The Day the Music Came Alive
Many moons ago, Greg Wilkes was introduced to Buddy Holly’s music as a young boy growing up in Australia. And like Buddy, who shared the love of music with his brothers, Wilkes vividly remembers the day his older brother let him listen to a rock ‘n’ roll record from the good ol’ U-S of A. It took all but one riff of Buddy’s guitar for Wilkes to become a lifetime fan. His admiration for Buddy and rock ‘n’ roll music continues today and inspired a road trip through the United States that led him to Clear Lake, Iowa. It was in Iowa, fifteen years ago, where he and his wife paid their respects at the site of the crash that killed Buddy and two other up-and-coming artists, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Over a decade later, he knew he needed to come to Lubbock and that’s where our story begins.
After months of planning and emails that were shared across the globe, I picked Greg up at the airport on the morning of July 11. With only six hours to complete an entire trip around the “Hub City” our first stop on our journey began inside the halls of Lubbock High.
Ricky Woody, the assistant principal at Lubbock High School welcomed us with open arms. Once we were inside, the history in the walls and tiles beneath our feet practically spoke to us. We visited the auditorium that had rows of original wooden seats and walked through the same halls that Buddy had as a bright-eyed young teen. While the tour was limited to only a few things, the near century old floors led us to one of Buddy’s old classrooms and ultimately to a glass case that holds many of his memories. The school was a treat, yet only a small piece of what was left of the day.
It wasn’t until we got to the Buddy Holly Center where the real fun began. As we walked through the main exhibit hall, the immediate connection you feel with Buddy is nothing short of astounding. Many of his personal belongings, some going back to his days of sketching horses or etching his name into a leather belt, made it clear that he showed flashes of brilliance from a young age. Step-by-step, we marveled at the pieces that chronicled his life and a career that was cut too short. I watched as Greg lingered around Buddy’s famed Fender Stratocaster. This was the very guitar that he played during his last performance at the Surf Ballroom. Although photos aren’t allowed inside the gallery, we both took mental notes of everything we saw and used that to fuel the conversation at the lunch table once we left the exhibit.
Inside Triple J’s Chophouse, we met local writer, Johnny Hughes. Hughes has authored many books related to West Texas, but more importantly, he had personal ties to Buddy. We were held captive as we listened to Hughes describe Buddy as a young man who was full of life and was one of the nicest people he had ever met. Even at the poker table, Hughes admitted, Buddy was a class act.
“He never played for more than fifty cents back then.”
After getting our fill of good food and good conversation, we wished Mr. Hughes a great afternoon and set out on the final leg of the journey.
With only two hours until his plane took off, we made one quick stop at the Buddy Holly statue and the West Texas Walk of Fame before making our way to Buddy’s final resting place. With a faint hint of hesitation, Greg stood silently over the grave plaque that was marked with the name of Lubbock’s son. From his wallet, like many people do, he pulled out a guitar pick with a drawing of Australia on it, and placed it gently over his grave. At that moment, the man who had fallen in love with Buddy’s sound as a young boy in Australia had completed a lifelong wish.
Not much was said as we gathered our thoughts and paid tribute to one of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest pioneers. Once we left Buddy’s final resting place, we revisited our short but surprisingly efficient day in Lubbock. Despite having only six short hours to check this trip off of his bucket list, Greg left with a new appreciation of Lubbock and a better idea of who Buddy was. Because let’s face it, besides being a music legend and maybe one of the first hipsters, Buddy was just a regular guy. So when I asked Greg about what he enjoyed most, his answer didn’t surprise me.
“From what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from others is that Buddy was a genuinely nice person. A good man with a good soul.”
Sure, Greg wasn’t able to travel across the world to hold Buddy’s Fender Stratocaster. Nor could he clutch the notebook where Buddy put his pen to paper, but he will hold onto these memories for the rest of his life. And so will I.
For a complete look at our trip, visit us on Flickr.