Sonny Curtis Remembers the Lasting Legacy of Buddy Holly

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Charles Paul Harris/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Buddy Holly died in 1959 at the age of 22, but in his short lifetime, he helped shape the tender beginning of rock and roll. His friend and former bandmate Sonny Curtis, a star in his own right, remembered his friend’s legacy in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning.

Curtis and Holly started playing in a band together when they were teenagers and even opened for Elvis Presley when he was first starting out. Eventually, Curtis moved on and opened for Slim Whitman. Meanwhile, Holly started the band The Crickets in 1956. Curtis eventually joined the band after Holly’s death in 1959. He stayed in the band until The Crickets’ last performance in 2016. In 2012, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Can you imagine the amount of music he pumped into the system in a short period of, like, 18 months?” Curtis asked in his interview, when Holly’s age at his death was brought up. “No telling how much he would have contributed had he been around.”

Even though he died tragically young, Buddy Holly had a profound influence on music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had just met when they saw Buddy Holly for the first time, and named The Beatles in honor of The Crickets. They later cited Holly as a main influence. Bob Dylan also cited Holly as a great influence on his album “Time Out of Mind,” claiming in his Album of the Year acceptance speech that Holly was “with us all the time we were making this record.” Other musicians influenced by Holly include Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Don McLean. In his song “American Pie,” McLean references Holly’s death when he sings “the day the music died.”

Buddy Holly Referenced John Wayne Film for Famous Song

For his hit song “That’ll Be The Day”, Buddy Holly actually got the idea from John Wayne’s film “The Searchers.” As Ethan Edwards, Wayne’s signature line was “that’ll be the day.” It began when Holly and bandmate Jerry Allison were hanging out, brainstorming song ideas.

Apparently, Holly told Allison, “wouldn’t it be great to have a hit song?” and Allison replied, “that’ll be the day,” in the style of John Wayne. “The Searchers” came out in 1956, when The Crickets were just starting out.

Holly latched onto the line. He wrote and recorded the song as the band Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes in 1956. In 1957, he rerecorded the song with The Crickets. “That’ll Be The Day” was The Crickets’ biggest hit. It was certified gold in 1968 for having over a million US sales and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. Just goes to show, inspiration can come from anywhere.