In June 1958, Buddy Holly met and fell in love with Maria Elena Santiago, a receptionist at Peer-Southern Music, Holly’s music publisher, in New York City. After proposing marriage on their first date, the two were married in Lubbock, Texas, in August. After their wedding, Buddy and Maria Elena Holly moved into an apartment at the Brevoort building, at 11 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, on the site of a house once occupied by Mark Twain and just two blocks from Greenwich Village’s “beatnik” culture, which was in full swing by the late 1950s.
Living in the Village, Holly and Maria Elena would spend hours wandering around the streets, frequenting intellectual hangouts such as the Bitter End and Café Bizarre. “Buddy loved those places,” Maria Elena remembered. “The strange clothes the people wore, the poetry readings, the way they talked to one another. He loved the freedom, the way everyone was allowed to do their thing.” More than anything, Holly was attracted to the music that would literally drift down the street – blues, jazz, folk, even flamenco music.
By the time the young couple had settled into their Manhattan apartment, Holly had set up a recording and publishing company called Prism, which he intended to focus on as a talent-spotter and producer, parallel to his songwriting and performing career. His dreams didn’t end there: he wanted to perform in movies (like Elvis Presley did), write musical scores for films, record a gospel album (ideally with among his favorite gospel singers, Mahalia Jackson) and begin collaborating on duets with other artists, such as Ray Charles. Prism’s chief objective was to tap into the huge reservoir of musical talent in West Texas, where Holly grew up. He had developed plans for a recording studio and office complex in Lubbock, Texas, that would serve as the command center for Prism. However, as a newlywed and with all of the possibilities that New York offered in the music business, Holly decided to base his headquarters in New York. (pictured, left: Buddy Holly's suit, circa 1958)
In the center of their living room apartment, Holly had set up a secondhand Ampex tape recorder that he had bought from his manager, Norman Petty. With the upcoming establishment of his Prism Company, Holly would use the Ampex to record demo versions of his songs, cover songs and new songs that he had written or was working on. According to Maria Elena, Holly would jump out of bed, rush into the living room and grab his guitar to record one of the many ideas that he would pop into his head.
In October 1958, Holly had a recording session at Decca’s Pythian Temple studios with Dick Jacobs, Coral-Brunswick’s new head of A&R. Holly had arranged for orchestral strings to accompany him during the session and two of the songs he recorded, a Paul Anka-penned number, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” and a song inspired by his new wife, “True Love Ways” became hits. For many years, it was believed that these recordings were his last.
However, from early December 1958 through late January 1959, Holly recorded six original songs on the tape recorder in his apartment: “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “That’s What They Say,” “What To Do,” “That Makes It Tough,” “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and “Learning the Game.” He also toyed around with arrangements and tempos for cover songs he recorded – versions of the Coasters’ “Smokey Joe's Café,” Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” and a few different renditions of Little Richard’s “Slippin' and a Slidin’.”
Sadly, not long after recording those solo acoustic tracks in his apartment, Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, shortly after leaving a gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The crash also took the lives of fellow stars J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens, and this date has become historically known as “The Day the Music Died.” (pictured, right: Buddy Holly's Union Card, 1959)
After his death, some of the “apartment tapes” were overdubbed by Norman Petty, using both the Crickets and a local West Texas band, the Fireballs, as backing. These new singles came out through 1960. Other songs on the tapes were overdubbed by producer John “Jack” Hansen at Coral Records in New York with the Ray Charles Singers on backing vocals. For years, the original apartment tapes were unreleased. Eventually, the songs began to leak out and appeared on various bootlegs, becoming rare and serious finds. In February 2009, the original apartment tapes were officially released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Holly’s untimely death, with versions on two commercially available albums – Buddy Holly Memorial Collection and Buddy Holly Down the Line Rarities.
Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, where Buddy Holly is among the artists featured in the Main Exhibit Hall's "Rave On: Rock and Roll's Early Years" collection.