Chris: It’s been another manic couple of weeks. So much so we’re going to each take turns to write the blog. I’ll try and be brief on my bits, Ollie will waffle superlatives and Dan will probably just talk about the drummer he met in New York.
Here we go.
September 2nd: We played at an amazing private event in Kent with a phenomenal Back To The Future theme designed by the folks at MGN Events. The attention to detail was incredible. It was an awesome party and we were delighted to be involved as the Rock ‘n’ Roll band replicating the Enchantment Under The Sea ball.
September 3rd: Another day, another really fun private booking. We played at The Brewery near Barbican, London for Amanda and Jaime’s wedding. We’d had this date in the diary for a long time and had been looking forward to it. The reception had a fab 1950s theme and we even helped the couple to create a custom Bluejays CD for each of their guests. A very nice touch!
We had a great time and a full dance floor always makes us very happy. Here's Maybe Baby from the soundcheck.
September 4th: Up EARLY to get a flight from Heathrow to New York. We flew with American Airlines, I don’t remember much about the flight except a brief interaction with a very mediocre shepherd’s pie. This is a good thing because it means I must have slept. Sleep has not been a theme lately.
We rather stupidly booked ourselves on a connecting flight from JFK to Dallas with only 1 hour 45 mins to negotiate our way through the Stasi-esque US Customs and one of the busiest airports in the world. However, Zeus was firmly on our side and we breezed through the airport like a breeze through an airport.
We landed in Dallas around midnight UK time. We’d arranged a hire car – a big Dodge SUV that we picked up and loaded the suitcases and guitars into. Oh no, wait… we didn’t because American Airlines thought our guitars were better suited to the later flight to Dallas. This was mildly annoying but they agreed to have them couriered to our final destination so we opted for that - as long as they promised not to break them too much. We drove, in a state of awe at the size of everything (even the sunsets in Texas are bigger), for about two hours before stopping in a town called Eastland. Eastland is approx. 10 miles west of nowhere but, like most American towns, it boasts an impressive array of fast food outlets. We tried to find something healthier and local but finally ended up in Taco Bell. Wow. We each had a burrito that weighed approximately the same as the average newborn. The onslaught of cheesy gratification was followed by instant remorse made even worse by going straight to bed afterwards.
We booked into the Super 8 Motel – so called because there are EIGHT rooms and they are all SUPER. I’m joking. There was about 15 and they were all like something from a movie where a truck driver murders some high-school hitchhikers. However, this was PRECISELY what we were looking for. There was a Holiday Inn 100 metres away but where’s the fun in that?
Having done all the driving, I was awarded my own room (The Patriot Suite, apparently)...
...whilst Dan and Ollie shared. They suffered a mild invasion in the night by some guy who had been sold the same room but other than that… lovely. Didn’t even get murdered.
September 5th: We set off early as we were still very much on UK time. We drove another hour before stopping for breakfast at The Flipping Egg in a town called Abilene.
If there’s one thing America does well it’s breakfast. I opted for the French toast because I’m a Francophile and love all the French things… maple syrup… cream… all the French things.
After breakfast we typed ‘Lubbock, Texas’ into Google Maps and began the final leg of our journey. Lubbock is famous as the birthplace of Buddy Holly. As I’m sure you’ve realised by now, we’re all enormous fans of Buddy – this was less of a trip and more of a pilgrimage.
We spent the next few days staying on an old cotton ranch with the wonderful Henson family whom Ollie knew from a previous trip to Lubbock. Their hospitality deserves a whole blog of its own and we really can’t thank them enough.
Our guitars arrived later that afternoon almost unscathed. My bass had suffered a string breakage which on most guitars is nothing much to worry about. However, my bass is an old Epiphone Rivoli from 1964 and I’m pretty sure it has the original strings on. In simple terms, my E string has gone from sounding nicely ‘Ba-dum-dum-ba-dum’ to ‘Facki-di-bow-wow’ with the new string. Needless to say, American Airlines are off my Christmas list.
That evening, our first trip into central Lubbock was a dinner date to Triple J’s with Buddy’s nephew, Eddy Weir. It was a privilege to chat with him about Buddy over some beers and yet more food. Eddy’s a really friendly guy, as all Texans seem to be. We were also very lucky to catch his friend guitarist John Sprott playing some tunes in the bar – that guy knows EVERY song!
Still on UK time and heavy from burritos, French toast and now fried chicken we all crashed around 10pm. The least rock ‘n’ roll rock ‘n’ roll band in Texas.
September 6th: Slept in til a very civilised 9am. Then it was off in the car to Clovis, New Mexico. We’d arranged a tour of the Norman Petty Studios where Buddy had recorded all his early hits in 1957 and 1958.
The studio is an incredible place to be. Barely altered since the 1950s. Ken and Shirley, who are in charge of the place these days, gave us a fascinating insight into how everything worked back then. Allowing us to play the celeste that Vi Petty had used on Everyday and playing us some Buddy tapes through the original monitors. Ollie was able to plug his telecaster into Buddy’s old Fender Pro tweed amp. The sound was unmistakeable.
