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Friday, May 6, 2016

Basic Biittner : Travelin' Man, part 2

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just three days after we returned from our trip to D.C., I headed out again.

Outside of the Museum - Dan Whitney poses outside of the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum in Clovis, New Mexico. Photo by Doug Whitney
I flew in to Albuquerque, New Mexico late on September 8 and met my brother Doug for another of our "Musical History Tours." Our previous musical trips have been to New Orleans and Memphis, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and this time we were on a Buddy Holly trip to Clovis, New Mexico and Lubbock, Texas.

Doug and I headed to Clovis, about a 4 hour trip, on Friday. Clovis, for those who don't know, is a town near the eastern border of New Mexico. Its current population is around 50,000, and I'm guessing it was a bit smaller 50+ years ago, when a young local man named Norman Petty opened a small recording studio there. Initially using the studio to record his own Norman Petty Trio, which also included his wife Vi, Petty struck gold in 1957 when a couple of West Texas boys came to town to record in his studio, where Norman served as both producer and engineer.

The 'Holy Grail' - Dan Whitney, outside the Norman Petty Studios on 3rd Street in Clovis, New Mexico, where it all began for Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Photo by Doug Whitney
One of those young men was a guy from Happy, Texas named Buddy Knox, whose "Party Doll," recorded at Petty Studios, became a big hit in the new world of Rock and Roll, and In March of that year, three young men from Lubbock, Texas, which is about 90 miles east of Clovis, came to record in Clovis. Charles Hardin Holley changed the spelling of his last name to "Holly," used his nickname of "Buddy," and his backup group (Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin and, sometimes, Niki Sullivan) was christened the Crickets. For the record, the Crickets did not sing the backing vocals on their records. These were provided by one of three small groups - Guy and Ramona Tollett, the Picks, or the Roses. The group's first record, "That'll Be the Day," which they had previously recorded at a New York studio and had been rejected by Decca records, was a monster hit. And the rest, as they say, is history. Pivotal rock and roll history.

Holly was just 22 when he was killed in the tragic plane crash of Feb. 2, 1959, and his career lasted less than two years, but his musical influence has been felt by many musicians through the years, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Paul McCartney, in fact, has owned the publishing rights to Holly's songs for many years, and several years ago, he also produced and appeared in a wonderful documentary entitled "The Real Buddy Holly Story," which debunks many of the false information that was presented in the 1978 theatrical movie "The Buddy Holly Story," which starred Gary Busey as Holly.

The Clovis Music Festival, which lasts for several days each September, was initiated by the late Vi Petty, and serves as a tribute to her husband and his legacy. Featuring concerts by both established and up-and-coming acts, '60s pop stars Bobby Vee and Brian Hyland were the featured entertainers last year, and two of Vee's sons played in the back-up band. Vee, who as a high school student from nearby Moorhead, Minnesota was asked to perform at the Winter Dance Party's Fargo, ND show on the night after the plane crash, has become very involved with the Holly legacy since that night 52 years ago.

Doug and I attended a music symposium when we first arrived in Clovis, and then we took a guided tour of the Petty Studio. We met Kenneth Broad, a long-time friend of Norman Petty's who worked at the studio during its hay-days, and is now the owner of the Petty Studios, and David Bigham, who was one of the three members of The Roses, one of the singing groups who backed up Holly and the Crickets.

The Three Basses - Dan (left) and Doug Whitney (right) share a vintage microphone at Norman Petty Studios with David Bigham, who was the bass singer for The Roses, who were frequent participants on Buddy Holly's recordings. Photo by Petty Studios employee.
Unlike the Sun studio in Memphis, there is no longer any recording being done in Clovis, but they do have a lot of original equipment on display there, including an Ampex tape recorder, the Hammond B-3 organ and piano which Vi Petty played, original microphones, and the small keyboards which were used on Holly's recording of "Everyday" and The Fireballs' "Sugar Shack." Another great part of the tour was hearing "inside stories" from Broad and Bigham about the "good old days" at the Petty Studio.

Friday night's concert at the Clovis Center was a real highlightof the trip for both of us. After Sherrie Holley (Buddy's brother Larry's daughter) sang a few tunes. the Fireballs came on stage. The Fireballs are a group from Raton, New Mexico who also recorded at Petty Studios in the '50s and '60s, and had a couple of instrumental (guitar) hits, "Bulldog" and "Torquay," and they have always been a favorite of Doug's. In 1963, they did a song with vocals, called "Sugar Shack," with Jimmy Gilmer singing lead, and got themselves a #1 hit record. In 1967, they had another vocal hit with the song "Bottle of Wine."

The Lads from Liverpool - The group Liverpool Legends were Friday night's headline act at this year's Clovis Music Festival. Photo by Doug Whitney
Two of the original members of The Fireballs, lead guitarist George Tomsco and bass player Stan Clark, still play occasional gigs, and they were both present in Clovis, performing all of their hits with a drummer and keyboard player and the two guitarists even did a few dance steps while they played.

Sgt. Pepper years - The Liverpool Legends were dressed appropriately as they performed Beatles' hits from the late '60s. Photo by Doug Whitney
The main act on Friday was MY favorite group. Well, not exactly, but pretty close. The Liverpool Legends are a "Beatles interpretation" group and believe me - as someone who was there when the real group was at its peak - they are a pretty close facsimile. One of the best things about the Liverpool Legends is that, in addition to playing the hit songs of "The Fab Four" as they were played back in the day, the group also perform songs that the Beatles NEVER performed on stage, as they gave up touring in 1966. Not only did The Liverpool Legends play Beatles songs from '67-'70, they also did a few songs that group members did as solo artists, such as John Lennon's classic "Imagine." They also change their clothing and appearance as well, performing the '67 and '68 songs in the costumes the Beatles wore on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, for example. If you want to catch them, they will be playing in Branson, Missouri soon, according to the person who assembled the group and acts as their manager, Louise Harrison - the sister of George Harrison. Louise appeared at a symposium we attended at noon on Friday, and also came on stage for a few minutes Saturday night. She is a delightful person with a good sense of humor, and an obvious love for her late brother, who was 11 years younger than she. The bottom line is this, Doug and I both got to see and hear our favorite groups on the same night. It was wonderful and better than we expected.

Shaking a leg - The Fireballs' lead guitarist George Tomsco (left) and bass player Stan Clark (right)s do a dance routine while performing their hit instrumental "Bulldog" at the Clovis Music Festival. Photo by Doug Whitney
All in the Family - Liverpool Legends manager Louise Harrison at Friday's Symposium at the Clovis Music Festival. Photo by Doug Whitney

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner