Buddy Holly’s Greenwich Village

Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holley) was born on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. He was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and producer who was one of the pioneers of Rock and Roll as it emerged in the 1950’s. His impact on music and musicians resonates to this day, and those who cite him as a direct influence include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. He was one of the first inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, alongside Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

Less well known, at the end of his life, Holly was also a resident of Greenwich Village. During his brief time here and prior to his tragic death in February of 1959, Holly would write and record in his Greenwich Village apartment his famous last recordings, the ‘apartment tapes.’

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Shortly after parting ways with his band The Crickets, Buddy Holly and his wife Maria Elena Santiago moved from Lubbock, Texas to New York City in October of 1958, seeking a fresh start and the chance to be part of the New York City music scene. They found an apartment in the then-recently built Brevoort at 11 Fifth Avenue, Apartment 4H. Greenwich Village at that time was precisely the type of environment the Hollys were seeking. Here they found one which encouraged creativity and eschewed middle-class mores, particularly those that frowned upon cross-ethnic marriages such as the Hollys’.

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Maria Elena, in a 1993 interview, described the young couple’s time in the Village. They were night owls who took to wandering their new Bohemian neighborhood, frequenting coffeehouses and listening to poetry readings and folk singers. Buddy was a big fan of jazz and the Five Spot, the Half Note, the Village Gate and the Village Vanguard were among his haunts. Many mornings, Buddy would take Maria Elena and his Gibson guitar to the fountain at Washington Square Park. Wearing dark sunglasses so as to not be recognized, he would play with young musicians there and give them pointers. The Holly apartment served as a stopover for fellow musician friends such as Phil Everly and Waylon Jennings.

Maria Elena, Buddy, an unidentified woman and Phil Everly at El Chico, 82 Grove Street. Source

In December 1958 and January 1959, before he went on his Winter Dance Party Tour (during which he would tragically die in a plane crash), Buddy wrote and recorded on his Ampex home tape recorder in the apartment a series of songs including ‘That Makes it Tough,’ ‘The Learning Game,’ ‘Crying, Wating, Hoping,’ and most famously ‘Peggy Sue Got Married.’ Jonathan Cott of Rolling Stone magazine had this to say of ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ years later:

With Peggy Sue, he created the first rock-‘n’-roll folk heroine…In ‘Peggy Sue Got Married,’ he continues his complicit arrangement with his listeners, half-pleading with them, and with himself, not to reveal something which he himself must hesitatingly disclose…He has become one of this own listeners as Peggy Sue vanishes, like Humbert Humbert’s Lolita, into the mythology of American Romance.

Songlist from the ‘apartment tapes’

Also on the plane on that fateful day in February of 1959 was Ritchie Valens and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson.  That tragic event was of course memorialized by Don McLean’s ‘American Pie.’

Buddy Holly memorial at the crash site in Clear Lake, Iowa. www.roadsideamerica.com

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2 comments on “Buddy Holly’s Greenwich Village
  1. Sarah Bean Apmann Andy Schwartz says:

    Thank you for this informative and well-written post.
    One correction: “Buddy was a big fan of jazz and the Five Note, the Half Note, the Village Gate and the Village Vanguard were among his haunts.”
    The club was called the Five Spot, not the “Five Note” (apparently a typo).

  2. Thank you for covering this important and often overlooked segment of American popular music history. The songs that Holly began composing during his time in the Village – influenced by the vibrant Village music mix of blues, jazz and folk – would have surely gone on the revolutionize the music industry a few years before the Greenwich Village singer/songwriter explosion that was soon to happen.

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