Visiting the Norman Petty Studios is about as close to Buddy as it’s possible to get. The walls still echo with the music that was made there. The fact that everything is just out for you to pick up or play makes it all so real, as if Buddy’s just popped out to lunch at the Foxy Drive-In down the road. Just an unbelievable experience and one that is entirely worth the trip from wherever you live. Can't recommend it enough.
Our plan for this trip was always to record a few tracks and make a couple of videos to honour Buddy’s birthday. We made a cover of Learning The Game – a track that Buddy recorded at home in New York as part of what would become known after his death as The Apartment Tapes. Ours is a cover of the version Norman Petty made at the studio with New Mexico-natives The Fireballs. The band took Holly’s original tape and overdubbed drums, bass and guitars. This is definitely my favourite Buddy track. I’ve been badgering the others to do it for ages. I’m so happy with how it turned out.
After we’d finished at the studio we stopped by the Norman and Vi Petty Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum to soak up more of the history and then it was back to the ranch to edit all the footage from the studio before the deadline of Buddy’s birthday the next day. Making the videos is largely my domain although, recently, Ollie has taken to giving “constructive suggestions”. By midnight I “constructively suggest” we all go to bed and finish editing in the morning before the laptop goes out the window.
Ollie: Before we continue with The Tales of The Bluejays and their Travels in Texas, a little back story. Seven years ago - having just finished an 18-month stint in Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, performing around the UK and Germany - I got a phone call. It was not your average phone call.
"Ollie, this is Gerald from Lubbock in Texas"
"Uhh, hi Gerald".
"Ollie, I was given your number by a mutual friend and we want you to come out here and play Buddy for us in Lubbock".
"So Gerald, hang on... you want me to come out and play Buddy in Lubbock - the birthplace of Buddy Holly?"
"Yes, that's right"
That was that. Having negotiated the thick Texan drawl that I had so often impersonated in the show, but rarely heard in real life, I started packing my bags. Thus began a relationship with the town and its inhabitants that I have always felt incredibly privileged to know.
Seven years later, Dan and Chris invite me to front The Bluejays. I spot the perfect opportunity to let history repeat itself. It's worth noting at this point that it was in fact Chris and Dan who played Joe B Mauldin and Jerry Allison in the UK production of Buddy that I was in seven years ago. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
... And so (picking up where we left off) having accomplished all we could hope for at Nor-Va-Jak in Clovis the previous day, we realised that things were about to get even better. Waking fairly early, we hit up The Cactus Theater as a venue for our rehearsal of some of Buddy's songs. Here's Peggy Sue.
We wanted to be on top form. Eddy, Buddy's nephew and a good friend of mine, had mentioned there might be a chance he could get us up to play at Buddy's birthday celebrations at the Buddy Holly Center that evening. Whilst we're here, a quick note on The Cactus Theater, which is in its own right an historic landmark. It was the first suburban neighbourhood movie theatre in Lubbock, built in 1938 and is absolutely beautiful. It was designed in Art Deco style by Robert Maxey and has retained most of its original features, even though it was officially closed in 1957. It reopened its doors in 93 and is now run by a great guy called Daryl Holland. He was keen for us to come back and perform our show Rock and Roll Revolution next year, so watch this space.
After all that hard work rehearsing, and filming, we were keen for some more deep fried double fried double chicken burgers and triple fries at Triple J's. Chris and I had one of their home brewed IPAs which, it must be said, was extremely good. Chris and Dan bought Triple J's T-shirts, they love a themed T-shirt as much I like a long sentence. We were aware that the Buddy Holly Center and Jerry Allison's house, next door, closed at 3pm. It being 2.00pm already, we eagerly dived into the remarkable array of Buddy memorabilia at the Center. I had no idea he first played a 1952 Gibson Les Paul gold top but there was no mistaking his Fender Stratocaster and the pair of horn rimmed, Mexican-made specs that he was wearing on the 3rd Feb 1959. Staring at his chipped glasses on a plinth in a case, it's impossible to put into words the experience of looking at such an iconic symbol of one of the most tragic moments in musical history.
A beautiful SJ-200 and Norman Petty's mixing desk from Nor-Va-Jak studios were also highlights. Dan had his first 'drum geek experience' of the trip when walking around Jerry Allison's house. More on that later...
Soon after, we drove out to Buddy's grave and spent about half an hour trying to work out how many of Buddy's family were buried nearby. Both the surnames Kaiter and Weir belong to his close relatives and were spotted on adjacent graves; he's in good company. It's impossible not to feel a little overcome when you see the tragically short amount of time between September 7th 1936 and February 3rd 1959 on his headstone.
