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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Changing All Those Changes

February 5th, 2009 by Bradley Denton

 Here They Played, and Still Play, Rock and Roll

At midday on Friday, June 19th, 1987, while en route to a convention in Minnesota, Barb and I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa. I had just started writing my second novel, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and Clear Lake was a logical place to take some pictures and do a little research. It was the town where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson had played their last concert on February 2, 1959.

At the Clear Lake Public Library, a helpful librarian told me a story about Buddy’s glasses. It seems that someone (the county coroner?) from Mason City (the county seat) had taken the glasses from the site of the plane crash . . . and as far as the librarian knew, they were still locked up in a desk at the courthouse. Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, had even asked for them – and had been refused. The county, for some odd reason, thought they should hang on to them . . .

(Maria Elena Holly would finally take possession of the glasses in 1994, and they’re now on display at the Buddy Holly Center in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas. This story from the May 29, 1998 Lubbock Avalanche-Journal has the details.)

(It’s funny how attitudes change over time. When Barb and I visited Lubbock in late 1988, there was no Buddy Holly Center, and only token acknowledgment that Holly had ever lived there. To be sure, a bronze statue of Buddy had been unveiled in Lubbock in 1980 . . . but when we got lost trying to locate it, we couldn’t find a single Lubbock resident who could tell us where it was. Not even when we asked at the courthouse. We eventually found the statue on our own, but it was saddening to realize that, almost 30 years after his death, Buddy still wasn’t getting much love from his hometown. So I’m happy to say that things are different in Lubbock now, at least with regard to the legacy of Buddy Holly.)

After our visit to the Clear Lake Library, Barb and I went to the Surf Ballroom, the site of that last gig. Unfortunately, the building was closed, so we weren’t able to go inside.

(That’s different now, too. In 2009, the Surf has a gift shop and is open daily.)

But I took lots of pictures of the outside . . .

( . . . none of which I can find right now, although they’re in a box or envelope around here somewhere. So the photo above is one of many that I found on the Web.)

The Surf’s marquee, along with a poster in the box-office window, made it clear that rock’n’roll was still being played there. On Wednesday, June 17th, 1987, for example, the Surf had hosted a “Rock Mega Party” including the bands “Critical Mass,” “Shark,” and “Tantrum.” (“3 Bands – 5 Hours of Rock!”) I was glad to see that . . . although, as I noted in a letter to a friend, I doubted that Tantrum played “La Bamba” or that Shark opened their set by crooning “Helloo, baaaaby!”

I also noted that the band scheduled to play at 8:30 PM on the 19th was “Erwin Suess and his Oom-Pah All Stars.” But we decided not to stay for that, and drove on to Minneapolis.

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This past Tuesday, February 3, 2009, was the 50th anniversary of The Day the Music Died. But I’ve already written about that day in a previous Eat Our Brains post.

Besides, the anniversary that matters more to me is February 2nd.

You see, when they died in the early morning hours of February 3rd, Buddy, Ritchie, and the Bopper were actually doing something boring. They were on their way to get some sleep and wash some clothes.

But on the night of February 2nd, they were still doing what they were born to do.

They were rocking.

So this past Monday, February 2nd, 2009, I celebrated that.

If I had been able, I probably would have done so at the Surf Ballroom – because that’s where the “50 Winters Later Commemorative Concert” was taking place.

And no, the Oom-Pah All Stars were not on the bill. Instead, the lucky ticketholders at the Surf this past Monday were treated to a jaw-dropping lineup including Tommy Allsup, the Big Bopper Jr., The Crickets, Pat DiNizio, Kevin Montgomery, Joe Ely, Wanda Jackson, Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Delbert McClinton, Graham Nash, Sir Tim Rice, Peter & Gordon, Dave Mason, and Bobby Vee . . . plus a house band that included drummer Kenny Aronoff, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and bassist Hutch Hutchinson. Holy moley.

So what was I doing while that grand memorial gig was going on at the Surf Ballroom?

Well, thanks to Barb, Maureen, and drummer extraordinaire Bob Y., I participated in a memorial gig, too.

Bob had been telling me about an Open Blues Jam on Monday nights at a swell bar called Nuno’s (the one on MoPac, in North Austin). So this past Monday, we went. Bob brought sticks. I brought a guitar and some harps. Then Bob & Maureen and Barb & I had burgers while digging the evening’s hosts, Kimo Sabe. (Damn fine band, by the way.)

