ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Most Clovis residents weren’t aware of Buddy Holly’s local connections on Feb. 3, 1959.
You’ve all heard Don McLean’s “American Pie” at least a thousand times, an upbeat dirge for rock ‘n roll that takes off with a reflection on the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”) in a February plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959.
And Buddy Holly, who hailed from Lubbock, Texas, and recorded many of his hits at Norman Petty’s studios in Clovis, has become an adopted icon in the eastern New Mexico city whose annual Clovis Music Festival draws Holly fans from around the world.
But on Feb. 3, 1959 — the “Day the Music Died,” according to Don McLean’s 1971 song — most people in Clovis weren’t even aware of their brush with rock ‘n roll greatness, according to the Clovis News Journal.
The plane crash was reported on page 12 of the News Journal, and there wasn’t a single reference to the Norman Petty Studio, which the News Journal now calls the closest thing Clovis has to a tourist attraction.
“Norman Petty was a very private person and he didn’t like flaunting his music success to anybody,” David Bigham, a singer who worked with both Petty and Holly, told the News Journal. “Of course the people who came here to record were not from Clovis. And all of the recordings were done at night. So really, the citizens of Clovis had no idea what was going on out there.”
What was going on, quietly, for more than a decade was the production of some of the nation’s most popular songs, including No. 1 hits like “Party Doll” by Buddy Knox, “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs and “That’ll Be the Day” by Holly, the News Journal said.
Holly and Petty produced six Top 40 hits in all — “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby,” “Rave On” and “Think It Over” — at the Petty studios in 1957 and 1958, leading to the 11-day tour across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa that cost Holly, his fellow musicians and the pilot their lives, the paper reported.