Not Fade Away: Buddy Holly & the Crickets, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead

Hello there!  In this week’s blog we consider the song Not Fade Away.  This is a great early rock ‘n roll song by Buddy Holly and the Crickets.  After discussing the original song, we will review covers from the Rolling Stones and also the Grateful Dead.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets and Not Fade Away:

We earlier encountered Buddy Holly in our blog post on his song That’ll Be The Day.  Here we will briefly review his life and career.

Charles “Buddy” Holley was one of the all-time great ‘roots’ rockers.  He grew up in Lubbock, Texas where he learned to play guitar and aspired to be a musician.  Although his initial exposure was to country musicians such as Hank Williams and Bob Wills, Buddy was also drawn to the late-night stations that played blues and R&B music.

Buddy began to play various venues in the South, and gained some exposure opening for artists such as Elvis and Bill Haley and the Comets. This took him to Nashville, where he signed a record contract and produced some work in the studio.  To his surprise, the label on his first record listed the singer as “Buddy Holly,” so that became his stage name.

Unfortunately, during that period Buddy’s producers attempted to shoe-horn him into the rather restrictive country-and-western “Nashville sound.”  This turned out to be a bad fit for Buddy’s talent, and after leaving Nashville he eventually ended up in Clovis, New Mexico, where he hooked up with producer Norman Petty.

There Buddy assembled a band consisting of drummer Jerry Allison, bassist Bill Mauldin and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan.  Buddy sang vocals and played lead electric guitar.  Rock and roll followed the ‘big band’ era, so in the early days rock bands experimented with various combinations of instruments.

Below is a photo of Buddy Holly and the Crickets performing.  From L: bassist Bill Mauldin; Buddy Holly; drummer Jerry Allison.

In many ways, Buddy Holly and his band were pioneers in what became the ‘classic’ rock group lineup – two guitars, bass and drums.  The group began to record some original songs, beginning with the tune That’ll Be The Day, written by Holly and Allison.

Buddy Holly’s Nashville record contract prohibited him from releasing songs written under his Decca Records contract for five years, and That’ll Be The Day had been written during his Decca days.  As a result, the band chose to be called The Crickets, and their first song was released under that name in November, 1957.

At this point, Buddy Holly was soaking up musical ideas from many different genres.  Although country music was a major influence, Buddy was also keenly aware of new trends in rhythm & blues.  For the song Not Fade Away, the inspiration for the basic beat was the “hambone” rhythm made popular by Bo Diddley.

Here is the audio of Bo Diddley’s self-titled tune, which now forms the backbone of a staggering number of rock music songs.  The sound is so pervasive and important to rock ‘n roll that it is now called the “Bo Diddley beat.”  This is a repetitive rhythm where the stress is on the second beat in the measure.

By the way, the “Bo Diddley beat” is also reviewed in a blog post from Thom Hickey’s The Immortal Jukebox.  You can catch his take on Bo Diddley here.

In Buddy Holly’s hands, the Bo Diddley beat is applied to produce a powerful song, where a man proclaims that he will love his woman constantly, in return for her saving all her passion for him.

I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
I wanna love you night and day
You know my love will not fade away
You know my love will not fade away

The song Not Fade Away was recorded by The Crickets, and included on their 1958 album The Chirping Crickets.  Songwriting credits are assigned to Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, although it is believed that Holly wrote the entire song.

Here is the audio for The Crickets recording of Not Fade Away.  This includes video of The Crickets’ tour of Australia.

The Bo Diddley beat is really prominent here, and Buddy makes creative use of it in this record.  If you listen carefully, you can hear that Jerry Allison is pounding out the beat on a cardboard box, rather than a drum kit.  Rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan is not playing an instrument on this record, but he does appear in the backing vocals.

Not Fade Away has become a rock and roll classic.  Despite the fact that it was never released as a single, the song is listed at #107 in the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Not Fade Away has also been covered by scores of artists.  In addition to the versions that we feature, the song was also performed by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Rush, Foreigner, Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and James Taylor.

