Travel: World Music: The day the music died

Forty years ago this week Buddy Holly died in a plane crash. Andy Bull visits the Texan home town of one of rock'n'roll's greatest innovators
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The Independent Culture
FOR MANY years Lubbock was in denial about Buddy Holly, its most famous son. Never mind that to the rest of the world he was one of the the most innovative and creative of rock's first generation of performers, and a powerful formulative influence on everyone from the Beatles down. In Lubbock you didn't mention his name in polite company. The reason being that this is the Bible belt, and in these parts rock'n'roll has always been seen as the devil's music.

But finally, Lubbock's great and good have realised that Holly is about the only thing they have going for them in terms of attracting visitors to this strange town, isolated as it is on the high windy planes of the Texas panhandle, swaddled in a sea of cotton. There is now an established Holly-tour itinerary.

The house where Holly lived in 1957 when "That'll Be the Day" was a hit still stands at 1305 37th Street. His alma mater, JT Hutchinson Junior High School (3102 Canton Ave), has a display of mementoes of him. To the north of town, just off Avenue A at 10th Street, and beyond the cattle market, is the Fair Park Coliseum, where Buddy Holly and the Crickets were at the bottom of bills headed by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley and the Comets. On the same side of town, the Buddy Holly Recreation Area, a landscaped park, is also popular with fans, who pose for photos beside the sign (N University Ave).

The radio station (call sign KRLB), on which Buddy got a spot of his own on Sunday afternoons, is at 6602 Martin Luther King Jr Drive, on the southern edge of town. The most visible tribute to Buddy Holly is outside the Civic Centre, (8th St and Avenue Q), in the shape of an 8ft 6in bronze of the singer, holding a guitar and standing in the middle of a raised circular flower bed.

"Buddy Holly," the inscription reads, "contributed to the musical heritage of not only West Texas, but the entire world." Around the stone wall enclosing the flower bed are plaques dedicated to 14 other musicians with local links, including Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings, who narrowly missed being on the flight on which Holly and two other rock and roll stars, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, were killed. It happened on the bitterly cold night of 3 February 1959, while Buddy was on a gruelling tour of the mid-west. That night, he chartered a light plane to take him the 400 miles from Clear Lake, Iowa to the next gig.

At 1.50am the plane crashed in thick snow, killing all on board. More than 1,500 came to the funeral, at Lubbock's Tabernacle Baptist Church (1911 34th St). Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers was a pallbearer and there was a telegram from Elvis.

The gravestones of Buddy, his father Lawrence and mother Ella lie flush with the ground at the City of Lubbock Cemetery (2011 E 34th St), where the grass bakes in the heat, and the sprinklers hiss continually.

Buddy's stone is a rather kitsch affair, depicting a Fender guitar leaning against a Doric column. His surname reverts to the way the family has always spelt it: Holley. Sometimes there will be a sliver of something shiny protruding from the hard red soil. It will be a plectrum, placed there in homage by a fan.

To reach Lubbock, Flightbookers (0171-757 3000) quotes pounds 325 on American Airlines via Dallas, for travel in February. In the first week of September each year the Budfest, a tribute to Buddy, is organised in the town. Details from Bill Griggs (Buddy Holly Memorial Society, Box 6123 Lubbock TX 79493). Lubbock Chamber of Commerce (1120 14th St, 001 806 761 7000) publishes a leaflet with details of Buddy Holly locations around town.

Adapted from `Coast to Coast: A Rock Fan's US tour', by Andy Bull (Black Swan, pounds 5.99)

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