The "Chirping Crickets" Is Rock'n'Roll's DNA

When The Crickets' "That'll Be the Day" exploded on the radio in 1957 and the absolutely geeky looking 21 year old Buddy Holly and group appeared December 1st on The Ed Sullivan Show, a generation of kids were moved the way the next one was by The Beatles. You didn't have to look like Elvis. Anyone could be a rock'n'roll star. In fact, "That'll Be the Day" was the first demo cut by The Quarrymen, the skiffle group that eventually morphed into The Beatles.

The song's history is long and complicated. Holly, his Lubbock friend Sonny Curtis and drummer Jerry Allison went to see John Wayne in "The Searchers" and heard Duke utter the phrase "That'll Be the Day". Holly, at the time signed to Decca, recorded the song at Owen Bradley's Barn Studio during the summer of 1956 but the label passed on releasing anything from the session and Holly's contract forbade him from re-recording and releasing any of the tunes from the session.

Producer Norman Petty re-recorded the song crediting it to "The Crickets" instead of to Buddy Holly and it was released on Brunswick, which of course, was a subsidiary of Decca. Holly was re-signed as a solo to Bob Thiele's Coral while Brunswick released his recordings with The Crickets—not that teenagers knew or cared about any of this!

However, once the song became a hit on Brunswick, Decca released the original version backed by "Rock Around With Ollie Vee"and put it on the album of the same name, but neither that single nor that album was the hit this version and album became.

Anyone who thought Brian Epstein was a genius for outfitting the Beatles in identical suits need only look at the cover of this album to see where that came from (Epstein was a genius for other reasons). Looking at the brightly lit cover might make you think of the foursome standing out in a Clovis, New Mexico field where Norman Petty had his recording studio, but it was actually shot on the rooftop of the Brooklyn Paramount Theater where the group played along with Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and others, either in September or December of 1957 depending upon who you ask. The bright sunlight looks more like September than December.

This album, originally released in America on November 27th 1957, is unusual in that rather than containing one or maybe two hits and a great deal of filler, it's all good with no filler. Not all of it was recorded in Clovis as the band was in demand and on tour. "You've Got Love", "An Empty Cup (And a Broken Date" (both co-written by Roy Orbison), "Rock Me My Baby" and "Maybe Baby" were recorded September of 1957 "after hours" in the Officer's Club at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City where Petty had set up his gear shlepped from Clovis, during a short tour break.

On "That'll Be the Day" Larry Wellborn plays bass and there's a backing trio featuring June Clark and Gary and Ramona Tollett. On "Oh Boy" as well as on the Tinker Air Force Base tracks a group called The Picks (Bill and John Pickering and Bob Latham) provide backing vocals.

That's worth mentioning because even if you've previously heard these tracks, you've not before heard them with the clarity, transparency and punch that you'll hear on this remarkable reissue—a dream come true (albeit a short one!) for Buddy Holly fans. Kevin Gray cut from the original master tape—something if you doubt reading this, you won't when you hear the record.

Yes it's sometimes bright and it's obviously basic mono, but it's also thrillingly transparent and detail filled. The top end is clean, "crisp" (in the best sense of the word) and downright incredible considering the tape's age. It must have been recorded to the pretty much indestructible Scotch 111, but I'm just guessing. You've never heard the classics: "Oh Boy", "Not Fade Away", "Maybe Baby", "That'll Be the Day" and "I'm Looking For Someone to Love" sound this fresh and vibrant.

Listening to the same tracks on the rightly revered 2 LP Steve Hoffman mastered Buddy Holly Legend (MCA 2-4184) makes it apparent that obviously Steve had to make copies to assemble cutting reels and that he's applied both EQ and some compression to produce versions that were more "ear-pleasing" than representative of what was on the tapes. The tracks on that compilation also on this release sound comparatively thick, congealed and lacking in transparency, high frequency air and transient "snap".

