Music, Law Experts: Buddy Holly Changed Music Industry Creatively, Legally

The music may have died Feb. 3, 1959, but rock ’n’ roll legend Buddy Holly’s impact raves on today.

The music may have died in an Iowa cornfield Feb. 3, 1959, but rock 'n' roll legend Buddy Holly's impact on music and the legal side of the music industry still raves on today, according to two Texas Tech University experts. Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," died in a plane crash 50 years ago. 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. Valens, a Latino musician born Richard Valenzuela, played a major role in bringing  Latino musicians into American mainstream - a place dominated by white and black musicians, he said. And the level of talent that Holly brought would change the way music would sound - plotting the course for the British Invasion of the 1960s. "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." 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.  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. "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." For more on this story, or for Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas, visit CONTACT: Christopher Smith, chairman of Musicology/Ethnomusicology and director of the  Vernacular Music Center, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-2270 ext. 249;; Wes Cochran, Maddox Professor of Law at Texas Tech School of Law, (806) 742-3990 ext. 234, or