Sometime around 11:00 PM, Bob and I went onstage with a bass player named Terry and a lead-guitar picker named Rick, neither of whom we’d ever met before. We started off with “Crossroads,” followed by what Maureen later described as “the Grateful Dead version” of “I Just Want to Make Love to You.”

Then I told the audience (mostly other jammers) why we were doing the next song. At which point Bob proceeded to lay down a heavy, driving Bo Diddley beat. It was the stuff, baby. I mean, it made my guitar quake.

Rick and Terry knew what to do, too. Rick was playing a hollowbody Epiphone that sounded darn near as good as B.B.’s Lucille. And Terry hit them thick ol’ Fender bass strangs right where they needed to be hit.

As for me, I just tried to keep up.

So. How did we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The Night the Music Lived?

How else?

We played “Not Fade Away.”

And for a few minutes, I could have sworn I heard them playing it in Clear Lake, too.

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A Few More Links:

Fans Pack Surf Ballroom” (CMT.com, 2/3/09)

La Bamba” jam at the Surf on 2/2/09 featuring Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Maria Elena Holly, and the Valens family.

Writer and musician Michael Hall visited Clear Lake and the Surf Ballroom for the Surf’s 60th Anniversary Concert in June 2008, and he wrote a terrific article about his trip for the February 2009 Texas MonthlyHe narrates an equally terrific slide show here.

Singer-songwriter Kevin Montgomery (son of songwriter-producer Bob Montgomery, who played with Buddy Holly in the “Buddy and Bob” duo) performed at the 2/2/09 “50 Winters Later” concert and has posted videos from the show . . . including interviews with Tommy Allsup and Maria Elena Holly.

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My 1991 novel Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede is now available for free reading and downloading from the front page at www.bradleydenton.net.  (It’s in four big pdf files, ranging from 75 to 87 MB.  I recommend 100% zoom.  Y’all let me know if something doesn’t work.)

Posted in Barb, Bob Y., Brad, Fun, History, Maureen, Music, People, Personal History, Pop. Culture | 10 Comments »

10 Responses

  1. Erin O'Brien Says:

    I would have wanted to go into the Surf Ballroom, too.

  2. Yvonne Dailey Says:

    Monday night at Nuno’s? Less than five miles from my house? {looks askance} And you didn’t even call me?! Pfththththth~~~~!

  3. Casey Hamilton Says:

    Quit making me cry, Denton!!

  4. Michael Shannon Says:

    Very nice – guess I’m going to have to go check out Nuno’s sometime!

    One of my all time favorite convention memories is from Armadillocon a few years ago. You and David Lee Anderson on guitar, Caroline Spector on bass, and Caroline and myself on backing vocals, doing ‘Not Fade Away’…

  5. Morgan J. Locke Says:

    BHIAWOG is one of my all time favorite books. I laughed, I cried, I peed in my pants.

  6. Bradley Denton Says:

    Erin — If the 2009 version of me had been there on that afternoon in ’87, he would have knocked on a window until someone showed up who might have let him in. But the ’87 version was still too intimidated by locked doors and “Closed” signs. I’ll go back someday.

    Yvonne — My bad! But show up on some random Monday night, and we might be there again.

    Casey — I’m sorry, sweetie. February 3 is a sad anniversary. That’s why I wanted to celebrate the music on February 2. And there’s a lot to celebrate there — especially considering how much Holly (let alone Valens and Richardson) created in his short career. Would that I had crammed as much into the last 18 years (or any 18 years) as he crammed into 18 months.

    Michael — Yeah, that was in David Lee’s room in ’07, if memory serves. I recall that hotel security came by and busted us. (Not for the first time. Nor the last.)

    Morgan — Thank you, kiddo. A bunch. (But this is why I ask my fans to refrain from throwing their underwear.)

  7. Dave Pew Says:

    I’ll have to remember Nuno’s on Monday when I make it back to Austin!

  8. Kevin Montgomery Says:

    Thanks for the mention on your blog. The week there in Clear Lake was special.
    Take Care,
    Kevin Montgomery

  9. web Survey Says:

    I have bicycled through Clear Lake on RAGBRI. It is a funky little town. Great people but when the sun set and the live music came onstage it was no Buddy Holley.

  10. Eat Our Brains » Blog Archive » Changing All Those Changes | work4real.net Says:

    [...] Show original post here [...]

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