WEIRDLAND: Elvis: 'If I Can Dream', Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly), The Phoenix Sound

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Elvis: 'If I Can Dream', Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly), The Phoenix Sound

This is a song from the brand new album "Elvis Presley: If I Can Dream" (2015). This version of "There's Always Me" was remixed and dubbed with the sound of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Nearly 40 years after his death in 1977, Elvis Presley once again returns to the music charts. “If I Can Dream” features a flawless blending of the entertainer’s original vocal recordings reworked with the lush and elegant accompaniment of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The stirring orchestration gracefully breathes new life into 14 Presley classics that showcase the singer’s unforgettable voice.

I can still fondly recall being in awe of Presley’s stage presence performing hits like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” and thinking that this guy with all the swagger and charm was certainly one of the coolest dudes I’d ever seen. A spirited version of “Burning Love” opens the album as the added strings feverishly propel Presley’s passionate singing to a higher level of excitement.

Priscilla Presley serves as an executive producer of the album and keeps the memory of her former husband alive and well through this special project that she has stated he would have always wanted to do. Source:

This colour clip was shot silent in 1955 in Oklahoma City while Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley were working the two bottom slots on a country package tour headlined by Hank Snow  not only the earliest film footage of Holly but that of Elvis as well. Part of the film was shot with an 8mm camera in Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

Elvis performed in Lubbock several times that year. He first met Buddy Holly at a show at the Fair Park Coliseum on February 13. Elvis "just blew Buddy away," recalls Sonny Curtis, "the way he could get the girls jumping up and down definitely impressed Holly. But it was the music that really turned Buddy around. He loved Presley's rhythm it wasn't country and it wasn't blues it was somewhere in the middle. After seeing Elvis, Buddy had only one way to go: Rock and Roll."

Perceived as a 'golden age' of music, the classic rock'n'roll of the late fifties, especially Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, returned a sense of 'security, authenticity and masculinity' (according to Paul Willis' Profane Culture, 1978) in its celebration —articulated through vocal delivery rather than in its lyrical content— of a tough response to an uncertain and uncaring world. —"Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture" (2010) by John Storey

Buddy Holly’s amazingly prolific body of work represented a kind of punk approach. But there was also an expressly British tinge, related to an emotion more strongly felt in Britain than in the States, where Holly & the Crickets scored only two million sellers (“That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue”) and where Holly had no hits after “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” (in the USA, 20 Golden Greats aka Buddy Holly Lives made only #55 on Billboard; in UK it went triple platinum). Such devotion would baffle much if it weren’t for the continued instinctive power of the music of Holly & the Crickets. And yet, for all their instinct, songs like “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue,” highly experimental though they are, sound as though the musicians playing them know exactly what they are doing. Even when trying out new ideas, new tempi, new approaches, there is something in Holly’s timbre and bearing which implies that he is never going to be at a loss.

“Peggy Sue” seems to have fallen to Earth from outer space, one of those page one pop records from seemingly nowhere which set the tone for everything that comes after it, like “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” I was struck after watching, at a young age, Buddy Holly & the Crickets performing the song on The Ed Sullivan Show — it is still disturbing viewing. Perhaps due to the lack of dimensional perspective afforded by fifties television cameras, Holly, at stage front, looks about twice the size and half the age of the Crickets behind him. With his partially-rimmed spectacles, he gives the impression of a newly-arrived Martian; there is something about the performance which is not quite “real.” And yet the song is about finding a “love so rare and true.”

“Peggy Sue” here is little more than an abstract, a blank template for the listener to complete (“If you knew Peggy Sue”). Behind Holly’s voice are the murkiest, most thunderous drums you have ever heard (it sounds as though coming from the bottom of a well). Holly is spellbound by the grain of those two words, “Peggy” and “Sue”; he rolls them round his tongue and larynx in every conceivable way, experimenting with and being delighted by the different effects, like a jazz musician snaking their way around a standard or a riff; he is clearly exulted and before long, Peggy Sue is superseded by the use of the name as a signifier without anything obvious being signified; if there was ever such a thing as “free rock,” then “Peggy Sue” is its epitome, and maybe also its peak. But if “Peggy Sue” exhibits a childlike joy, Holly’s final, and wholly unexpected, vocal swoop from high to low indicates that this is definitely the work of a grown man.

Holly never stopped experimenting. With “Words Of Love,” he goes as far as to invent psychedelia with its woozy, disorientated vocals and strange syllabic emphases (“feel-AH,” “real-AH,” “hear-AH,” “ear-AH”) which indicate an intoxication of awe. “Everyday” expresses patient expectation using little more than slapped knees and celeste as musical background; Holly’s onomatopoeic arch of anticipation on “ROLL-er-COAST-er” conveys his excitement very effectively (as does his more subdued “Hey? A-hey-hey”). Rather than knee-slapping, the beat on “Not Fade Away” seems to be thrashed out on a cardboard box and Holly’s words now seem to defy reason as deftly as Dylan’s would soon do, missing out whole streams of syntax (“You know my love a-not fade away, A love for real not fade away”). His pent-up sexuality goes from child to man (“A-WAY”) and back again (“How I feel-EE!”). His guitar cuts in halfway like a battleship.

If both “Everyday” and “Not Fade Away” show Holly is up for it, the immediate attack of “Oh Boy” confirms that he is also ready for it; now he growls and shrieks, and even the square backing vocals can’t deter the acidic entry of his guitar solo. You almost want to rush up to him and urge him to be more patient. By not quite “getting” Bo Diddley, he inadvertently invents something else.

