Buddy Holly might have been celebrating his 75th birthday Sept. 7, had the iconic rock ‘n’ roll pioneer not lost his life at age 22 in the infamous “day the music died” Iowa plane crash along with Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. This year, Holly’s birthday will be celebrated in a huge way, with events including the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Blvd. Walk of Fame, and the release of “Listen To Me: Buddy Holly” an all-star tribute album that will also serve as the basis of the “Ultimate Buddy Party,” a VIP concert event that will be filmed as a PBS special.
Legendary record producer Peter Asher is the man behind “Listen To Me,” and he’ll be on hand to speak at the star unveiling as well as the concert. He tells us the first performer lined up for the album was Stevie Nicks. “We asked her very early on, so she got to choose which song she wanted to do. She grabbed ‘Not Fade Away’ and did a really great job with it. It’s a really great vocal.’”
Others on the highly-listenable album include Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Eric Idle, The Fray, Cobra Starship, Patrick Stump, Jeff Lynne, Natalie Merchant, Imelda May, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, Chris Isaak, Pat Monahan of Train, and Zooey Deschanel.
Asher says, “It was one step at a time. There are people we thought would be Buddy Holly fans who weren’t necessarily. Others heard what we were doing and said, ‘I’m in.’” Zooey — the couldn’t-be-hotter indie rocker-actress who has a new Fox sitcom, “The New Girl” debuting Sept. 20 — was actually the last star aboard the project. “That was interesting. We were thinking about ‘It’s So Easy,’” he says of the perennial Holly favorite, “and I’d been a fan of Zooey’s since I first heard She & Him” — her duo. Then, “I ran into her in my house — at a party my daughter Victoria was giving downstairs,” he says. Victoria is a member of Cobra Starship. “I had read that she was a Linda Ronstadt fan, so I knew we had that in common…She committed right away.”
Ronstadt’s 1976 hit version of Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” — one of many Ronstadt recordings produced by Asher — is also included on the album.
“It’s a labor of love for me,” he says of the project, into which he’s put about a year so far. Holly’s career, he notes, was incredibly prolific and potent despite its stunning bevity. “Not only did he write this extraordinary catalogue of songs, but he was starting to change things in other ways. He wanted to start his own label. That was revolutionary at the time. He was questioning the structure of the record business. He would have changed the whole music business.”
Not only that, but “He made glasses cool. He was the nerdy guy for the nerdy guys among us, like me, to identify with. My songwriting partner at the time wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Buddy Holly.”