Six short songs per side still makes for an electrifying listen all these years later. Buddy Holly died in that February, 3rd 1959 plane crash at the age of 22 that also killed Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson near Clear Lake Iowa. It was the day, as Don MacLean sang, the music died. This reissue almost brings the music back to life.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Claus-ish's picture

Stevie (Hoffman) the master tape thievie

AZ's picture

A good copy should sound EXACTLY like the original. ;)

ClausDimWang's picture

You haven't got a clue what your talking about pal. STEVe is the most reverred mastering engineer in the biz. Pretty sure he was collaborating with the other Steve (Jobs) on something big before he died. Why else would Apple be sending him Ipads?

AF4Life's picture

Go shove a rusty pipe up your anal entry.

AnalogJ's picture

I music directed a professional production of Buddy! In it, I also played HiPockets Duncan, the DJ that sort of discovered Holly early on. Doing so really got me a deep appreciation for Holly's catalog. I'll be buying this for sure.

Lemon Curry's picture

Immediately pre-ordered this and the companion Buddy Holly solo record soon as I read the review. Original master tapes? Can't wait to hear and compare to my Buddy box set I picked up all those years ago.

Glotz's picture

It really amazing to me that a bunch of wanna-be hippies and punkers (myself and my teenage friends) could listen to Buddy Holly and the Crickets with such glee and satisfaction, when normally the music we loved and bought was completely removed from 'the Oldies'.

To me it proved that timeless music doesn't have to be complex nor technical. It does not have to be 'tough' nor intellectual. Buddy had such a great, LONG, string of songs that his greatness cannot be denied. And while I like the King, he NEVER had the rotation time in our listening sessions the way that the Crickets did! (Roy O. was another personal fav.)

The fact that this is essentially the first AOR album release ever is equally intriguing! (Album Oriented Rock for the youngsters...) Man I need to get this one too!

Glotz's picture

Devialet is creating new technology for LP playback!? I was just thinking to myself last night, why isn't there a new technology for the material of LP's? Vinyl is very soft, and very much not' Unbreakable' (Just cracked the label area on my only Swordfishtrombones copy! Arggh!)

PeterPani's picture

was - to my ears - perfect for playing analog tracks. I own reel to reel tapes from tape project and other sources. A good mastered analog track of a Laserdisc matches the quality of 15ips tapes.

thomoz's picture

Someone from Enthusiast Network should pop in here and clean up this crap for you.

As for the record, I have a standalone UK pressing, a UK cd and the 6-lp boxed set and this is a really great sounding record in every case.

The loud-mastered, 6-cd Buddy Holly Complete from a couple years back (which of course contains this material) should be purchased back from the unsuspecting victims (collectors) and ceremoniously burned.

Frank Booth's picture

T-HOMO-Z bashing that Buddy Holly CD set like a turntable to the head. Easy, Buddy!

Chemguy's picture

You said that the record is punchy, bright and transparent. Sounds great. Now just to confirm, would you say that it has a good bottom end? I just want to make sure it has a nice well-rounded sound. Would you say that it does?

Lemon Curry's picture

Tapes were 30+ years younger then, so any thoughts on which is best for these songs?

vogelzang's picture

Michael: I noted that Music Direct is also selling (pre-order) a reissue of the solo "Buddy Holly" album remastered by Kevin Gray:

This is the album that you raved about when reissued by MCA in 1995 for their short-lived Heavy Vinyl series. I bought that reissue and it is truly spectacular. I'm wondering if this newer reissue has anything to recommend over the 22 year old Heavy Vinyl. Have you heard this new release and/or compared?

M3 lover's picture

Being older than dirt I still have my copy of the original linen jacket Brunswick release of "The Chirping Crickets" from the '50s. Many plays but no scratches later it is still a kick to hear.

But it would be fun to hear a side by side comparison with this new version.

my new username's picture

Don't have my LP copy handy but I'm pretty sure it says right on the jacket somewhere that it's a digital transfer. MCA, like the rest of 'em, were awfully proud of Digital back then. New! Shiny! More! Better!

That said, I'd wager this new reissue's better sound is at least improved by Gray's more modern mastering suite than any 16-bit 1980s digital limitations.

AZ's picture

but it's not digital, it's AAA. ;)

my new username's picture

Thanks for the correction.