Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, Gotta Get You Near Me Blues.
Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, You and I Are Through.
Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, Down the Line.
Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery, Baby It's Love.

They were the best of friends, as far back as junior high school, in 1949. Charles "Buddy" Holley had been playing guitar since he was a child, but it was meeting Bob Montgomery, who loved Hank Williams, that provided Buddy with his first true style, as well as the impetus for Buddy to begin performing professionally.

By the first years of the new decade, the two had formed a "Western and Bop" band, playing at youth clubs and dances throughout Texas. Bob mainly sang lead--he had a fine voice, albeit one enthralled by Hank Williams' stylings--and they mainly played straight country. But occasionally Buddy would sing, with the resulting oddness that, in the midst of a fairly standard country weeper, we can hear the familiar, loopy voice of "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be the Day" breaking in.

The two (along with friends like Larry Welborn and Sonny Curtis) began recording demos whenever they could, in tiny studios, like Nesman Recording Studio, in Wichita Falls, Texas. Most were slow ballads, often with interchangeable titles ("Flower of My Heart", "Door to My Heart," "Soft Place in My Heart", "I Gambled My Heart"), but occasionally they would wax a gem, like Montgomery's swinging "Gotta Get You Near Me Blues."

Buddy (L) and Bob (R) flank Larry Welborn

In early 1955, Buddy and Bob opened for Elvis Presley. To say this changed everything is an understatement--Buddy became consumed by Elvis, singing like him (Holly's version of "Baby Let's Play House" from late '55 is almost a note-by-note Presley imitation). By August '55, Buddy and Bob were recording their first true rock & roll songs--here are the stomping "Baby's It's Love" and Montgomery's "You and I Are Through". (The kick-ass "Down the Line" is from this period as well.) Later that year, when Bill Haley came to Lubbock, he left with the demos and passed them on to Decca.

In January 1956, Buddy received a recording contract from Decca, but made out only to him. By all accounts, Bob was magnanimous, urging Buddy to sign and even attending his first recording session in Nashville, where Bob didn't play a note.

We'll be hearing a great deal more of Buddy Holly for the rest of the 1950s. As for Bob Montgomery, he became a professional songwriter, for Buddy ("Heartbeat") and others.

A note: these tracks were recorded under primitive conditions, maintained poorly and then overdubbed (sometimes with way too much drums) a decade later by Holly's producer Norman Petty--so the sound is pretty rough.

Once upon a time, when the fairly good movie The Buddy Holly Story came out in the late 1970s, MCA UK got it together and released a 6-LP boxed set that included nearly everything Holly had recorded. Naturally, the set soon went out of print, and two decades have passed without anything equivalent being issued on CD. The result is that Holly's work is only available piecemeal on disc (you have to buy one for greatest hits, another for early stuff, another for demos, etc.)--for example, most of the Montgomery stuff is on Holly in the Hills/Giant. But if you can find The Complete Buddy Holly (it turns up on eBay fairly regularly) it's greatly worth the investment. MCA is rumored to be sitting on much more unreleased Holly material from this period (including the Grail--the undubbed Holly/Montgomery sessions), but seems to be waiting for perhaps the centennial of Holly's birth to release them...

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