After a sobering and poignant hour at his gravesite, we were about ready to try our luck getting onto the bill at Buddy's birthday party (He would have been 81 today). The Buddy Holly Center was already buzzing by the time we got to the front gates, where we found Eddy. He quickly shuffled us over to the stage, where top local musician Dustin Garrett was setting up and sound checking as leader of the 'house band'. Eddy gave us a kind introduction and Dustin tentatively suggested we play a couple of songs, after all, it was his gig. Also on the bill that night were Duane Eddy, Kimmie Rhodes and a local singer/songwriter called Bruce Smith. It was at this point we heard mumbles and murmurs across the courtyard, we turned to see Maria Elena Holly slowly making her way forward to the table right in front of the stage. She was shortly joined by Larry Holly, Buddy's brother and a few other family members. The temperature was rising. Soon into proceedings, Eddy was asked to come up and play That'll Be The Day. He insisted that we, 'all the way from England', jump up and sing backup for him. An honour.
Then after a few versions of Buddy's songs from Dustin and the house band, they let us take the stage.
There is a special place right inbetween nervous terror and overjoyed excitement that you only inhabit a few times in your life. This was one such occasion. Playing Not Fade Away less than ten feet away from both Buddy's wife and his brother, with Duane Eddy standing to your left and Buddy's nephew to your right is not something that happens everyday. The tension was cut when Bruce, who had joined us earlier on backing vocals, welcomed Maria Elena to get up and sing along with us mid-song. She jumped up to the microphone and started belting out 'bup bup bup bups' with the boys. Utterly surreal.
Duane Eddy and Kimmie Rhodes were presented with Lifetime Legacy awards from our friends at The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation whilst we had the opportunity to chat with Larry and Maria Elena.
Ever the diplomat, some say, Maria Elena has no 'favourite' amongst Buddy's songs, "They're all great!". Well played indeed, Maria Elena - we couldn't agree more.
During a brief break and after a few words at the mic from Larry Holly, we found ourselves chatting Gretsch guitars with Duane Eddy.
This is also not something that happens every day. Duane's echo laden, 'twangy' guitar sounds on songs like Rebel Rouser and Peter Gunn in the late 50s carried the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll firmly into the surf music of the early 60s. He's worked with everyone from Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to Paul McCartney, Ry Cooder and James Burton. He keeps good company. He is also now the proud owner of a Bluejays CD. Signed of course. Whilst chatting with Duane we heard a voice at the microphone outside saying "Now where are those Bluejays, we sure want 'em back up here". And so, regretably, cutting Duane off mid-sentence, only to have him finish the story later, (thanks Duane) we jumped back up on stage and played three more songs. Peggy Sue, That's All Right and finished with Shake Rattle and Roll, Dustin joining on guitar.
At the end of the song everyone jumped out of their seats and gave us a huge cheer, we felt more than a little humbled. It had been an incredible and memorable but exhausting day, one of the very best. After the gig, whilst saying goodbye to everyone, we got a few CDs signed by some of the more illustrious members of the audience...
It's not often you ask someone else to sign your CD. Larry Holly had a few kind words to say that will stay with me forever.
We headed back to the ranch for some of the most delicious, home-reared, corn-fed cattle steaks I have ever tried, courtesy of the generous Henson family. We washed down the day’s success with a couple of bottles of Lubbock's finest - Shiner Bock beer. I slept pretty good that night. Happy birthday, Buddy.
Dan: Friday 8th September and our time in Lubbock has come to an end, after saying our goodbyes and packing everything into the car we make the short five and a half hour journey to Dallas, stopping for fried everything at lunch. On the road to Dallas we see flat land, trees, flat land, pick up trucks, Denny's x 37, flat land, many billboards and flat land. My favourite part of the journey was the hour long ‘radio play’ set in biblical times which sounded like it had been recorded in the seventies. If you love the lord, move to Texas. By 9pm we fit in a very short visit to Dallas. In the middle of all the skyscrapers we visit the site of JFK’s assassination back in the sixties. In a city that has many new buildings, this particular area is unchanged which makes it a very eerie place to visit. An X marks the spot where Kennedy was shot and the Texas book depository and grassy knoll look exactly the same as in the old footage and films.
We then drive to our motel, fit three people into a room meant for two and crash out - travel is tiring.
Saturday 9th September: By midday, we are on the plane and flying to everyone's favourite place, NYC. Ollie has more contacts than Specsavers and we are very kindly put up by one of his many acquaintances in an amazing apartment in the Harlem area - just around the corner from the Apollo Theater where Buddy Holly and the Crickets played almost 60 years ago to the day in 1957.
Skip forward if you hate drumming... by absolute luck my idol and drumming legend Keith Carlock is in town that night playing at an underground club called Iridium. Ollie and I manage to get tickets and we sit so close to the stage it's unreal, Keith is joined onstage by another musical legend Will Lee and if that's not enough they invite Lou Marini to play sax (he played for Chicago and is on every single pop song in the seventies that had sax on it). After being blown away/wanting to give up drumming altogether I get this geeky picture with Keith...
... and mumble my way through saying "well done" before leaving to meet Chris who has also lucked with one of his favourite artists, Fionn Regan playing at the Bowery Ballroom downtown.
We drink until 3am and, whilst celebrating what has already been an amazing week in Bluejays world, notice we’ve reached the 10,000 followers mark on Facebook. All in all, a pretty good week. Cheers!