After his first big hit in November, 1957 with the song That’ll Be The Day, Buddy Holly released a stream of hits over the next two years.  It almost immediately became clear that Buddy Holly was the creative genius behind The Crickets.  The group became known as Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and soon Buddy was issuing solo albums.

As Buddy Holly’s star continued to rise, tensions arose between him and the other members of the Crickets, and between Holly and producer Norman Petty.  This was a shame, as at the beginning of their association, Holly and Petty had formed a great creative partnership, and were churning out seminal rock music songs.

Petty had success with other Southwestern pop artists, could produce a great sound in his studio, and brought many innovative ideas to his collaboration with Holly.  However, Petty controlled the royalties from Holly’s songs, and at some point Buddy and his young bride, Maria Elena Santiago, began to question whether they were being adequately compensated by Petty.

When Holly split with Petty, this left Buddy with a cash-flow problem, since Petty was holding onto Holly’s royalties.  This forced Holly back onto the road in the winter of 1959, when he set off on a “Winter Dance Party” tour.

The artists on this tour were traveling around the upper Midwest in January, 1959.  The tour buses were badly heated and also began breaking down.  In Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a private plane to take him to the next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.

The plane took off in bad weather, then crashed into a cornfield just outside Clear Lake.  The pilot, Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) were killed instantly, in a tragedy that became known as “The Day the Music Died.”

Buddy Holly’s tragic death was a tremendous setback for rock music.  He had proved to be a prolific and creative musician.  At the time of his death, Buddy was clearly moving in new directions.  He had branched out from his earlier rockabilly tunes to acoustic songs and ballads.  Holly was thinking of incorporating elements of flamenco songs into his repertoire, and he was considering collaborations with artists like Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson.

Although Buddy Holly was recording songs for just over two years, his career had a tremendous influence on the future of rock music.  Buddy Holly was an inspiration for later groups such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones – in fact, the Beatles’ choice of an insect-related band name was a shout-out to Buddy’s band The Crickets.  As a singer-songwriter, Buddy Holly set an example subsequently followed by Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards.

The Rolling Stones and Not Fade Away:

The Rolling Stones are one of our favorite rock groups.  In previous blog posts, we have reviewed their cover of the Valentinos’ It’s All Over Now here; their original song Under My Thumb here; their cover of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen here; their cover of The Temptations’ Ain’t Too Proud to Beg here; and their cover of the song Time Is On My Side here.

So in this post we will very briefly review the history and career of the Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been primary school classmates and friends until their parents moved apart.  Meeting up again when they were both in college, they realized that they shared an interest in blues and rock music.

They formed a group that initially focused on American blues classics.  After a few early personnel changes, the group settled on a quintet with Jagger on lead vocals, Richards and Brian Jones on guitar, Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums.

The photo below shows the Rolling Stones in one of those vintage English road cars.  Back row, L to R: Brian Jones; Bill Wyman; Charlie Watts; Keith Richards.  Front: Mick Jagger.

The Rolling Stones first gained fame as leaders of a British blues revival, covering American blues standards by artists such as Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

The Stones have been prolific, long-lived and exceptionally creative. Original member Ian Stewart was jettisoned in 1963, and Brian Jones was forced out in 1969 and died shortly afterwards; however, the remaining four Stones continued on until Wyman left the group in 1993.  Founding members Jagger, Richards and Watts still play with The Stones today.

Lest we forget, the cult status of both “Elvis” popularity and “Beatlemania” were nearly unique occurrences in pop music.  However, the Rolling Stones also generated intense interest from their fans, as evidenced by this group who gathered to welcome the Stones in New York during a U.S. tour in June, 1964.

The song Not Fade Away was a natural for the Rolling Stones, given their keen knowledge of the American rhythm & blues scene.  The Stones covered the song very early in their career, going into the studio to record it in January 1964.

