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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2009
I was a little surprised but delighted to see this handsome little book in my local Waterstone's bookshop at the weekend.

John Gribbin, a self-confessed Holly fan of long standing clearly has a deep knowledge and love of Buddy's music, and has done his research thoroughly for what may well turn out to be the book of choice for anyone seeking an introduction to the story of Buddy Holly, his impact on the music scene at the time (and since) - notably in Britain - and his lasting, extraordinary musical legacy. His stated aim is not to compete with any of the existing books, but a celebration of Buddy's short life through focussing on his music, and the influences that made him the musician he was. This focus is a welcome change from for example, the seemingly agenda-driven, error-strewn and fanciful assertions that marred the Ellis Amburn book of a few years back. A number of more worthwhile sources are credited, in particular the Philip Norman and Goldrosen/Beecher books, though there is no reference to Bill Griggs's work.

The book is an easy read with an engaging narrative: the context of life in small-town Lubbock, the influence of religion on the community, and the prevailing hard times for Buddy's family set the scene for his musical development, including his formative years, his early disappointments, and eventual (probably inevitable) if rather brief period of stardom - by which time he was a seasoned stage performer - and ending with the final, fateful tour and plane crash are entertainingly covered in the first 171 pages. All the main people in Buddy's life, the recording sessions, TV appearances and tours including Australia and Britain are covered, if briefly.

In the last chapter, titled Not Fade Away, the author goes on to give his views on Buddy's influence and legacy, including the British beat boom of the early '60s, the subsequent record releases, what Buddy might have gone on to achieve, the post-Holly Crickets, (some of the) covers by other artists, the Busey film, and the DVDs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Norman Petty does not come out of it particularly well, though the author does give him appropriate credit for what he did achieve with Buddy. Petty had real musical expertise, an impeccable ear for music and sound, and of course a modern recording studio, and business acumen. Against this are set his greed, selfishness - and certain (if not unknown, then and now) sharp business practices. John Gribbin does speculate on his character and what may have contributed to the way he operated. I'll leave you to find out (p. 66 and p. 69).

It's interesting to surmise how Buddy would have got on without Norman Petty in his life. We'll never know of course, but with his prodigious talent? Real talent tends to win out.

Other books have been more comprehensive - the Norman and Goldrosen/Beecher books in particular I can recommend - but there are numerous little anecdotes that inform and entertain. These include, for example, when Elvis came to town ('Everything changed...') when Buddy noticed in particular his effect on girls; Little Richard at the Cotton Club (similar impact); the recording of Peggy Sue; the story of Buddy's iconic new glasses; The Crickets' appearance at the Apollo in Harlem, with their Bo Diddley Beat; the impact Buddy's Stratocaster made at the London Palladium; and Carl Bunch's view that JI effectively invented rock drumming by using the drums as a lead instrument. Though Buddy (and Elvis) were heavily influenced by black music, in particular blues and rhythm and blues, it is worth noting how things were for black artists at the time. Though black or 'race' music was readily accessible through radio, records, and appearances at local venues, throughout the southern states white and black artists were not allowed to appear on stage together. A little later in the book there is also a reference to the so-called 'Boston riot' when white youths objected to white and black artists appearing on the same bill there.

There's one small detail I noticed. Norman Petty is credited with playing the celesta on Everyday, when I'd always understood it was Vi. There you go.

The book is illustrated with 8 excellent full-page black-and-white photos.

At the end is a list of sources and further reading, and a useful index (always an essential).

What do we learn then? Well, if you are a total Holly perv, perhaps not a whole lot. But as a Holly aficionado since 1957 (OK, a perv) I found the book most entertaining and a very worthwhile read. If you don't know much about Buddy's story then this is for you - yes, a celebration of his life and music.

And Buddy's importance as a musician? The author quotes Rolling Stone's Dave Marsh (from 1978): 'One of Buddy Holly's greatest contributions was his involvement with every step of the record-making process: production, arranging, writing and, as one of the pioneers of the overdub, even engineering. In a way it's this part of Holly's vision that is his greatest legacy. Today (in 1978) rock musicians are free to spend months in the studio trying to craft perfect recordings without much corporate interference, in large part because of the battles fought by such earlier musicians. Holly helped to contribute to rock the notion that it was possible to do it all, no matter what anybody said.'

Buddy's legacy is all the more remarkable given the fact that he died at 22, less than two years after his first hit record, leaving just over 100 recordings. Since then of course there have been numerous reissues including hundreds of compilations, particularly since the year 2000 (many to be avoided!).

Now, in the digital age, of course it's possible to do it all at home - in the bedroom. How times change. And, as John Gribbin says, Buddy would have loved that!
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on 7 January 2009
Although Holly died several years before I was even born, his music has always held a fascination for me. The fact that he influenced so many people, from The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to Blink 182 and Weezer is something pretty special, and this is an absorbing introduction into his life and music.

It's obvious the author, John Gribbin, is a devoted fan, providing his account with an enthusiasm that is catching. As he says, at the age of 22 and 5 months (the age Holly died), Lennon had just had his first number one single and first album with The Beatles...the way Lennon's career developed gives a hint as to what a talent like Holly's might have achieved.

