Maria Elena Holly was a newlywed and mother-to-be when husband Buddy Holly's plane crashed in Iowa 50 years ago. Now, she returns to the venue where Buddy staged his last concert and takes time to answer a wide range of questions about the legacy of her husband's music and the circumstances leading up to when the music died.
Q: What do these reunions mean to you?
A: This, of course, being a special date, celebrating Buddy's music, that's what I'm here for. Well, I actually have a bittersweet feeling because, of course, you can't stop thinking this is where it happened. But when I come in and see all the fans that are here, 2,000 people at the Surf, dancing and enjoying themselves, so that erases from my mind that this is where this happened. Actually, this is how I feel even though like I said this is something, you can't escape. I erase it from my mind when I see all these people having all this fun and listening to buddy's music. Also they're paying tribute to Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. I don't think about it and I don't like to talk about it in the sense of how it happened. Unfortunately, some of the papers, I don't understand why, they have to splash, that's one thing I'm disappointed that they put on big page how this crash (happened) They pinpoint with arrows where the bodies lay. It's macabre. It's not necessary. To mention it is fine. Some of the newspapers, I don't even look at.
Q: So you erase it from your mind and it becomes a happy event for you.
A. Absolutely. I don't talk about that. The fans, they don't mention it at all. All they do is dance and be happy about this. This is tribute to Buddy's music, to Ritchie and the Big Bopper.
Q: What has Buddy's music meant to rock and roll? It certainly has lasted a long time.
A: Actually, as a matter of fact, that is one of the things I do remember distinctly when Buddy was composing, especially the ones he did at the apartment where we lived in New York. I said, 'Buddy, you constantly write and no two songs are alike, And he said, 'You know, Maria Elena, I write this music for the people to enjoy it, to make them happy. So that's my idea when I'm writing, also, of course, for my own satisfaction.' Because he was very protective of his music. Buddy was a laid back person but when it came to his music and if anybody wanted to change it when they were recording, he said 'No, No, no. This is the way I want it, we try my way first and if you really still think it's not good enough then I might listen to what you have to say.'
Q: So he had a strong personality with his music?
A: Oh yeah, very strong. I even say stubborn (laughs), a very stubborn individual when it comes to his music. Also, one thing with his music, no two songs were alike. A lot of the other musicians who recorded his songs they always say, 'you know Buddy's music is so adaptable. We take it and we make it our own.' Also, they have become million sellers for them. Linda Ronstadt who recorded three songs and the Rolling Stones open their shows with "Not Fade Away." Aside from that fact, what he really wanted was for his music to be liked and enjoyed and 50 years later it is still fresh. It is music that will continue. After 50 years, you hear the fans say, 'Oh, this music will never die.' That's what Don McLean's song said. It's not that he meant the music will die. It's just that when he heard the news, that's what he felt, he thought 'oh my God.' He wrote it at the precise moment when he heard the news. That's how he felt. Buddy died and his music died with him in his heart. But looked what happened after 50 years, it's still going. Everybody, the fans say, 'we keep playing but it's like hearing it for the first time.' The other thing I've heard from the fans is that they have their children, a new generation coming up, that they have introduced to their children, Buddy's music. It has continued with a new generation. You can see at the Surf, they bring their children and you see them dancing to Buddy's music. I see 5 year olds there, 10 year olds, who are dancing with their parents.
Q: That must make you so happy to see that.
A: Yes. That is really my consolation for losing Buddy at such a tender age. We were married just six months when this happened. Unfortunately, I couldn't be there, otherwise he would have never done that, take a plane because I was deathly afraid of small planes and especially with the weather, that would have been a no no for me. But he didn't tell me when he called. Everybody was sick on the bus, the bus was breaking down. As a matter of fact, one of the members of Buddy's band, (drummer) Carl Bunch, got frostbite and you know what, he's here (in Clear Lake.)
Q: He has been ill, hasn't he?
A. Oh yes, he's blind. He's been here every day. He's enjoying it. People come to him. When I saw him, it broke my heart because he stayed with us before Buddy left for that tour. He stayed with us in our one bedroom apartment in New York. We had a couch, Waylon (Jennings) took that one because he was the tallest and then Carl Bunch came. They all left together. I made Buddy's suitcase, I prepared mine at the same time because I always went with him all the time wherever on those small tours. But he was broke with Norman Petty way before we even met. I was always with him (on the road) but I was pregnant and not feeling well. He said, 'Honey it's just going to be two weeks I don't want you to get sick and lose our baby.' Still I had my suit cases all beside the door, and up to this day, I say to myself, 'My God. I should have put my foot down and follow him there because I know as a fact, he would have never, never (have taken the plane), I would have taken over and found new transportation. But that's what he did. He was just trying to get ahead of the tour and find better transportation for everybody.
Q: So he was thinking of the others?
A. Yes, there are a lot of stories you know that he took the laundry, the dirty laundry. Of course, he had to take his suit case. The real reason was he felt he could get better transportation to the next venue. We always had a conversation when he got to the venues. And he called me, and the last one was when he called me from the Surf. He would always call me and say, 'I'm here and we're going now to do the show.' We would talk about this and that. But he did not tell me his intentions of getting a plane and going. He always said to me, 'when I get to the next one, I'll give you a call.' I said, 'make sure you do so I know you got there safe.' Of course, that was the conversation we had at the Surf and then I never heard from him again. I wondered what happened, maybe they're delayed, getting there because they were traveling by bus. But the real truth was that's when he had the accident and he didn't get to the next one.
Q: When you say he thought he could get better transportation, are you talking about better buses?
A: Yes. Because they were traveling by bus and the bus was constantly breaking down. I mean they were cold, everybody got sick. Like I said, frostbite, Carl Bunch, in the hospital ... Buddy was always taking charge because he felt 'I'll do this.' But unfortunately the only way to get ahead was taking that plane and I don't know how this gentleman who owned the airplane company even thought of letting them ago. It was a very stormy day. And then the pilot they were able to get was Peterson and he was a young man and he didn't know how to fly by instruments, and that's another thing for a long time, even to this day, the gentleman how could he possibly knowing the weather conditions would let a plane go out.
Q. So you're talking about Mr. Dwyer, right?
A: Mr. Dwyer, right.
Q: I guess one more question I have is do you blame anybody for the crash, have you made peace?
A: You know. Well, No. I just told you about Mr. Dwyer. That's the person that I really, really feel, of course, I always say when the man upstairs says you're coming with me, you're coming with me, but at the same time, I feel some sort of bitterness up to this day with Mr. Dwyer because he knew the weather conditions. He could've said, 'Buddy, this not the time for me to let you fly out. No, he did not say that, he just went ahead and said, 'sure.' I still blame him. I can't forget that. He owned the company and he certainly knew how to fly himself, and then to pick out someone who was not that knowledgeble about flying by instruments and that's what really caused the problem, he thought he was going up but he wasn't because he could not see. That's the only thing I still remember more than anything else. And of course, sometimes I even blame myself for not even insisting to come (along,) even though I wasn't feeling well.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482