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Holly's influence changed musical landscape
A poster showing rock pioneers Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Buddy Holly, clockwise from top left, hangs on a wall in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where the singers gave their final performance nearly 50 years ago.

MASON CITY, Iowa - When Bill Griggs used to go to music stores and ask for Buddy Holly records, the people behind the counter thought he meant Billie Holiday.

Today, entire sections of music stores are devoted to Holly's music, said Griggs, a rock 'n' roll historian who has appeared on TV specials such as VH1's "The Day the Music Died."

"We lost a lot more than a singer" in the fatal Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash near Clear Lake, Griggs said.

Holly and The Crickets began having an international impact when they toured England and Australia in 1958, according to Griggs.

Holly's early death also drew attention, he said.

Holly and The Crickets influenced musicians such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elton John.

But by the early 1970s, the general public seemed to have forgotten Holly, according to Griggs.

Then things slowly began to change.

The 1971 Don McClean song "American Pie" referred to Holly's death as "the day the music died."

Then there was the line in the 1973 movie "American Graffiti" - "Rock 'n' roll's been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died."

The movie "The Buddy Holly Story" was released in 1978.

The annual Buddy Holly tribute celebrations began at the Surf Ballroom the following year.

Griggs did his part to launch the revival by starting the Buddy Holly Memorial Society in 1975.

"I founded it out of disgust," he said, adding he had trouble finding other people interested in Holly.

But once the society started, "they came out of the woodwork," Griggs said.

By the time the society was terminated in 1991, it had more than 5,500 members in all 50 states and in 34 foreign countries.

"What I admire most about Buddy Holly as a person is he wasn't afraid to try something new," Griggs said.

"He knew '50s rock 'n' roll wasn't going to last forever."

Holly's mother told Griggs her son wanted to record a Count Basie-type album with horns. He also wanted to record with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

"He was just finding himself when he died," said Bobby Vee, who will be among the performers at the 50 Winters Later tribute to Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper that begins Jan. 28 in Clear Lake. "There was a lot more to come."

Vee, who joined the 1959 Winter Dance Party after Holly's death, said he began using stringed instruments on his recordings because Holly did so on the song "True Love Ways."

Griggs said if Holly had lived, he probably would not have continued to perform for much longer because he had stomach problems that bothered him when he was on stage.

Instead, Griggs thinks he would have concentrated on working in the studio.

Holly wanted to return to his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, and open a recording studio there, Griggs said.

After Holly met Valens, who died with him in the plane crash, he told his mother he wanted to bring him back to Texas to record with him, according to Griggs, a Connecticut native who now lives in Lubbock.

"Maybe the Beatles would have come here to record with Buddy," Griggs said.