The Waylon Jennings Years at KLLL (Part Six) The Day The Music Died
posted Apr 17 2014 3:42PM
Start at the beginning here: Part One
Well, we've reached the point in the story we all knew was coming, but it's sad again all the same. Here is Sky, with Part Six, The Day The Music Died-@JRKLLL
At KLLL, Lubbock, to the best of my recollection, we didn't hear directly from Waylon Jennings or Buddy Holly during the month of January, 1959...except for the brief good-byes in my office on January lst as they prepared to leave for "Noo Yawk City". We filled Waylon's deejay slot with Terry Belyeu (pronounced Ballew) my buddy and fellow deejay from early '57 at KLVT, Levelland. It was he who had brought Waylon to my attention almost two years earlier. We missed Waylon, though Terry did a fine job. He'd been working at a Lubbock pop station the previous year or so and was a much smoother, more professional deejay than Waylon...but not as colorful and unpredictable. The weekly 15 minute program broadcast from Morris Fruit and Vegetable Market which Waylon had been doing with "Hi-Pockets" Duncan, and on which Buddy had guested, continued with my brother and partner, Ray "Slim" Corbin doing the singing accompanied by his own rhythm guitar as Waylon had done. "Slim's" music, like Terry's deejaying, was actually technically better than Waylon's.. but maybe not quite as interesting. Waylon said, even after he hit the top, "Slim taught me to sing, man!". That was an exaggeration, but Waylon did manage to sound very much like "Slim" on many of his biggest records, which probably hampered "Slim's" own quest for stardom, as Monument, and then Columbia recording artist Ray Corbin in the late 60's and early 70's. I believe Buddy's Dad, L.O. Holley, who was a frequent coffee or lunch companion, probably gave us a status report on "Our Men in New York".
February 3, l959...THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED....began as just another morning at KLLL. At 11:l5, a record ended and I told my audience something like "Let's go out to Morris Fruit and Vegetable Market, where "Slim" and Hi-Pockets are waiting with a few songs and a lot of exciting news from the wonderful world of fruits and vegetables (and, borrowing a phrase from the Grand Ol' Opry) Let 'er go boys, let 'er go!" "Slim" and his guitar came on strong with one of our home-made jingles, "From th' garden spots around th' world, right into your home...at Morris Fruit and Vegetable, you just can't go wrong...." And he probably followed with his perfect imitation of the famous hillbilly laugh made famous by Ferlin Husky's alter-ego Simon Crum, whom the older fans will remember.) Hi-Pockets came on with his commercial pitch and invitation to the public to "Come on down!" I was now at liberty to leave my chair between the turntables and in front of the mixing console, stretch my legs... maybe go down the hall to the "little boys' room"...check with the secretary/receptionist to see if I had any important phone calls, check the UPI teletype to see if there was any hot news...The first headline I saw as I rolled the newscopy from the machine...ROCK AND ROLL STARS DEAD IN IOWA PLANE CRASH. and my heart pounded and my knees went weak as I read the item. "Buddy Holly and his band died early this morning when their small plane crashed soon after taking off from Clear Lake, Iowa..."
Reluctantly returning to the control room and my microphone, I did my duty. I interrupted the broadcast from Morris Fruit and Vegetable. "Slim...Hi-Pockets...I'm very sorry to break in, but I have something here
that won't wait. Brace yourselves for some sad news." And I read the item just as it had come over the wire. There was a few seconds of silence, and, Hi asked, "Sky, did we lose Buddy AND Waylon?" "Is Waylon's name in the story?", Slim inquired. I said, "No, Waylon's name is not mentioned, but it DOES say "Buddy Holly and his band...so...I would assume Buddy and Waylon are both gone." "Well, we can't continue this program, Sky, so we're coming back to the station", Hi said. Buddy's death had just been announced on the little radio show on which he had sung...for a Coke...just a month or so earlier.And Waylon's demise had just (erroneously) been announced on the same show...on which he'd been a regular for the past few months. But, that's not the end of my part of that unforgettable day.
The phones were "ringing off the wall". Apparently we were the first station to broadcast the tragic news. We may have been the only UPI station in town at that time, and A. P. may not have released it yet. The Secretary commented that we certainly have a lot of listeners...and they were all calling. The local newspaper and several other radio stations called, too. Then, about two hours after I'd broken the news, the secretary/receptionist came to the control room window and motioned for me to pick up the phone.
And she had a big smile on her face...which I thought strange under the circumstances. "Sky, this is Waylon", said the subdued voice on the phone. Being a deejay, I responded with, "Waylon, WHERE are you callin' from?!" "Fargo, North Dakota. We lost Buddy, but I'm okay. The Bopper talked me out of my seat on the plane. He was about sick and was uncomfortable on that cold, crummy bus. I was havin' a good time keepin' warm singin' Hank Williams songs for Dion and the Belmonts...and I'm about half afraid of flyin', so....anyway, Mom heard you read that on the air and thought I was dead until I called Littlefield just a few minutes ago." I was stunned and very embarrassed...and more than a little angry. It is, of course, standard procedure for news of a death to be held until the families have been notified. I assumed this had been done, else it wouldn't have been on the teletype. That was, and is, a responsibility of the authorities. It had been about l0 hours since the crash and several hours since the plane and the bodies had been found. I, of course, apologized and Waylon assured me that his family would understand. We lost no time letting the listeners know that Waylon had NOT been on the fatal flight. I believe I talked to him on the air, but I'm not certain. As most music fans know, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. (Big Bopper) Richardson and the young Iowa pilot had been the actual victims of the crash. Valens had ended up with the seat originally intended for Buddy's guitar player, Tommy Allsup.
