Recording Peggy Sue

A favorite of the fictional Sparrows, Buddy Holly was a favorite of a pretty wide spectrum of people. John Lennon had a Buddy Holly poster in his bedroom at Mendips in Liverpool. British Prime Minister (and successor to Margaret Thatcher) John Major wore heavy black rim glasses in honor of the Lubbock flash. Cream covered Well…All Right. The Beatles mirrored the line up of Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets and became pretty much the second members of a band in rock and roll history to have individual identities.

Although Words of Love was #1 in the hearts of the Sparrows, #2 would be Peggy Sue. The story of the song is fairly well-known. Buddy wrote it as “Cindy Lou” and visualized the appropriate drum beat as being what is known as paradiddles. It’s a drumming pattern that a drummer taking lessons would learn early on. Jerry Allison, the Crickets’ stellar drummer, was embarrassed to play such an elementary beat and only agreed to when Buddy changed the name of the song to Peggy Sue, Allison’s steady girlfriend. Norman Petty, the band’s producer, suggested the song needed a chorus and came up with the absurdly simple yet incomparable “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue” based around an F chord smack in the middle of a A,D,E song.(The Rolling Stones went two “prettys” farther in 1979’s Beast of Burden.)   And Petty didn’t stop there. He close-miked Buddy’s steady, down, down, down strum on the Fender Stratocaster guitar so it shows up on the recording as an intimate purring, so the recording becomes in and of itself an indelible part of the performance. (Another amazing coincidence…the fictional Sparrows’s fictional producers do the same darn thing!)  Petty set it up so Allison was playing in a separate room, away from the vocals and guitars. Then he modulated the drumming, bringing it in and out of the mix, so the drums roll through the song like waves washing up on a beach. But the effect in the song was mysterious and theatrical.   It was like waves on a beach at night or rain spattering on a windshield. Buddy’s normal west Texas panhandle singing voice gets tinny and effeminate on two of the verses, namely the two verses that end with his elongated enunciation of “Peggy Sue.” He draws out Peggy Sue, stretching out the three syllables in the name to twelve hicuppy syllables. Maybe thirteen. It only happens twice. Nobody else does it quite like Buddy.

In any hit parade, this song is marching just behind the flags.

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