The song became the Stones’ first big U.K. hit, rising up to #3 on the British pop charts.  The song was also the first single released by the Rolling Stones in the U.S.  The B side of this single was I Wanna Be Your Man, which had been written for the Stones by Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

In September 1963, Lennon and McCartney stopped by to visit their buddies Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  The two Beatles wrote I Wanna Be Your Man on the spot and presented it to Jagger & Richards.

Since this song-writing effort had taken Lennon & McCartney less than half an hour, Jagger and Richards were most impressed, and figured that perhaps they should also try their hand at crafting pop songs – and the rest is history.

The song Not Fade Away did not fare nearly as well in the U.S. as it had in Britain – the song peaked at #48 in the Billboard pop charts.  Nevertheless, the Rolling Stones rapidly gained a fervent legion of fans in the States.

Not Fade Away was for many years a staple in Rolling Stones concerts.  At many concerts the group used it as their opening number.

Here are the Rolling Stones in 1965, performing Not Fade Away on the Dean Martin Show.  This song features Keith on guitar, Brian Jones on harmonica, and Mick on vocals and maracas.

Note Martin’s snide and dismissive introductory remarks upon introducing the Stones.  “And now, something for the youngsters.  Five singing boys from England, who’ve sold a lot of Valium … uh, albums … I don’t know what they’re singin’ about, but here they are.”

Brave words from Mr. Martin, a moderately talented crooner and alcoholic who became the straight man in a comedy act alongside Jerry Lewis, and who was one of the founding members of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

Martin’s comments are typical of a prevailing opinion at the time, that rock and roll was merely music of little value, produced by talentless musicians.  Frank Sinatra himself described rock music as “the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.”

One could discount Dean Martin’s comments on the basis that he was likely pickled when he made those remarks.  But Frank should have known better, since similar criticism had been directed at Sinatra earlier in his career, when in the 1940s he became the idol of young women “bobby-soxer” fans.  Alas, Sinatra’s statement was par for the course among many music critics, in the early days of rock and roll.

Of course, the Rolling Stones have had the last laugh.  Here it is 2016, and the Stones are still touring after more than 50 years performing as a band.  It is astonishing that the group can still belt out their classic songs.  Nevertheless, we hope that the Stones continue to crank out their music as long as possible.

The Grateful Dead and Not Fade Away:

We have previously covered the Grateful Dead in our blog post on their cover of the song Good Loving.  We subsequently also discussed their cover of the song Stir It Up.  So here we will briefly review the history of the Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead were a Bay Area band who eventually turned into a legendary group.  In the mid-60s, the band materialized from a number of musicians who had played folk music with groups such as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions.  Their original name was The Warlocks, but the band changed its name when they discovered that an East Coast group had also adopted that title.

Below is a photo of an early Grateful Dead performance, from an Aug. 1967 concert in Ann Arbor, MI.  From L: Pigpen McKernan, Bill Kreutzmann, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir.  Note that this is a much leaner version of Jerry Garcia.

More or less immediately after they adopted their name the Grateful Dead in December, 1965, the group began performing at psychedelic fairs on the West Coast.  Early on, the Dead were notable residents of the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, until the atmosphere in that area became less laid back and more of a hassle, at which time the group members relocated to Marin County.

Early on, the Dead teamed up with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, who took their bus “Furthur,” their music and their LSD-manufacturing operation all the way across the U.S.  Along the way, the Dead took part in both the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969.

For most bands, the litmus test of success was to produce single records that cracked the Billboard Top 40 pop charts.  The Grateful Dead only ever had a single song make it into the top 50, and that was very late in the band’s career.  However, that didn’t stop the Dead from selling over 35 million albums and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

The Grateful Dead’s most famous musician was lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who shared lead vocal duties with fellow founding member Bob Weir.  Garcia was also an excellent banjo and steel guitar player, and from time to time in his early career moonlighted on those instruments with various West Coast folk and bluegrass combos.

However, Jerry was quick to point out that he was merely one member of the Dead ensemble.  From their founding in 1965 until Garcia’s death in 1995, the Dead were more or less permanently touring.

