner, with a jukebox and pinball machine, greets visitors before the primary area of memorabilia.

Exhibits have been placed in chronological order, beginning with the Pettys’ success in the recording business as the Norman Petty Trio.

Petty’s entry into big-time success as a producer began with Buddy Knox’s No. 1 “Party Doll” in 1957, which led in short order to Buddy Holly’s interest in the Clovis studio.

Later, the Plainview, Texas, group The String-Alongs recorded a Top Five hit (“Wheels”) and the Fireballs struck No. 1 with “Sugar Shack” — all with the help of Petty’s recording direction.

David Bigham, like Linville a member of The Roses, has been instrumental in placing the exhibits from oldest to newest.