A few minutes later, "Slim" said, "Sky, we ought to go and extend our condolences to the Holleys". I agreed, but I surely did dread it, as did "Slim". To lose a son would be a crushing blow under any circumstances, and the Holleys were very proud and supportive of their famous, talented son and
his music. When we arrived, not surprisingly, there were several cars in the driveway and along the street. Already there were Jerry (J. I.) Allison and Joe B. Mauldin (the Crickets) with whom Buddy had split, but they were still friends; Sonny Curtis, one of Buddy's musician friends, then a new member of the Crickets; the Holley's pastor, Dr. Ben Johnson of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, and a few others. We were greeted warmly. Mrs. Holley (Ella) said something about how helpful it was to have the support of Buddy's friends. Then she turned to me and quietly asked, "Sky, do you know how we heard about Buddy?" Nodding toward Dr. Johnson, I said, "I would assume and hope your Pastor came and told you." But I had a sudden sinking feeling. "We were just about to leave for the grocery store", she said "I was in the car and I told Lawrence that we'd left the radio on. He went back in and had just reached for the off-button when he heard you say you had some bad news. He waited and heard it, and came out to the car and told me." "Oh no!", I said. "I know Waylon's folks got the word from me, but it really never entered my mind that YOU hadn't been notified either! I'm so sorry!" Mr. Holly said, "Oh, that's all right, Sky, don't worry about it." Mrs. Holly said, "We had just as soon hear it from you...one of Buddy's friends...as anyone." It was amazing and a relief to see how composed and in-control they were that afternoon.
Some fans may wonder about my account, since a version attributed to Mrs. Holly has a friend calling to ask her why all the stations were playing Buddy's records and Mrs. Holly's turning on the radio and hearing the tragic news. If Mrs. Holly told the story that way, she must have been relating a dream. I have also been told that a well-known deejay who was in Lubbock then (at another station) cast himself in my role during a broadcast in a different city years later. Fact is, in Lubbock, Texas in 1959, out of respect for Buddy and his family, any station or individual deejay who played even one of Buddy's recordings that day after the news came out would have been accused of bad taste and worse manners. Believe it or not, that's the way it was back then. I'm almost positive none of the Lubbock radio stations were playing Buddy's records that day...not after 11:30!
At KLLL, we held Buddy's records until after the funeral. Then we played them a lot. He'd strongly supported KLLL during the few months we'd been operating the station. We didn't play promotional jingles touting KLLL again for years.
During his last trip home, we'd talked to Buddy about doing a show in Lubbock. He had done none since his ascent to stardom. He didn't believe he could pull an auditorium crowd in his home town. We convinced him that, if he did bomb in his home town, he surely wouldn't be the first. We'd add to the show the other young local talent (Sonny Curtis, Terry Noland, Jimmie Peters and the Four Teens, Niki Sullivan, Hope Griffith, and of course Waylon) who had made records, and we'd have a great time and spotlight the young "stars" whether we had a big crowd or not. "Okay! We'll do it early next summer!", he promised. I've always wondered how the show would have done. The old adage, "A prophet is without honor in his own country" certainly applies to entertainers. Ask almost any of them. You must become a super star before you're a minor star at home, in most cases. Buddy's frequent presence in Lubbock in l958 at the peak of his career caused little or no excitement, no newspaper or TV interviews, and, though his funeral in l959 was well-attended, it was not the huge event one would assume. He was just a "local boy doing pretty good in the music business." I'm certain no fans requested an autograph or approached him during our coffee breaks and lunches at the Top of the Plains Restaurant down the hall from KLLL, or the bowling alley or other places we went. But, come to think of it, I can remember drinking coffee or eating lunch at the restaurant with many celebrities, and very rarely did anyone approach our table or even acknowledge Jimmy Dean, Charley Pride, the Everly Brothers, Bob Wills, Webb Pierce, etc etc. Lubbock was that kinda town...cool,calm and collected and hard to "shake up", though almost everyone in the area loved country and rock-and-roll music. In fact, several top artists FROM OTHER PLACES enjoyed much of their early success in the Lubbock area, but no local talent..
And, being a "local yokel", it would be at least a decade into his major-label career before WAYLON could pull a crowd in Lubbock. More about that later.
-Buddy Holly's funeral was held on February 7, 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock.
(Posted With Permission)
Click Here for Part Seven
Connect with J.R.
Filed Under :
Allison Mauldin, Ben Johnson, Bob Wills, Charley Pride, Ferlin Husky, Hank Williams, Holley (Ella), Holly, Hope Griffith, Jimmie Peters, Jimmy Dean, Joe B. Mauldin, L.O. Holley, Morris Fruit, Niki Sullivan, Ray "Slim" Corbin, Ritchie Valens, Simon Crum, Sonny Curtis, Terry Belyeu, Terry Noland, Tommy Allsup