Buddy Holly - The Young Man In The Big GlassesThursday, May 20, 2010
I introduced my granddaughter Rebecca to the suave man with creamy white hair. We (and with my wife Rosemary) were in the lobby of the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage of the Arts Club Theatre, moments before the opening night performance of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. “Mr Robinson this is my granddaughter Rebecca. I told her that you met and interviewed Elvis Presley and that once your hair was red.” Red Robinson answered, “I also met and interviewed Buddy Holly and (pause) it is hard to believe that my hair was once red!”
Red Robinson had looked at me quizzically when I had approached him to remind him that many years ago I had photographed him with a favourite painting of his of Elvis Presley, an original by American artist Leroy Neiman. “I gave it to Bruce Allen down the road from me.”
It was about then that the ever-smiling and ever-prosperous looking Arts Club Theatre Company Executive Director, Howard Jang approached me to tell me, “Red has a special place in today’s show.” I was curiously intrigued.
I was intrigued but not in the least interested by anything having to do with Buddy Holly. I was at the show to make sure my granddaughter gets a balanced education on all things musical, theatrical, dance, etc. I won’t go as far as saying I hated Buddy Holly when I was young. I will simply say I had several reasons (to be listed below) not to like the man. It had all to do with his looks. I was prepared to see a show and to not be affected by it in any way. I was to be proven wrong.
The beginning of Holly’s career paralleled my beginning of my stay as a boarder at St. Ed’s High School in Austin, Texas. We were in a huge dorm which had around 35 bunk beds. The ceiling, a neo-gothic building was so high I could imagine clouds on some days. My fellow boarders were mostly cool kids from Texas with a smattering of Latinos from Mexico, Central America and Peru. The cool kids were up and up with all that was new. I was stuck in my appreciation for the music of Mexican guitar trios. I didn’t loathe rock and roll, I simply did not like it one way or another. The only station that played music that my fellow boarders liked was KTBC. It was a local station owned by a Texas senator called Lyndon B. Johnson. The station did not call itself anything in particular so it played songs by Conway Twitty, Brenda Lee, the Everly Brothers, a few token Presley songs to prove it was cutting edge plus stuff from Paul Anka and others. By the second year in 1958 one of my roommates, who was from Buddy Holly’s town of Lubbock drove me crazy playing Buddy Holly. When it wasn’t Buddy Holly it was Paul Anka droning on with Diana. My roommate'sgirlfriend back in Lubbock was called Diana.
I had an admiration for Dan Sherrod (seen, below right), another classmate of mine from Odessa, Texas. He was sophisticated. His father owned the Aston Martin dealership in the town. Dan read Road and Track and knew how to pronounce Peugeot. He liked Shelly Berman, owned that prized album The Gibraltar Grand Prix with Peter Ustinov and was the only person in all of St. Ed’s who knew who Juan Manuel Fangio was. Then one day I spied an album on his desk. It featured a nurdish looking guy with big glasses. I looked at it. I then went to the bank of mirrors on one side of the dorm and looked at myself in the mirror. I came to the conclusion that Sherrod’s attraction to Buddy Holly had all to do with the glasses. While Sherrod had warmed to this resemblance I was indiferent. I left it at that and rock and roll never did affect my passion for music one way or the other. I must admit I liked the harmony of the Everly Brothers and I was not all that repelled by the foghorn voice of Brenda Lee. I simply could not understand what Buddy Holly was all about. If anything I hated (yes! Hated) how he pronounces pretty in Peggy Sue. My roommate from Lubbock had dumped Diana for a Peggy!
My relationship with rock and roll would change in the late 70s when I first heard Art Bergmann at the Smiling Buddha in Vancouver. It was then that I began to appreciate the wonders of a well-played electric guitar.
I have no idea how accurate this extremely professional musical is. Buddy manages to chart a course on how Holly progressed from country music to that new-fangled stuff called rock and roll. With my granddaughter Rebecca I felt we were taking an interesting course in music and learning about all the steps. How and why did Holly incorporate a celeste into his music? How did a sleeping and drunk drummer contribute to the rhythm section of the Crickets? Important for me was how it soon became evident to Holly that he needed a second guitar. As I looked at the big smile on Rebecca’s face, who seems to know much more about Holly and Richie Valens and the Big Bopper than I ever knew, I realized I was becoming enthused with the music of Buddy Holly. I was doing my damndest not to tap my feet as I just might indicate to Rebecca that I liked it a lot. That would certainly be verboten! “Do you like this?” she asked me. All I could do was to nod a yes.
By the time Michael Scholar Jr. (as Ritchie Valens) interpreted a swinging and almost flawlessly devoid of any accent La Bamba I was hooked to this show.
The cast, headed by Zachary Stevenson as Buddy Holly (he can sing, he can act, he can play a mean guitar, he can hop around the stage like a pro) is professional, musical and inspiring. Jeremy Bryant, as one of the Crickets who plays bass has even contributed to Joey Shithead’s DOA. He can play that bass while riding it like a camel. I could go on. But I must first mention two local performers who stood out. One is Sibel Thrasher whom I first met while being a stills photographer at the CBC in variety shows of the late 70s. She was spot on as a performer of the Harlem club The Apollo. Rosemary was especially enthusiastic (very rare with my dour wife), "The old man who played the Clear Lake MC (Alex Willows) was terrific."
The other performer that stood out for me was Denis Simpson. He is smooth as the MC at the Apollo. He can sing, he can dance and he can even doo-wop.
As we left the theatre with a smiling Rebecca (and surprisingly Rosemary, too) I felt that I can now look at myself in the mirror with the glasses and say to myself, “Well Alex, looking a bit like Buddy Holly isn’t all that bad!”
Buddy Holly is on until July 11. It would seem to me that as many parents as possible come up with the idea of taking the children they might find special stuff to learn from this charming musical.
I found out what Red Robinson's contribution to the show was. His voice was used here in there to announce that a Holly tune was number 1 in Vancouver, etc and it was Robinson's voice that finally broke to us the bad news of Holly's airplane crash. It was Rebecca who seemed to know that while all that was up on the stage was a skilled performance by eager and professional actor/musicians, the man with the cream coloured hair sitting a couple of rows in front of us, was the real thing. Rebecca's parting shot was, "What a voice!" Even Rebecca may have noticed the decline in the voicemanship of those who are in radio today.