The song Not Fade Away was a great favorite of the Grateful Dead; it is estimated that they played the song at more than 500 different shows.  This particular performance takes place at Alpine Valley Music Theater in 1989.

Jerry Garcia transitions directly from the preceding song to the opening chords for Not Fade Away.  Jerry, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and keyboardist Brett Mydland share the vocals.  Right from the start, it is clear that we are in for an extended Dead jam.

Jerry works away on lead guitar while Brett Mydland chimes in on keyboards.  You can hear Phil Lesh’s bass galloping along as well.  And both of the Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann are thumping away, helping to maintain the Bo Diddley beat.

The ensemble shares the music, primarily between lead guitar and keyboards, for a substantial time.  Every now and then, the band returns to the vocals.  Note that, at the end of the piece, the song quite literally “just fades away.”  The band members begin repeating “not fade away,” but more and more softly.

In the last minute of the song, the audience sings “not fade away” repeatedly, while by this point the band have stopped playing altogether.

We’ll conclude with some more history of the Grateful Dead.

The group is believed to have given more than 2,300 concerts – or perhaps more precisely, jam sessions.  The Dead generally did not prepare a set list for any given concert, preferring instead to pick songs on the spot from a playlist that usually contained about 100 songs.  During their life span, the Grateful Dead played over 500 different songs at their various performances.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Grateful Dead was their relationship to their fans, or Deadheads.  It was not unusual for Deadheads to follow the band on concerts from town to town – since each concert was a unique live jam, Deadheads would have a different experience in each venue.

Whereas most bands took extreme measures to prevent fans from recording their concerts, the Dead had exactly the opposite impulse: they actively welcomed Deadheads taping their shows.  They even allowed several fans to tap into the Dead’s own soundboards.

The net result was that the Deadheads began to resemble more a gigantic extended commune than the ‘normal’ followers of musical groups.  Deadheads were an exceptionally eclectic lot, ranging from 60s-era hippies to professional athletes, from panhandlers to distinguished scientists.

The constant touring, coupled with the almost inconceivable quantities of drugs ingested by the Dead band members over the years, took its toll on the band.  Three separate keyboards players for the Dead passed away (Pigpen McKernan in 1973, Keith Godchaux in 1980 and Brent Mydland in 1990).  And Phil Lesh had a liver transplant in 1998.

Jerry Garcia experienced a variety of health problems, largely as a result of addiction issues, compounded by the band’s nearly incessant touring.  As he struggled with his dependence on cocaine and heroin, Garcia gained a great deal of weight, and became easily fatigued.

In 1985, members of the Dead held an intervention and forced Garcia to enter rehab.  Although he came out clean and sober, he proceeded to relapse on several occasions thereafter.  Over the next decade Garcia cycled through periods of sobriety and energetic good health, followed by down cycles where his physical and mental abilities would decline, and he would return to using narcotics.

In summer 1995, Jerry Garcia checked into a rehab clinic.  On Aug. 8, 1995, he was found dead in his room of a heart attack, at age 53.  His heart condition was exacerbated by a long history of drug addiction, diabetes, heavy smoking, and sleep apnea.

Jerry Garcia’s death marked the end of an era.  Although it was not possible to re-create the atmosphere of the band with Jerry at the helm, members of the Grateful Dead continued on in various combinations, for example, Furthur, The Dead, and Phil Lesh & Friends.

A final “Fare Thee Well” concert was held in July, 2015 in Chicago, and live-broadcast around the world.  However, that was not really the end after all, as a new group called Dead and Company is currently touring.  This group includes former Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, together with John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge.

So, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead are apparently keeping on truckin’, continuing their long, strange trip.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Not Fade Away (song)
Wikipedia, Buddy Holly
Wikipedia, The Rolling Stones
Wikipedia, The Grateful Dead

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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3 Responses to Not Fade Away: Buddy Holly & the Crickets, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead

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