Born Charles Hardin Holley on 7 September 1936 in Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly began learning violin at five; switched to piano at eight, then steel guitar and, finally, acoustic guitar. In 1949, he teamed up with a school friend, Bob Montgomery, to form a country music duo. "Buddy and Bob" began to be featured on local radio stations, particularly KDAV, which was America's first all-country station.
In 1955, KDAV sponsored a series of country and rock'n'roll concerts in Lubbock. These concerts featured artists like, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Bill Haley, Jimmie Rodgers and Elvis Presley. Buddy and Bob were often the warm-up act. At a Bill Haley concert in October 1955, Buddy was spotted by Marty Robbins' manager, Eddie Crandall. This led to a recording contract with Decca for Buddy (but not Bob Montgomery).
At his first recording session, Buddy sang but did not play guitar. His backing was by leading Nashville session-men including Sonny Curtis, Boots Randolph and Grady Martin. Two singles were released: Blue Day, Black Nights/Love Me and Modern Don Juan/You Are My One Desire. When they were not hits, Buddy's recording contract was allowed to lapse leaving a large number of unreleased cuts, including Rock around with Ollie Vee and That'll Be the Day.
Buddy then made a demo recording of That'll Be the Day (with himself singing lead vocals and harmony and playing lead and rhythm guitar. Don Guess playing bass and Jerry Allison playing drums) as "The Crickets". Brunswick Records liked the demo so much they released it without rerecording it. It quickly became a worldwide hit. Buddy Holly was the first major rock star to record mostly his own compositions and to use the guitar and drums backing which became standard.
Decca promptly responded by releasing one of their solo Buddy Holly recordings, Words of Love, on the Coral label. It was not a hit.
The Crickets (now with Niki Sullivan on rhythm guitar and Joe B. Mauldin in place of Don Guess) recorded their first album, The Chirping Crickets. This included their next two hits, Oh Boy! and Peggy Sue.
The Crickets, along with Paul Anka and Jerry Lee Lewis, toured Australia in January and February 1958, appearing at Sydney Stadium. The Cloudland Ballroom in Brisbane and the West Melbourne Stadium . In March 1958, he toured Britain and Wales, appearing at 26 different venues in thirty days..
In mid-1958, Niki Sullivan left the group and was replaced by Tommy Allsup.
Management problems following his marriage to Maria Elana Santiago led to a split with the Crickets (who continued to record without him) in early 1959. This resulted in royalty disputes and a hectic tour of the Mid-west (with a new backing group comprising Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup and Charles Brunch) to ease resulting cashflow problems. During this tour, on 3 February 1959, Buddy chartered a plane for himself, Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings. Allsup tossed for his seat with Richie Valens, who and never flown before, and Jennings gave his seat to J.P. Richardson, who had the flu.
The plane crashed minutes after taking off in a snow storm from Mason City, Iowa. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, J.P. Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died in the crash.
Buddy Holly continued to have hits in the UK (but not in America) with recordings released posthumously. Performance rights to his recordings are now owned by Paul McCartney.
In 1963, 64 and 65, Decca (through its Coral subsidiary) released three albums of unfinished and demo Buddy Holly recordings overdubbed by The Fireballs (of Sugar Shack fame). In 1969, another album of overdubbed home recordings and outtakes was released. To try to wring yet another dollar out of the material, the record companies have reissued Buddy Holly's original albums under different titles, as well as producing numerous compilation albums.
After Buddy Holly's death, the Crickets (Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Sonny Curtis and singer Earl Sinks) continued to record and tour. Jerry Naylor replaced Earl Sinks in 1961. Gordon Payne replaced Naylor in the 1980s.