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Our good buddy.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

The way John Mielke sees it, forced school integration of the 1950s was partly responsible for the creation of rock 'n' roll.

For the first time, he says, black teenagers and white teenagers were going to the same schools, dancing at the same dances and listening to the same music.

At the center of that cultural mixing, Mielke says, emerged the figure of legendary singer Buddy Holly.

Holly, whose music comes to Eugene next week in two performances at the Hult Center of the jukebox musical "The Buddy Holly Story," was one of the first pop singers to transcend the separation of the two racial worlds, says Mielke, a longtime radio personality who owns KKNX-AM in Eugene.

Holly, who came from Lubbock, Texas, was a skinny white kid with thick glasses.

"What made him different was, he wasn't pretty," Mielke says. "He had these funny-looking glasses. And he looked like a typical nerd.

"People bought his records without seeing him. And then when they saw him, they had to accept it because they liked the music."

Holly managed to arrive on the American scene at the moment when teenagers were emerging as an important music market.

"That was the first time in American history that families were affluent enough that the teenagers didn't have to go to work to support the family and had money of their own," Mielke says.

Holly also provided music that had raw energy, compared with the standard pop hits of the day, Mielke says.

"It's 'That'll Be the Day" or 'How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?' I mean, music was horrible on the pop charts if you were a teenager."

Holly set a new standard for rock 'n' roll in less than four years of performing. In an era when even rock stars wore jackets and ties on stage, he gyrated like Elvis, played a quick, simple guitar and cranked out two-minute songs like so many jewels: "That'll Be the Day," "True Love Ways," "Peggy Sue."

Then, on Feb. 3, 1959 - a date known, thanks to the Don McLean song, as "the day the music died" - Holly was killed in an airplane crash in Iowa, along with Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

(Richardson, who had the flu, was only on the plane because a little-known singer by the name of Waylon Jennings, then playing backup for Holly, gave up his seat for him.)

There's nothing like dying young to make a singer a legend. The movie version of Holly's life, "The Buddy Holly Story," came out in 1978, with Gary Busey playing Holly.

The stage version, "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," premiered on London's West End in 1989 and ran for 13 years. Telling the story of Holly's life through his and other musicians' music, it includes such hits as "Not Fade Away," "Oh Boy!" the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" and Valens' "La Bamba."

The play is somewhat more historically accurate than the movie, by most accounts. The movie, for example, has Holly's final performance ending with the song "Not Fade Away," but people at the show later agreed that Holly and the rest of the performers at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, ended that evening with "Brown Eyed Handsome Man."

Among the recordings he's assembled in his career in radio, Mielke says, are commercial spots that Holly and other musicians made promoting their Winter Dance Party tour across the Midwest.

"Come and see us! We'll be there tomorrow night!" Mielke mimics.

"It's really eerie when you hear that. You know that in 24 more hours, they're going to be dead."

MUSICAL PREVIEW

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

What: Jukebox musical built around the songs of early rock 'n' roll legend Buddy Holly; a touring production presented by Bi-Mart Broadway in Eugene

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

Tickets: $32.50 to $52.50 (541-682-5000, BroadwayinEugene.com)
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Title Annotation:Music
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 31, 2013
Words:668
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