Buddy Holly’s 75th Birthday: Hollywood Pays Tribute to a Star Gone Too Soon

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Happy 75th birthday, Buddy Holly. We sure do miss you.

Today would have been 1950s rocker Buddy Holly’s big seven-five, had he not perished in a small plane crash along with Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and the plane’s pilot, Roger Peterson, on February 3, 1959 near Clear Lake, Iowa. Don McClean later gave the day a memorable name in his hit 1971 song “American Pie,” marking Holly’s death as “The Day the Music Died.”

Charles “Buddy” Hardin Holley—the ‘e’ in his last name was probably dropped by mistake in his first recording contract—was born September 7, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas and went on to become one of the most important and influential singer-songwriters of early rock music. “Buddy” was the nickname his family gave him—the same family that taught him how to play the guitar, four-string banjo and lap steel guitar.

(PHOTOS: Buddy Holly: Rare and Unseen Photographs)

After a few childhood recording stints and playing in high school talent contests, Holly went on to perform bluegrass-influenced country songs on the local Lubbock radio station, occasionally opening for bigger acts passing through. His big break came on October 15, 1955, when he opened for Elvis Presley, and it was Presley’s influence that swung Holly full-on into rock and roll.

Holly turned out to be a musical hit-machine, forming his band The Crickets and embarking on whirlwind (albeit fleeting) career and recording hits like “That’ll be the Day,” “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday” (Holly eventually scored 10 hits on the Billboard Top 100). His musical contributions weren’t just song-based, either: It was Holly who established the blueprint for the basic rock and roll band: two guitars, one bass and drums, influencing bands from The Beatles to contemporary groups like Weezer (who paid tribute to Holly with their eponymous 1994 hit).

For his 75th, he’ll receive a Hollywood Walk of Fame star, and a couple of all-star tribute albums with artists like Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Kid Rock, Lou Reed, My Morning Jacket and Chris Isaak paying homage.

Check out “Love’s Made a Fool of You,” a song Holly wrote in 1954 and recorded in 1958, but that wasn’t released until after his death in 1962.


And here’s actual footage of Holly in 1957 on Arthur Murray Dance Party, an American TV variety show that ran from 1950 to 1960.


MORE: The Day the Music Died

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.