The music may have died on Feb. 3, 1959, but it will be alive and well next Sunday, two days after the 53rd anniversary of that fateful plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
In celebration of their music and that of the other performers of the era, Maryhill’s Commercial Tavern presents Buddy Holly: The Anniversary Concert. The show is fronted by Jeff Giles, best known for his starring role in The Buddy Holly Story, the official musical show of the legendary rock ‘n’ roll pioneer. The musical itself has thrilled audiences worldwide since 1989, including an acclaimed Broadway production and 12 consecutive years in London’s West End with numerous subsequent tours continuing to run around the world. In Canada, Giles has starred as Buddy in Charlottetown, where he was also featured on CBC television.
Buddy Holly: The Anniversary Concert will celebrate the music of Holly’s final tour, known as The Winter Dance Party, which debuted in January 1959. It was on that tour that the three performers boarded a small chartered plane in Iowa bound for Minnesota, crashing shortly after takeoff. The death of the trio was later immortalized in the famous Don McLean song “American Pie,” and is often referred to as “the day the music died.”
To play Holly (born Charles Hardin Holley on Sept. 7, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas), Giles listened to a large assortment of recordings and watched the limited amount of available video footage of the singer, most of it from TV appearances.
“From what I’ve read, he was a lot more boisterous in concert than he was on television,” said Giles in an interview from his Toronto home, noting his own performances reflect that.
He sees the show as a tribute rather than a straight impersonation, though he’s worked hard to get the physical and vocal mannerisms down pat. He first joined a cast of The Buddy Holly Story in 2008, with things taking off in 2010.
“I’ve been working really hard on improving myself technically as a singer. I’m trying to capture his essence and do justice to his songs and the way he performs them.
“When I’m in front of an audience, I’m bringing as much as I can,” he said, adding the goal is an honest representation of the music.
Just 28, Giles grew up listening to a variety of music, including late-1950s, early ’60s rock ‘n’ roll, as well as the Motown soul and R&B. In researching for the role, he came to appreciate Holly’s pioneering efforts, both as a singer-songwriter at a time when most artists didn’t record their own music and as someone who experimented with the technical side of the recording industry.
Though only active in the industry for less than two years – he was 22 when he died – Holly continues to influence music today. He’s credited with inspiring the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. Holly was in the first group of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number 13 on their list of the 50 greatest artists of all time.
While Holly’s music is the centerpiece of the show, Giles and his three-piece band (drums, bass, keyboards) will be performing tunes by the Big Bopper, Valens, Dion and others important to the Winter Dance Party. The music will be interspersed with stories about the songs and artists.
On tap for the Feb. 5 show are Holly’s hits such as “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Rave On,” “It’s So Easy,” “Everyday,” “Oh Boy!,” “Not Fade Away,” and “True Love Ways. ” Also look for the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and “Running Bear,” Ritchie Valens’ “Oh Donna” and “La Bamba,” plus Dion and the Belmonts (“A Teenager in Love”).
Buddy Holly: The Anniversary Concert takes to the stage at the Commercial Tavern Feb. 5 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, available at the venue, 1303 Maryhill Rd., or by calling 519-648-3644.