Experts: Buddy Holly's Impact Still Raves On Today
On the 55th anniversary of his death, Texas Tech professors say rocker changed music and media law.
Written by John Davis
Buddy Holly statue in Lubbock.
His plane crashed in an Iowa cornfield on Feb. 3, 1959, and the date became known as “the day the music died.” Buddy Holly’s impact on music and the legal side of the music industry still raves on 55 years later, according to two Texas Tech University experts.
Holly’s musical career lasted only a year and a half, but his talent as a musician grew phenomenally and would pave the way for future musicians, said Christopher Smith, an associate professor, chairman of musicology/ethnomusicology and director of the Vernacular Music Center at Texas Tech.
The level of talent that Holly brought would change the way music would sound – plotting the course for the British Invasion of the 1960s, he said.
“The pace of his musical development during that time was almost prodigious,” Smith said. “He took in new musical styles, looked at musical possibilities, then incorporated them into his own musical writing and arranging. He grew like a hothouse plant. But what made him really remarkable was that a young musician in, say Liverpool, England, could sit on the edge of his bed with his guitar, listen to Buddy Holly’s recordings and figure out what he was doing.”
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Waylon Jennings and many other musicians would use Holly’s work as a foundation for their own careers, Smith said. But more than that, Holly’s “regular guy” personality contrasted with Elvis Presley’s animal magnetism and encouraged the not-so-cool that they, too, could rock.
“John Lennon said Buddy Holly made it OK for a guy with glasses to rock,” Smith said. “I think that’s what lives on today in music such as emo and alternative. Holly made it acceptable to be sensitive and incorporate that sensitivity into the poetry of your lyrics.”
Not only did Holly change the music industry creatively, but also he changed the way artists handle their contracts with recording labels, said Wes Cochran, Maddox Professor of Law at Texas Tech’s School of Law and copyright and intellectual property law expert.
Cochran, who writes and speaks on topics including copyright, intellectual property and technology issues, said Holly had a shrewd understanding that the more legal control he held over his creations, the more artistic freedom he would get.
Artists before Holly did not produce themselves and would turn the business aspects of their music and recording over to recording industry professionals. Because they controlled the money, they also controlled much of an artist’s creativity, Cochran said.
Additionally, Holly’s actions gave the record industry cause for alarm, seeing that they – the record producers – could be left totally out of the loop, he said. Many artists felt free to follow Holly’s lead and the record executives became more flexible with them so as not to be left out completely.
“What Buddy did was truly revolutionary in the entertainment industry,” he said. “Buddy had his own vision, his own sound, and when he insisted on producing his own music, he was laughed at. No one did that back then. But he took control of the business side so that he could control the creative side.”
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