Today's entry in "How I Got Here," featuring kindie musicians talking about albums influencing their musical decisions, is from Tito Uquillas, guitarist and chief songwriter for the Bay Area(-ish) power-pop band The Hipwaders. The band's just released a sweet little 2-song EP featuring a couple covers, including one of Frances England's "The Books I Like to Read" (here's an Amazon link). Here's Tito's tribute to a rushed-out greatest hits collection that's inspired him for more than 30 years.
When I was asked if I’d a write a little something about an album that influenced me as a musician my first thought went to Gary Busey. Yep, everybody’s favorite crazy uncle was probably the biggest influence on my musical future as he introduced me to the genius of Buddy Holly.
In 1978, I had been playing keyboards in a band for a few months with little progress. My bandmates and I would just literally pound out three chords in a never ending cacophony of sound.
One afternoon I went with my sister to see The Buddy Holly Story at the local movie theater. I knew and liked the few Buddy Holly songs I had heard on oldies radio stations but I didn’t own any of his albums. To say the movie was a revelation is an understatement. Gary Busey brought (whether accurately or not) a vibrant, exciting Buddy Holly to life. Before the end of the movie I was determined to chuck the keyboard and learn to play guitar. Who the heck wants to be trapped behind a keyboard when you can jump around the stage with a guitar!
My younger brother had been taking guitar lessons and I asked him to show me how the little box figures above the chords on sheet music corresponded with the guitar. I bought a Buddy Holly songbook and the only record of Buddy’s I could find: Buddy Holly’s 20 Golden Greats.
Geez, that album art stunk. Looking it up on Wikipedia reveals that the album was a rush release to take advantage of the movie. Despite the bad graphics, it’s the music that inspired me and continues to inspire me to this day.
Buddy Holly assimilated rockabilly, country & western, blues and New Orleans music into his sound. Just listening to the first three songs on the album reveal the diversity: from the rockabilly rave up of “That’ll Be the Day,” to “Peggy Sue” (which I still don’t know how to classify), to the ballad, “Words of Love.”
I’ve learned a lot from Buddy Holly. From production ideas - with credit to producer Norman Petty and under-rated drummer, Jerry Allison, who would use his lap or a cardboard box to lay down percussion - to his singing style and his guitar playing. Since 1979 to this day I always followed the 3 person line-up of Buddy Holly’s Crickets for my bands.
Perhaps the biggest influence Buddy Holly had on me was as a songwriter. Within a month of learning guitar I wrote my first song utilizing all five chords I could play. I found it easier to sing melodies over chord changes on the guitar rather than the piano. I also loved that Buddy Holly songs were mostly open chords as I had trouble playing barre chords with my weak hands. His songs were simple, melodic, involved few chords and exuded positive vibes full of hope. It took me many years of songwriting to realize how difficult it is to write a good, simple song and I’ve found very few people who do it well.
One of those people is Frances England. My band The Hipwaders’ latest release is a single featuring Frances’ song, “The Books I Like to Read.” I don’t know if Frances has listened to Buddy Holly much but she’s got that Buddy Holly songwriting style. “The Books I Like to Read” is primarily three chords (A-D-E in the key we play it…just like “Peggy Sue”!). You add Bm & F#m to the bridge and that’s the whole song. Brilliant. As the cover of 20 Golden Greats simply depicts, “Buddy Holly Lives.”
Photo by Joel Rosenbaum.