Buddy, we had no idea

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Buddy Holly is commemorated in the Norman and Vi Petty Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum in the Clovis and Curry County Chamber of Commerce, which opened in Sept. 2008.

By David Stevens: FNM Editor

Clovis never knew Buddy Holly.

Fifty years after his death, Holly’s fame is a foundation for the annual Clovis Music Festival, which attracts Holly fans from around the world. The recording studio where he worked on west Seventh Street is the closest thing the city has to a tourist attraction.

But on the day the music died, most of Clovis didn’t even know there was a connection.

The Feb. 3, 1959, Iowa plane crash that killed Holly and fellow rockers Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson was reported on page 12 of the Clovis News-Journal. There was no reference to Holly’s having recorded at Clovis’ Norman Petty Studio. It wasn’t a secret, just not many knew.

“Norman Petty was a very private person and he didn’t like flaunting his musical success to anybody,” said David Bigham, a singer who worked with Petty and Holly.

“Of course the people who came here to record were not from Clovis. And all of the recordings were done at night. So really, the citizens of Clovis had no idea what was going on out there.”

What was going on out there, quietly, for more than a decade was the recording of a string of the nation’s most popular songs, including No. 1 hits “Party Doll” by Buddy Knox, “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs and “That’ll be the Day” by Holly.

Holly, from Lubbock, and Petty produced six Top 40 hits in all, which led to the 11-day tour across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa that claimed Holly’s life.

If Clovis residents could have met Holly 50 years ago, they would have admired him, Bigham said.

“He was fun to be around, but he was more goal-driven than most people at that age,” Bigham said. “The more I was around Buddy, the more I knew he was one of those people who would make his mark in the music industry because he was so driven and so versatile.

“But his notoriety and popularity hadn’t gone to his head so he didn’t have any airs about him. All those guys — Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox, Buddy Holly, they were all just regular people.”

Norman and Vi Petty in 1957 often brought musicians to eat at local restaurants, and that group included Holly.

Restaurant owner A.C. Bryant said none of the entertainers attracted attention.

“They didn’t come in and play and sing and so forth. We were always glad to see whoever they were, but they were just regular customers,” he said.

Bryant said he remembers reading about Holly’s death in 1959, but did not associate him with Petty’s studio.

Keith Ingram, 14 when Holly died, was among Clovis residents who did make the connection.

Ingram said he was in the sixth grade when he happened upon