HOLLY IN THE HILLS
The songwriter and record producer BOB MONTGOMERY talks to Spencer Leigh about Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and “Misty Blue”.
This feature appeared in two parts in Now Dig This, February 2003.
Some people, but not many, have done it all – Bob Montgomery has been a performer, songwriter, record producer and music publisher and he has been associated with some of the biggest hits of the last 50 years. You will know many of the songs, but “Now Dig This” readers are likely to know him for his association with Buddy Holly. Buddy’s first performances were with Bob Montgomery and together they wrote “Wishing”, “Heartbeat” and “Love’s Made A Fool Of You”.
When his son, the singer and songwriter Kevin Montgomery, was in the UK, I asked him if I could contact his father and this is the result of my call to Nashville.
Can we check your date of birth first? Some books say 1936 and others 1937.
12 May 1937 I was born in Lampasas, Texas, which is in central Texas. We lived in quite a few different places as my dad did construction work and went where the work was. We moved to Lubbock when I was in the sixth grade, 12 years old.
Were you in the same school as Buddy Holly?
Not at first. Junior High is where we first met. We had a common interest in music and we were both learning to play guitars and whatever. Buddy had a musical family, his two brothers, Larry and Travis, both played, so it was a natural transition for him. When we started out, we were doing Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs songs, and Buddy played banjo and mandolin for a while. There were a lot of duet harmony records we liked, bluegrass stuff. We started playing in school talent shows and we eventually had our own little radio show on KDAV through Pappy David Stone. Pappy featured local talent every Sunday afternoon, and Buddy and I ended up with our own 30 minute radio show every week.
And did you get paid for that?
(Laughs) Are you kidding?
How did the recordings come about?
Most of those things were demos that we did over in Clovis, New Mexico. There was also a little recording studio in Wichita Falls that we used. We would do some construction work or whatever we could to earn money and then we would go to Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis and record some demos.
Did you both have it in mind that you wanted to be professional musicians?
Yeah, we wanted to be stars, but we were only kids and really it was just a good way of getting girls. (Laughs)
It’s intriguing to find that you, and not Buddy, are doing the bulk of the songwriting.
Well, Buddy didn’t have that much interest in writing songs at that time. He didn’t start writing a lot until he got his record deal with Decca. Jerry Allison was very much a catalyst for Buddy’s writing. He became very prolific in the short time that he was songwriting. He wrote all those great songs in 18 months.
You and Buddy did write a couple of those early songs – “Baby It’s Love” and “I Gambled My Heart”.
Yeah, I think we did, though I had more interest in writing than he did. Quite frankly, I don’t think the songs are that good. We were just teenagers learning to write. When I was in music publishing, I never thought of passing them on to other artists. The best things about the records are Buddy Holly’s performances. I was doing the lead vocals but he was a great harmony singer. He had a lot of innate talent, much more than myself.
The song I like best from the Buddy and Bob sessions is “Flower Of My Heart”. Is there a story behind that?
No, it was just a song that I wrote. I don’t remember what the inspiration was. They had an original song contest at Lubbock High and it won the best song of the year, and that was when we were sophomores.
One song you wrote together is “Down The Line” which, when the Fireballs were added after Buddy’s death, sounds more like rock and roll.
Well, I never thought of it that way. I was dating my first wife who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I wrote that on the way to Albuquerque – “The white lines flashing on the road below” and all that.
Did you mind the tracks being issued with additional accompaniment?
Oh, they were better in their unedited form, but Norman wanted to use the Fireballs on them. The original tracks were just Buddy and myself on guitars or whatever, with Sonny Curtis on fiddle on a couple. We weren’t the most accomplished musicians.