Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bill Mack’s Entertainment Beat: a memorable February from 1959

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly

The month of February delivers memories of an incident that will always ring a sad note in my life.

In 1958, I had moved to Lubbock, Texas where I was hired as a disk jockey at radio station KDAV, owned by my old friend "Pappy" Dave Stone. Listeners referred to the station as K-Dave. Dave had heard I might be interested in making a move from KWFT in Wichita Falls, since that station was under a new management group and I wasn't happy with their outdated approach to the radio game. He telephoned me and, to quote the "Godfather," made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Although the salary wouldn't be much more than I was making in Wichita Falls, Dave was providing me with a house and a few other benefits that I thought would make the move beneficial. Within a couple of weeks, I was in Lubbock with my wife and baby daughter.

Although we had not seen the house Dave had made available to us, it was a nice one, set in a very good neighborhood. As I was watching the workers with the moving van unload our furniture, a very tall man approached me. He gave me his name, shook my hand, and welcomed me to the neighborhood. He said, "My wife and I are big fans of yours. We made it a point to listen to your radio programs out of Wichita Falls almost every day." I thanked him for the kind words, but my attention was still on the guys hauling the furniture into our house. The neighbor continued the one-sided bit of conversation with, "My wife and I would like to have you and your family join us for supper tonight. We realize you must be a bit tired from all of this moving business. It won't be anything fancy, but it'll be a home-cooked meal by a lady who knows how to bake the biscuits." He followed this statement with a gentle laugh. I informed him that I really appreciated his kindness, and that I'd check things out with my wife and let him know. He grabbed my attention with the words: "We also listen to K-Dave most of the day. Our son used to do some singing on that radio station. He's also in the pickin' and singin' business. Does some song writing, too."

Immediately, I thought, "Oh, no! I'm living next door to people who have a kid who sings and writes song. He'll be over to our house every day, wanting me to hear him sing his latest musical creation." I was about to inform the stranger that we wouldn't be able to take him up on his offer of a free meal when my wife stepped into the scene. I made a feeble attempt at introducing her to the singer/songwriter's father. I said, "I want you to meet my wife, but I'm afraid I've forgotten your name."

The gentleman smiled, extended his hand toward my wife, and said, "My name is Lawrence.  My wife and I live one house down the street from you. Welcome to our neighborhood.  I just told Bill, here, that we'd like to have you folks over to our house for supper when you get your furniture unloaded."

My wife was very cordial in responding with, "That's very nice of you, Mr. Lawrence."

He gently patted her hand and added, "Lawrence is my first name. My last name is 'Holley'."

Finally, I became interested in what the kind man was saying. "Any relation to Buddy Holly? I know he lives here in Lubbock."

He replied, "Buddy is our son. He's living in New York now."

Of course, this presented a completely new approach to the subject. Although I had never met Buddy Holly, I was well aware of the fact that he was one of the hottest names in the so-called "rock-a-billy" music scene with such hits as "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be The Day" ...a song inspired by John Wayne's character in the 1956 film, "The Searchers" ("That'll be th' day, Pilgrim!"). Now, I was relieved of any thoughts that Mr. Holley's son would be knocking on our door to hear his latest musical works. All I had to do was turn on the radio!

Lawrence and Ella Holley were to become very good friends of ours.  

My job at KDAV was okay, although it was over-filled with commercials.  Waylon Jennings and Arlie ("Y'all Come") Duff were also spinning the 45 rpm records at KDAV while I was on the payroll.

On February 3, 1959, the program-director, Wes Youngblood, ran into the control room with a printed bulletin for me to read while I was doing my mid-day show. "It's urgent! Get it on, quick!" He shouted. I faded the music, opened my microphone and announced, "I've just been handed this bulletin: Singers Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens have all died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Stay tuned to KDAV for more details."

 Immediately, I thought of Mr. and Mrs. Holley (Buddy removed the "e" from his last name, thinking "Holly" would be easier to utilize as a professional). Within a couple of minutes, Wes returned to the control room and said, "You're not going to believe this. Mrs. Holley just called the station to check on that bulletin! Buddy's mother and dad had not been informed of his death. They heard about it on your show."

 I jumped up from my chair in the control room and informed Wes that he would have to finish my show. I needed to visit the Holleys.

When I arrived at the Holley home, the place was crowded with various media reps, relatives and neighbors. I felt like a villain, since Buddy's parents had received the tragic news from my radio show. I was told that Mrs. Holley was ironing a shirt when she heard my announcement that her son had died. Reportedly, she was so shocked that she finished ironing the shirt before she realized what I had said. She called KDAV for confirmation that her Buddy had been killed.

As I was standing near the entrance inside of the overcrowded house, I noticed Mr. Holley slowly approaching me from the back of the room where he had been trying to console his screaming wife. I was prepared for anything he might say to me about my "bulletin." His eyes were filled with tears as he put his long arms around me, hugged me tightly and sobbed, "I know this has to be hard on you, Bill." Then, he released a weeping cough and added:  "Ella and me know you love us. You were just...doing your job."

February 3 will always bring sad memories to me.


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