February 3, 2016
Out in cyberspace, a picture exists of rock ‘n’ roll legend Paul McCartney in a Texas Tech University football jersey, leaping high in the air while playing the guitar.
While no one knows exactly when or where the former Beatles and Wings great acquired the attire – the photo is said to be shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz to promote McCartney’s United States tour in the early 1990s – he didn’t just randomly pick it off a sales rack at a local sporting goods store, either.
The jersey was reportedly worn as a tribute to Lubbock and one of the biggest influences on both McCartney and the Beatles, Buddy Holly. And it’s also no mistake that McCartney’s U.S. leg of his 2014 “Out There” tour came through Lubbock in 2014.
“I had heard he approached Lubbock because he wanted to play and perform in Buddy Holly’s hometown,” said Mark Morton, an associate professor of double bass at Texas Tech who has taught a class, The Music of the Beatles. “I think the Beatles as a business seemed hesitant to acknowledge his influence, but both John (Lennon) and Paul as individual musicians had the artistic integrity to freely give him credit. You can see evidence of that right here in Lubbock of Paul wanting to come here and perform in Buddy Holly’s hometown.”
Given that influence, McCartney will most likely be one of those around the world today remembering Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson on the 57th anniversary of the plane crash in Iowa that killed all three, known as “The Day the Music Died.”
Morton said the Lubbock rocker could be viewed as a “big brother” to McCartney and Lennon, who were just a few years younger than Holly, in both their songwriting and musical stylings. Even the Beatles name was a direct reflection of the name of Holly’s band, The Crickets.
“McCartney’s long career as a performer, with the Beatles and following the Beatles’ break-up in 1970 and emergence of Wings in the 1970s, could be traced to the success Holly enjoyed as a performer,” Driver said. “Holly’s interests in producing and songwriting in the last few months of his career could be said to be fulfilled by McCartney’s extensive and expansive music business interests, from performing musician and recording artist to producer and publisher.”
In many ways, Holly was bigger in England than he was in the United States. Holly’s hit “That’ll Be the Day” took just two weeks to reach No. 1 when it was released in Britain in September 1957, but took four months to hit No. 1 in the United States after its release that May.
“In the late 1950s and the 1960s, Holly was arguably more popular in Great Britain than the U.S., influencing numerous musicians and bands that later emerged as part of the British Invasion,” Driver said.
Both Driver and Morton said McCartney has acknowledged on numerous occasions that at least the first 40 Beatles songs, if not more, were molded after Holly’s style of songwriting, which went beyond the standard 12-bar blues chords used throughout 1950s rock ‘n’ roll by such artists as Elvis Presley and Bill Haley.
The 12-bar blues form uses what Morton calls “three primary color chords,” the I, IV and V chords. Morton said Holly departed from the typical rock’n’roll 12-bar formula by combining those chords in different orders and in different harmonic rhythms. Near the end of his career, Holly experimented with other minor chords as well.
Even the way the Beatles dressed – narrow lapelled Ivy League jackets and narrow, neat ties – came directly from Holly, Morton said.
Morton said the Beatles delighted in carrying on that work left by Holly and combining them with more darker, emotional and poetically subtle sounds of the other chords.
“I’d say the Beatles relied on those three primary color chords -- as Buddy Holly did m-- up until about 1965,” Morton said. “However, before that, I believe they picked up on those chords Buddy Holly left behind and began experimenting with other chords. After 1965, they freely and in a sophisticated way used all the chords.”
Both Morton and Driver noted the cover of the Holly song “Words of Love” on the 1964 Beatles album Beatles for Sale as a classic example of Holly’s influence on McCartney and Lennon, as well as songs like “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Love Me Do” and “She Loves You.” “That’ll Be the Day” was one of the first songs recorded by the Beatles in 1958, when they were known as the Quarrymen.
“The Beatles routinely played Holly songs on stage in Hamburg and Liverpool before signing with EMI in 1962,” Driver said, “but their idolization of Holly remained obvious when they recorded for the BBC between 1962 and 1965.”
Driver said Holly even influenced the Beatles in non-songwriting ways, saying that Lennon’s self-consciousness about wearing glasses on stage diminished after seeing Holly on stage in 1958. Driver added McCartney once said that before Holly, “anyone who had glasses couldn’t make it as a singer,” and John “was now able to put his glasses on and see the world.”
Morton said the use of the three primary color chords remains predominant in today’s music, not only in rock ‘n’ roll but in country music as well. Driver cited rock bands such as U2, Radiohead, Foo Fighters (and before that Nirvana) and Oasis as ones who show influences from the Beatles.
He also pointed to Beatles influence in modern advertising and marketing, citing the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil show “Love” that used remastered and remixed versions of Beatles songs for a story centered on characters from the Beatles catalog. Target and AT&T have also used Beatles and Holly material.
“Along with fellow musicians and artists in the 1960s, the Beatles fundamentally reshaped the trajectory of popular music and helped the record industry grow further economically than it had enjoyed with the boom and popularity of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s,” Driver said.
The Beatles’ influence, however, started with Buddy Holly, who despite a short career in rock ‘n roll has left his mark on the industry to this day.
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