“Listen To Me” is extraordinary in its effortless elisions from harsh to soft, and back again; the curiously over-exaggerated vocal drops of “LIS-TEN-TO-ME-HEE” pretty much writing the template for Merseybeat before dropping back to a honeyed, spoken whisper from Holly: “Listen, listen, listen to me,” to be followed by an excitable lead guitar and, again, a subtly disorientated vocal. If “Think It Over” might have been designed as Holly’s “Jerry Lee Lewis record,” with a rattling barrelhouse piano solo, its implications are wider: Holly teases his would-be other half as much as pleading with her, at one point asking, “Are you sure I’m not the one?” and then intoning “A lonely heart grows cold and old” (it’s the pause that makes you remember the line).

“It’s So Easy” with its vocal grunts suggesting that actually it’s very difficult, offset by some strange verbal throwaways (“Gosh darn that love,” “doggone easy”), the supreme “Rave On” with its introductory six-syllable “Well” and a propulsion so powerful that it could almost have been made by machines; everything here has been accomplished, and works – and the unworldly “Well… All Right” which more or less spells out what McCartney is going to do with the Beatles but also moves with great naturalism between two different dynamic angles (moderately intense, and slightly more intense) and some long-form cymbal work from Allison that almost breaks the boundaries of tempo.

“Peggy Sue Got Married,” originally cut with the Crickets but here done with a revamped instrumental backing track, is one of Holly’s last great songs; throughout the song he is extremely reluctant to tell the listener what has happened, endlessly putting it off or making excuses, but finally he divulges the titular information, except that he remarks “You recall that girl that’s been in nearly every song” and you realise that actually she only unambiguously appears in one other song, except that all these songs might be about the same, unattainable woman, or idealisation of a woman –Holly as Lubbock’s own Robert Graves, with Peggy Sue his own White Goddess– and Holly’s guitar solo is appropriately melancholy. Peggy Sue is all around us, maybe even part of us. Buddy Holly was a bridge leading from the original rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, look around you, on every Beatles album up to and including Let It Be, on most Dylan. Source:

Peggy Sue Gerron still remembers standing in the audience in 1958 watching a meek, mild-mannered Texas boy electrify a crowd, turning on the charm with his hiccup delivery and his fancy work on his Fender Stratocaster. That night in Sacramento was the first time she had ever heard it witnessing the birth of a new art form: rock 'n' roll. Peaking at No. 3, 'Peggy Sue' was Buddy Holly's second biggest-selling record behind 'That'll Be the Day.'

Peggy Sue was never Buddy Holly's girl. Peggy Sue and Jerry Allison, the Crickets' drummer, were dating, would later marry and ultimately divorce. Gerron describes Holly more as a "soulmate" than anything else. The song "Peggy Sue," in fact, wasn't even originally called "Peggy Sue." According to Bill Griggs, Holly first named it after Cindy, his sister's daughter, and Lou, his sister's middle name. Griggs said it was when Holly and Allison were trying to make the song work better one day when Holly told Allison that paradiddles, a repetitive style of drumming, would help strengthen the song rhythmically. Allison agreed if Holly woud change the name of the song from "Cindy Lou" to "Peggy Sue" so he could "make some points with his girlfriend." 

Peggy Sue said she has always felt humbled for having known someone like Buddy Holly. "He was such a gentleman," she remembered. "He was a little quiet. He never took over a room. I never saw him have a temper. He was quite a young man. He helped take care of his mom and dad and grandmother and I thought that was unusual that someone his age would take on that kind of responsibility." Peggy Sue said she suffered through a long grieving period, a period she said that never really ended, just changed. There is no love lost between Buddy Holly's widow and Peggy Sue. The history between the two includes the threat of a lawsuit by Mrs. Holly because of Peggy Sue's book, "Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?" Source:

Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly in a photo boot at the Grand Central Station, New York, 1959.

Not long after Lee Hazlewood headed to Phoenix, Waylon Jennings settled in at KCKY following the death of his former bandmate Buddy Holly. The small station served as an incubator, but it was in Phoenix that Hazlewood, Eddy, and Jennings found solid artistic footing. The roots of that sound stretch further south, to a small cotton town called Coolidge, Arizona. Following his discharge from the military, Hazlewood worked at KCKY, where he met a Coolidge high schooler named Duane Eddy, who provided on-air performances on his guitar.

"The Fool" (original 1956 version) sung by Sanford Clark, a baby-faced kid stationed at Luke Air Force Base; the song was written and produced by local DJ Lee Hazlewood and blessed with the thwacking leads of guitarist Al Casey. It was recorded at Floyd Ramsey's Audio Recorders studio on Seventh Street and Weldon Avenue and released on a small Phoenix label, MCI Records. From there it bloomed, picked up by Dot Records and distributed nationally.

By the end of 1957, "The Fool" had sold more than 800,000 copies and set the blueprint for the "Phoenix sound," an echoing, reverb-drenched take on rockabilly that would propel guitarist Duane Eddy to fame, inspire Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and lay the groundwork for the outlaw country stardom of Waylon Jennings. Fittingly, the recording of "The Fool" appears near the beginning of author Jim West's The Phoenix Sound: A History of Twang & Rockabilly Music in Arizona. Source:

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