JP McDERMOTT and BUDDY HOLLY
Me and Buddy
If you know me, you know I love Buddy Holly’s music. There are so many great songs, filled with so much joy, and every one of them gets you right where you want to be gotten. This is one of the main reasons I play music.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about Buddy’s life and music, and I try to share it whenever I get the chance I’ve even spoken about“The Day The Music Died” at The Smithsonian Institution. One of the highlights of my life was playing the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas on what would have been Buddy’s 75th birthday. (I got to meet Buddy’s brothers, his early singing parter Jack Neal, and the real-live Peggy Sue among many other great memories).
At some point I have played almost all of the 100 or so songs that Buddy recorded. I love diving deep into the history of the music, and the stories behind it, and have some thoughts of my own on them, informed by a lot of listening, a lot of reading, and a lot of playing & performance. With the help of Tom Almanzar at West Coast Ramble I've been making a series of videos about this great music. One of the is featured at the right, the rest can be found on my YouTube channel.
It Goes Way Back...
I came to be interested in Buddy Holly through a very fortunate misunderstanding. Growing up in the Washington, DC area in the 1970's I was exposed to a lot of fifties music. There was a bit of a revival going on. One of my favorite songs was "Run Around Sue". Browsing through some re-issue 45's in a local store, I happened on "Peggy Sue", confusing it with the other record. When I took it home and listened to it, I was surprised, but I was hooked. I've been a devoted fan ever since.
In college I played in a new wave band, but always managed to get in a few Buddy Holly songs. I was playing a show at a little dive bar (The Gentry) in Washington DC one night in early February 1982 when it occurred to me that it was the anniversary of the plane crash. I stopped the set, and we played the only 3 Buddy songs we (barely) knew -- "Oh Boy", "Maybe Baby", and "Slippin' and Slidin'". That planted an idea that would grow over time.
Soon after I stopped playing in bands for a while -- marriage, job, kids, etc. But I kept playing guitar in the living room, and kept listening to Buddy's music. Around the turn of the century I really got the itch to play live again, and started up a band. What to call it? Western Bop, of course, after Buddy's early business card advertising both kinds of music -- "Western and Bop".
Once I got established with the new band, I decided to do a proper celebration of Buddy's remarkable life and music. I gathered about 9 local bands and singers that first year (2002) and played all Buddy all night (with the exception of a couple of Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens numbers). Each year the show got bigger and bigger. The 50th anniversary was remarkable -- a huge turnout at a big club, followed by a really fantastic event -- giving a lecture/concert about Buddy, his life, and musical legacy at the Smithsonian Institution!
Over the years I have gotten so much joy out of playing this great music. We play pretty much everything Buddy ever recorded, from "I Guess That I Was Just A Fool" all the way through to the Apartment Tapes. There is just so much music, of such high quality, recorded so well, and with such variety that it never grows old. I'm sure I'll be playing it as long as I live, and hopefully keeping it alive and fresh so that people hear it, and get interested, and learn more for themselves.
Review of the 2011 Birthday show from “Now Dig This” Issue #344
BUDDY HOLLY 75TH BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE
Chick Hall's Surf Club, Bladensburg, Maryland, September 10th 2011
Following his success at the Buddy Holly 75th Birthday Bash in Lubbock on September 7th (Holly's birthday), J.P. McDermott organized and hosted his tenth Buddy Holly tribute at Chick Hall's Surf Club three days later. The Surf Club (which is slightly closer to the sea than its namesake in Clear Lake, Iowa) is just outside Washington, DC, in Bladensburg, and is known as the last of the Maryland honky-tonks". Five local rockabilly bands (who share a lot of the same personnel) were on the bill, and between them they played more than half of the Buddy Holly songbook (I counted 41 songs).
J.P. McDermott & Western Bop were on stage for the majority of the evening, and Hangover Royale, Dave Kitchen & Andy Rutherford, The Spectacles and The Jelly Roll Mortals each performed five or six numbers. There were the occasional softer songs, including a couple from the 'string sessions', but mostly it was hard-driving take-no-prisoners rockabilly. None of the outfits are 'oldies' bands or 'tribute' bands - they all take their music seriously and play their music in the way that would have made Buddy proud. And what really added to the evening were the remarks from J.P., reporting on his experiences in Lubbock (where he played two sets with The Prophets of Rockabilly, met Travis and Larry Holley, Peggy Sue, the Tolletts and Jack Neal, and visited Norman Petty's studio in Clovis).
The bands played songs from all periods of Holly's all-too-brief career. The Hangover Royales, with the Australian Angus Mackay on string bass and vocals, gave us 'Gotta Get You Near Me Blues', one of Holly's first recordings with Bob Montgomery and a song that I don't think I have ever heard performed live. J.P. gave us a couple of the Clovis, pre-'That'lI Be The Day' tracks - 'Rock-a-Bye Rock' (a song that always sounds as though Holly never quite finished it) and 'Baby Won't You Come Out Tonight'. As you would expect, many of the classic Nashville tracks were featured: Dave Kitchen - who has the perfect lean, bespectacled look - and Andy Rutherford did a great version of 'Midnight Shift' (I've often wondered why Holly ever thought he would have a hit with a song about a hooker!). Before performing the Ben Hall composition, J.P. reminded us that Holly used to tell people down in west Texas that 'Blue Days - Black Nights' was "a big hit in Washington, DC", knowing that no one would ever be able to confirm or deny the claim!