With an account of every recording session and a small photo-plate section this is a fascinating insight into the man who produced such enduring classics as That'll Be the Day, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue and Brown Eyed Handsome Man. A stylish and brilliant book to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a great man.
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on 16 January 2009
Most of the books I read are connected with science, and I'm a long-time fan of John Gribbin's work. But I also listen to 50s & 60s music for relaxation, so it came as a big surprise to find that Gribbin had written a biography of Buddy Holly. I opened it up with some trepidation -- what could a science writer know about Buddy Holly? -- but I was hooked from the first paragraph, where Gribbin establishes his credentials as a 13-year -old fan of Holly in 1959. This book is a delight, clearly a labour of love from somebody who knows just about everything there is to know about the man and his music. Gribbin's passion for his subject shines through, and Holly himself comes across as a likeable young man driven by his passion for music. I especially liked the way Gribbin explains the roots of Holly's music, in terms of bluegrass, country and western, and R&B. He rightly doesn't dwell too long on Holly's tragic early death, but moves on to describe his continuing influence on the music there after right up to the present day. This is definitely the best rock biography I have ever read. Maybe Gribbin should give up the science and concentrate on this!
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on 26 February 2009
John Gribbin's excellent book 'Not Fade Away' provides a fresh perspective on the life and music of Buddy Holly which should be welcome to even the most avid and knowledgable fan.
This is the first book, at least of which I am aware, which details the complete recording history of Buddy's works. Every recording session and the details of the product of each session is skilfully interwoven into the narrative so that a much clearer sense and feeling for the chronology of Buddy's brief but prolific musical output is achieved.
Some startling facts are brought into sharp focus; how young the principal players were; how many other musicians were in Buddy's orbit; how few (three) USA top ten hits Buddy had both during his life and posthumously. Further, that the use of orchestration on Buddy's recordings was chronologically a recent phenomenon - yet an enduring and influential one.
After fifty years one might be forgiven for thinking that little new could emerge; in terms of raw data that may be true. Although I have been a Buddy fan for more than those fifty years I felt I learned a lot contextually from this fine book.
Highly recommended
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If like me you're interested in Buddy Holly you find this book provides a great and affectionate introduction to Buddy's life. Written by someone that's been a fan for 50 years who focuses on the music, rather than the personal, though that is covered. A 200 page book of fairly large print. A nice neat start on Buddy Hollies short life.

I've liked Buddy holly since my Nan gave me a greatest hits album when I was a kid a fairly long time ago so it was great to learn a lot more detail about Buddy's life. I knew he died young but at the age of 21 after 18 months of fame! What he did was excellent, what could have been...

The author seems to really know his stuff and puts right some of the misconceptions that seem to have been bandied about, not that I knew them all. Covering his up bringing to his interest and talent in music to his death. Also paints a excellent picture of his characters and generosity. It does cover one not so good aspect but this in not dwelt on. If you come to this from seeing the film be ready for some differences and an even sadder ending.

The only criticism I can make of this book is that it is short and toward the end does seems to have been rushed (though that could be me getting into it and want to finish it). Could may have done to take his time more and add more detail but perhaps that is due to him not wanting to repeat what has been covered in other books. There's an excellent critic at the end of other books to consider for further ready. He's wet my appetite to find out more.
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on 22 April 2010
I have been a lifelong Holly fan and learned more about Buddy's music and his recording history from this book than any other. An obvious labour of love on the author's part. Accounts of Buddy's untimely and tragic death still leave a lump in the throat 50 years on. A fascinating read.
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2009
There are biographies where the sheer interest of the subject's life overrides any stylistic weaknesses in the biographer's approach; I would place this in that category.

Gribbin has clearly done his research; however, he sticks so doggedly to the facts (understandably so, since the unfortunate Holly seems to have spawned his very own breed of conspiracy theorists, set on indulging in unnecessary, scurrilous and sensationalist speculation) that the book never really gains any momentum. There are also a couple of quirky recollections of the author's personal experience of Holly's music which sit very uneasily with the somewhat dry approach to the rest of the story.

As othere have said, therefore, this is a good introduction to the subject, but should be used to prompt further reading and listening, not be seen as the final word.
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on 1 February 2011
Even though I didn't buy this book on Amazon, I have read it and I have to say it's one of the best books I've ever read. The problem with most biographies is that they all pretend to be the 'ultimate' biography. The writer usually pretends not to be a fan and in doing so, they end up putting the artist down all the time. John Gribbon however writes almost informally as though we know him. He even talks about which Buddy Holly songs he's got on his ipod! This informal style of writing makes it a light read, but also informative. In this book, John focusses on the most important subject in Buddy's life - his music!
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on 7 June 2014
I already have several Buddy Holly biographies but decided to add this one because it promised to concentrate on the music, rather than re-hash the familiar biographical details PLUS, it said in the Product Description, "Not Fade Away" also includes - uniquely - a full and detailed account of every Holly recording session, which any Buddy fan will devour." - any Buddy Holly fan would devour that detailed account but it is not in this book!! Really disappointed.
Otherwise it's a so-so biography that doesn't add a lot to what's already out there.
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I don't often write reviews, but I found this little tome delightful.
It has been written by a life-long fan from his own perspective and is an ideal entry into the world of Buddy Holly. I loved the personal touches this man has brought to his writing and the devotion to his subject, which oozes through his gentle writing style. Why 4 stars and not 5? Simply because the accounts are not first hand - but don't let this deter you.
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