With the news of Larry Holley's passing, I'm reflecting on his life as a preservationist through the little interaction I was honored to have with him and as a fan of his younger brother Buddy Holly (the "e" in his surname was omitted in error by Decca, but Buddy continued to use it for the rest of his career). Of Lawrence Odell "L.O." and Ella Holley's four children, Larry was the eldest and last living sibling. It's especially sad when the last immediate family member passes away because the living link that connects us is gone.
But thankfully, Larry ensured that his family story would live on through the accounts he left us via interviews, books, recordings and interactions with fans over the course of his 96 years. Larry was a storyteller, steward and guardian with his own fascinating life story. He had a generosity and willingness to share with those who loved his brother. And because he did, audiences will always have a window into that early familial life that shaped Buddy Holly the person and artist. These "human interest liner notes," as I refer to them, are essential to the preservation of both oeuvre and biography.
I contacted the family in November 2015 after discovering their website (no longer active) from an in-depth source search. Until that point, I assumed they didn't maintain a public presence due to privacy. Larry's daughter Sherry Holley, a musician and fine artist, responded to my inquiry, saying that she'd pass along my message to her father because he didn't read or manage incoming emails. I purchased a few items from the family inventory which Larry signed for me, including:
The Buddy I Knew by Larry Holley (1979)
I Don't Know How I Did It by Larry Holley (2007)
Holly's House: A Family Album (1980, 1993, 2000)
Our correspondence led to many wonderful exchanges, including their participation in Buddy80, the 80th birthday celebration my twin sister Sheryl and I organized for Buddy in 2016 at the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association in Arnold's Park. Sherry created an artwork using original tile from the Holley Tile Company (Buddy worked in the family business for a short time!) with a silhouette of her Uncle Buddy. Larry and Sherry signed a letter from the family giving their support as well as greetings and gratitude to Buddy's fans.
Buddy80 included a special exhibit, reminiscences session, vintage car show, silent auction, birthday cake reception, concert and afterparty. It was attended by individuals with direct ties to the history like Connie Valens, sister of Ritchie Valens, and Virginia Hebel Perl, who was in the September 1958 photo with then boyfriend Phil Everly, Buddy and his wife Maria at El Chico restaurant in New York City.
Sheryl and I exhibited our research from The Surf Speaks: Voices of a Living History, an inaugural field study and crowdsourced history project in phenomenology that documented the accounts of the historic Surf Ballroom's "February Family," the stalwart guardians of its Winter Dance Party. Since 1979, rock and roll fans from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Clear Lake, Iowa, to celebrate the lives and legacies of rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper"), who gave their final career performances at the Surf Ballroom on February 2, 1959.
As Buddy's final recording session with Dick Jacobs in October 1958 produced songs with rich orchestration like "True Love Ways," one of the questions I had for Larry was about whether Buddy listened to classical music growing up in Lubbock. The Holleys were very musical and well-versed in many instruments including piano, guitar and violin, but Larry said he didn't recall Buddy or the family listening to that particular genre. Although Buddy's brand of rock and roll is second to none, I adore Buddy with strings!
In 2018, Larry was interviewed along with Buddy's widow Maria and Buddy's boyhood friend and collaborator Sonny West about True Love Ways, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's album featuring new arrangements of Buddy's music. Larry was reflective: "This is what Buddy wanted, but I tell you what: I loved that little guy. I'll see him again some time."
I look forward to working with Sherry again on future opportunities to honor her family. In closing, I'd like to share Larry's memorable words from The Buddy I Knew:
I cried a little the day he came,
It so caught me by surprise.
But a score and two years later,
I could hardly dry my eyes.
All the happy, carefree moments,
We shared those years between
Are the things that really mattered
Just our simple joys and dreams.
He was just a little brother
Who would follow just behind,
Why has he gone before me
And I am left behind.
Cause the Lord who knows the answers
Of the questions about time,
Chose to take him on to glory
And he picked him in his prime.
I know he was an idol,
Like this world seeks to find,
But there's few, who really knew him,
And this is part of mine.
A Big Brother
Thank you, Larry. You, your brother and your family will never be forgotten.
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