All of the Clovis hit recordings, and every one of the so-called 'B'-sides ('Take Your Time', 'Lonesome Tears', 'Fools Paradise', etc.) were very well received by the crowd, most of whom were dancing, and it was interesting to see that everyone seemed to be mouthing all of the lyrics - so deeply engrained in our DNA have these songs become. Western Bop featured local pianist Eric Meany on 'Little Baby' - another song that I don't think I've heard performed live before. This version was harder and heavier than the light-fingered original - a real piledriver in fact.
For several numbers J.P. brought members of The Jelly Roll Mortals on stage to add backing vocals, and on these selections they came very close to the Holly / Crickets / Picks / Roses sound - their version of 'Tell Me How', for example, was absolutely spot-on. Chris Watling blew his sax on a couple of tracks - 'Modern Don Juan' (J.P. mentioned that its co-composer, Jack Neal, had congratulated him on his performance of the song when he performed it earlier in the week in Lubbock) and 'Reminiscing' (a Holly / King Curtis experiment that l've always felt didn't quite work).
It is interesting that the final Holly apartment compositions have now become so much a part of any Buddy Holly tribute. J.P. performed three of them with just his guitar (they got a great response from the audience), and Dave Kitchen & Andy Rutherford performed hard, rockabilly versions of 'Peggy Sue Got Married' and 'Crying, Waiting, Hoping'. It was also good to hear J.R and Western Bop's versions of the two demos Holly wrote for The Everly Brothers ('Wishing' and the classic 'Love's Made a Fool of You'). J.P. mentioned that Phil Everly had spoken at the placement of the Holly star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame on September 7th. The evening ended at 1:00 am, and what was amazing was that the audience was still there, despite the fact that it was a 'dry' evening (the club had recently lost its liquor license). Western Bop finished with the song that both J.P. and I consider the greatest single ever recorded - 'Rave On' - and a cry of "Thank you, Buddy!"
For those of you who couldn't be there, some of the highlights of the evening can be heard on J.P. McDermott & Western Bop's latest CD, 'It's Not Too Late - Nearly Forgotten Buddy Holly Songs' (we'll ignore the fact that none of these songs have ever been forgotten by us hardcore fans!). The CD includes a dozen tracks, ranging from the early Clovis days - I Guess I Was Just A Fool' - through to a couple of the 'apartment' tracks - 'Dearest' and 'That Makes It Tough' (these feature just J.P. and his guitar). The collection also has some perfect early rockabilly - 'I'm Gonna Set My Foot Right Down' - and a wonderful macho strut through 'Ting-A-Ling'. Featured consistently is brilliant guitar-playing from DC legend Bob Newscaster (the other legendary DC guitarists were, of course, Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan). Backing vocals are included on some tracks - 'Tell Me How' (always a huge hit on stage) is just perfect, and the chorus on 'It's Too Late' is much more restrained than on the overdone original (which managed to smother Holly's vocal and guitar). 'Lonesome Tears' is performed without back-up vocals, which is how it should be. The stand-out track is the opener, 'You're The One'. Instead of the sparse improvised backing on Holly's original (which was of course never intended for release), J.P. has given it the full treatment - a great Holly-style guitar solo from Newscaster and some just perfect 'Oh Boy'-style backing vocals. At the tribute, J.P. mentioned that as he was driving to the old KDAV studio (where Holly recorded 'You're The One') he turned on the radio and heard his version of the song booming out! You can hear snippets of each track at www.westernbop.com, but buy the whole thing since I know you won't be disappointed!
(Colin Davies has a weekly radio show that can be heard through his website www.theprofessorrocks.com)
Buddy Holly Bibliography
Here is a list of reliable sources of information about Buddy Holly. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, just the books that I go to most frequently to get the facts. I'm not sure any of these are still in print, so you might have to hunt them down...
Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly by John Goldrosen and John Beecher
This is the gold standard. If you only have one Buddy Holly book, this is the one. It's well-written and detailed, with meticulous research from the primary sources. Appendices include a thorough sessionography and discography. I have the latest edition, last updated more than 20 years ago. If a new edition came out today, I'd snap it right up.
Rave On! by Philip Norman
The most readable of all the Holly biographies, and probably the easiest to obtain. Some of the writing is a little salacious, looking for whiffs of scandal here and there, but the outlines of Buddy's life are pretty well covered. Be aware that Norman Petty doesn't come out looking very good in this one.
The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the "Big Bopper" and Ritchie Valens by Larry Lehmer
One of the very best music books I've ever read. The author paints an incredible picture of the pains and pleasures of the Winter Dance Party tour. Equal time is spent with Buddy, the Bopper, and Ritchie, covering their lives and careers up to the time of the tour. There is a thorough discussion of the crash and the investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and of the aftermath of the crash. Well written and fascinating.
Buddy Holly Day-by-Day by Bill Griggs
If not for Bill Griggs we might know very little about the actual facts about Buddy. Bill spent much of his life thoroughly documenting Buddy's life. This five-volume series, long out of print, contains more than 1800 dated entries, with minute details about contracts, receipts, fan mail, daily life, traffic tickets, you name it. Not for the casual fan; it's really for the truly fanatical.
The A-Z of Buddy Holly by Alan Mann
A quirky and fun book. 218 pages of alphabetical entries about all things Buddy Holly, some fairly tangential. You can look up song titles, people, places, etc., and get a paragraph or two of information. It's a nicely arranged companion to some of the more detailed books.
I've had good luck finding used books on abebooks.com -- this is one-stop-shopping for small bookstores from all over the U.S. and the U.K. -- it's easier to find Buddy Holly stuff in England than anywhere else.