#92: Buddy Holly & the Crickets, "20 Golden Greats" (1978)

92 20 Golden Greats.jpg

“You know I’m from near there, right?” Adam says, tuning his rickety drum set.

I brush greasy hair from my eyes.

“No way!” I say, struggling to tune my top string.

“Clear Lake is spitting distance from my hometown. I used to drive out there and read the plaque they put up. It’s in the middle of a giant field. There’s nothing there.”

“Let’s do this fucking thing,” Pete says. “We starting with Buddy Holly or the Damned?” He looks over at me.

“Um, hey four-eyes,” he says. “Where are your glasses?”

I motion to the mixing desk.

“I hate those god damn things. Ugliest blue ever and those frames make me want to wretch. I got them when I was twelve.”

Pete laughs. “Yeah, well, you better pinch your pennies if you want to get those Buddy Holly birth-control shades.”

“So, Adam,” I ask, plucking out a blues bass-line. “Did you set the memorial on fire?”

He shoots me a look of death.

“I heard that about you, man. Isn’t that why you moved up here? To get away from the long arm of the law?”

No response. He practices the ferocious pounding of “Peggy Sue” while Chris practices his rockabilly hiccups.

Out of habit, we gather in a circle, our amps ringing us, but this time we have actual reel-to-reel tape recorders and a mixing desk—not my rinky-dink Panasonic tape recorder arranged in the center.

Normally we’d be practicing in Chris’s living room, but Adam got us some time at the radio station where he works. We’ve rolled in on a Saturday morning, posters of Seals and Crofts, James Taylor, and America greeting us as we humped our gear into the basement, kicking lumps of hard-packed snow off our Doc Martens.

“Hey Beethoven, you ready?” Pete says, strumming out that classic fury of chords. This is one of our nicknames for Chris, for his unusual retro 1700s hairstyle. He nods affirmative.

We sweat our way through “Peggy Sue”— and I just pound that low E. Frankly, I don’t know if anyone hears me over Chris’s histrionics.

“That fucking stomped!” Chris yells, grabbing me by the jacket lapels.

Pete smirks. “Indeed,” he says. “Now hopefully you’ll stop asking us to cover the Beatles. Now that you know where they got their best ideas from.”

Chris’s ears turn red and he tries to speak. Pete tut-tuts him with a finger.

“Let’s not talk about the horrifying Sgt. Pepper,” he says. Chris fumes in a corner, dancing around like a boxer. If Elvis were a boxer.

Pete turns up the reverb on his foot pedal until the whole session is underwater. 1! 2! 3! 4! And we’re off into “That’ll Be the Day,” but my fingers disobey me halfway through.

“Hey butterfingers,” someone says to me. “We are playing this fucking thing slower than dirt. You got this?”

I nod. I want to get it. I don’t look at any of them for fear of losing the beat again. Pete plays that ringing descending intro again. I stare at my giant fingers.

I walk up the bass-line, tentatively smiling. I walk down, really grinning. I tap my foot and look over at Pete and his delicate, bright lead. Adam’s blue mop sways left and right in time, Ringo-style, and as much as it pains me to say it, it’s perfect.

All the while, Chris/Buddy falsettos, growls, and hiccups from somewhere beyond, brushing his chin-length locks away from the mic. As I tremble on the last note, a wave of elation hits me. We all look at each other. They feel it too.

*

Adam was so mortified by his drumming that he never let us hear the tapes. Whenever I asked him about it, he’d always mutter that he wanted to re-record his part or something like that, swearing he’d give them over eventually. A month or two after that Saturday recording, he fled back to Iowa and took the tapes with him. I’ve still never heard them. Perhaps we didn’t sound as good as we did in my mind…but on that morning, we were rock ‘n’ roll gods.

—Josh Medsker