Vintage Movies: “The Buddy Holly Story”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


The Buddy Holly Story (1978, 114 minutes)

It’s obvious by their early body of work which original American rocker meant the most to the Beatles. It was the brash-yet-melodic, workingman’s rock ‘n’ roll of west Texas legend Buddy Holly that seemed to fit the Liverpool foursome the best. They even pinched their band name from Buddy’s backup combo, the Crickets.

Although he’s become a punching bag these days for late-night TV hosts, Gary Busey was born to play Lubbock’s favorite son here, needing no pinch-hitters to nail the roll of Buddy Holly, both on and off the stage. Anyone who’s familiar with how Holly’s career was cut short, bear this in mind: When the film was first released, Southwest Airlines was showing it on their in-flight TV screens.

It’s the summer of 1956, and the nation’s airwaves have been inundated with something disc jockeys are calling “rock ‘n’ roll.” Seminal platters by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins and Little Richard are blaring from the tinny speakers of transistor radios, given last Christmas as stocking-stuffers. This heart-pumping sound has not been lost on recent high school grad Charles Hardin Holly who’s enlisted two of his pals to accompany him on upright bass and drums.

Buddy’s band even has a gig every Saturday night at the local roller-skate palace, playing rinky-dink stuff to accompany grandma and grandpa as they coast around the concrete oval. A DJ in the studio sets the stage for Buddy’s remote broadcast by announcing, “You’re in tune with KDAV, 1310 on your dial! And now, brought to you by Verti-grow, we take you live and direct to Parker’s Roller Rink for this weekend’s Holly Hayride!” Buddy and the boys open with a soporific reading of “Mockingbird Hill” by Les Paul & Mary Ford. “Hey Buddy, c’mon, play some bop!” shouts a teenager afterward from the sidelines. And Buddy decides to take a chance.

“We’d like to do this one for the boppers—those of you who bop,” the bespectacled frontman slyly announces. “Hey Buddy, I don’t think we should,” warns bassist Ray Bob Simmons (Charles Martin Smith) while drummer Jesse Charles (Don Stroud) just grins and readies his sticks for a real workout. The tune’s blistering, rockabilly-style guitar intro has the heads of a dozen teenage girls, lounging around the hot-dog stand, snap in perfect unison toward the bandstand, while adult chaperones cover their ears in agony. As Buddy belts out the lyrics to “Ollie Vee,” the roller rink is engorged with teenagers skating to this wild and crazy stuff. “Ollie Vee says she’s gonna do me right tonight/Gonna put on my blue suede shoes tonight/Cuz tonight we gonna rock around with Ollie Ollie Vee!” It’s this thrilling live reaction that convinces Buddy Holly, more than ever, that he’s onto something special here.