In a staggeringly short career of 18 months from the day his first single, “That’ll Be the Day,” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1957 until his tragic death in 1959 in a plane crash near Mason City, Iowa, along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly assembled one of the most influential and enduring bodies of work in rock music.
Besides writing and recording evergreen hits that included “Peggy Sue,” “Rave On,” “Maybe Baby,” “It’s So Easy,” “Oh, Boy!” and “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” Holly was an innovator in the studio, always testing new sounds and ideas; he and his bandmates in the Crickets created the template for the self-contained rock band: two guitars, bass and drums, four musicians playing songs written, for the most part, by them. Holly also was one of the first prominent rock musicians to embrace the radical and then-new Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, helping establish it as the instrument of choice for thousands who have followed in his footsteps.
His hiccupping vocals, simple yet unpredictable melodies and chord progressions and straight-from-the-heart lyrics continue to have a strong impact on contemporary musicians and music fans, to say nothing of the inspiration — and songs — he provided to such musical descendants as the Beatles (whose very name was a direct reference to the Crickets), the Rolling Stones and countless others.
Holly was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Even though he was just 22 at his death, there was no question that he deserved to be inducted alongside Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and other early rock titans in the very first class of artists inaugurated into the Hall of Fame.