A lot of talent came out of the area – Buddy Holly, yourself, the Crickets, Sonny Curtis.
That area of the world spawned a lot of talent because there wasn’t a lot to do in Lubbock. Roy Orbison came from Odessa which is about 100 miles north-west of Lubbock and that’s a pretty desolate area. There’s definitely not a lot to do there. We didn’t know Roy at the time but we heard people telling us how good he was. Later on he did one of my songs, but I can’t remember which one. (Editorial: “Two Of A Kind” which was also recorded by Sue Thompson.)
Did you play any gigs where you thought, “This is a terrible venue”?
(Laughs) All the time. We played a lot of honky tonks. It didn’t matter to us, it was wherever we could find a place to play. After I got out of the picture, they played some roller rinks.
You certainly did one good gig, supporting Elvis Presley at the Cotton Club in Lubbock in October 1955?
Yeah, he was very good but he affected Buddy more than me. After seeing Elvis, he changed direction and knew where he wanted to go. Elvis was on the “Louisiana Hayride” in Shreveport. It was making him a star and he told us that he could get us on that show. We went down there like he told us, but the Director of Programming said that Elvis didn’t run the “Louisiana Hayride”, he did, and he sent us back home. We were told that the show was hillbilly heaven and we couldn’t just walk in and expect to be on the bill.
When Buddy found fame, did you ever begrudge him his luck and wish it was you?
Lord, no. I did make a couple of recordings on my own so I suppose I wanted to be a star, but I soon realised that it wasn’t what I was supposed to do. It’s a tough life being a star. That lifestyle eats a lot of people alive.
Did you keep in touch with him?
Yes, the Crickets were on the road quite a bit, but he kept in touch whenever he came back to Lubbock. The Everly Brothers had asked him to write something for them and we had the Everly Brothers in mind when we wrote “Wishing” and “Love’s Made A Fool Of You”. Wesley Rose wouldn’t let them record the songs because he didn’t have the publishing. The things that have come out were the demos that Buddy put down to show the Everlys.
“Heartbeat” has a Mexican influence in there.
I guess so, there were a lot of Latin influences where we came from. I don’t like that line, “Why does a love kiss stay in my memory”, but that was Norman Petty’s line. I thought it was a kinda dipshit line, but what the hell, if it got the song recorded, let it go.
I thought you’d run out of inspiration with the “piddle de pat”. Couldn’t you have put some words in there?
Why? That’s the sound of the heartbeat.
Oh my god. I’ve known the record for 35 years and never realised that.
There you go.
And what about the day that Buddy Holly died?
I had driven down to a little town close to Lampasas, where my folks had a farm. I visited with them and I was coming back to Clovis, New Mexico which is where I was living. I was working for Norman Petty as an engineer at his studio. I stopped off in Lubbock and I called Echo McGuire and she said, “Isn’t it awful?” And I said, “What?” as I hadn’t had the radio on. She was the one who told me about the plane crash.
What do you think would have happened if Buddy had lived?
That is pure conjecture, there is no telling what Buddy would have done. I know he was trying to get more involved in the business end and he would have liked a little record label of his own. One of the last times we were together, he wanted me to come to New York. He was going to start a publishing company and he wanted me to run it. I didn’t want to go to New York and at that time I couldn’t even spell publishing, much less be a publisher.
You had your own success as a songwriter, notably with “Misty Blue”.
I was in my basement over in Madison around 1966 and Brenda Lee was a very hot recording artist, who was coming up to record in a few weeks. I was trying to come up with something for her and then I wrote “Misty Blue” in about 20 minutes. It was a gift and it was perfect for her, but she turned it down. (Laughs) Her producer Owen Bradley loved the song and as he couldn’t push her to do it, he cut it country on Wilma Burgess. I was disappointed at the time because Wilma wasn’t as hot as Brenda Lee, but it was a Number 1 country record so everything worked out fine. Eddy Arnold then cut it and he had both a Number 1 country single and a pop hit, and Joe Simon had a big R&B hit with it. Dorothy Moore cut the really big version and then it was a country hit again, this time for Billie Jo Spears. There are over 200 versions of “Misty Blue”. I don’t have them all but I’ve got a lot of them. Brenda Lee is a friend of mine but I’ve never asked her why she didn’t like the song. I’m going to ask her next time I see her.
Did you write “Back In Baby’s Arms” for Patsy Cline?
Patsy and her husband Charlie Dick were my next door neighbours when I moved to Nashville. She was struggling, trying to get started. She was recording for Four Star, a little small label. She was having some success but not the kind of success that she eventually had. She had moved twice by the time I had written “Back In Baby’s Arms”, but I still had pretty good access to her. I went to her house and played it to her.
Are you halfway there when you have got the title?
Yes, if you have a really good title, the song kinda writes itself and it leads you where you need to go. I usually know when I’ve got a good song, but it is amazing when a song like “Misty Blue” proves to have a life of its own. I’ve written other songs that I have liked as much but for some reason the public hasn’t latched onto them.
How did you come to write “Somebody Else’s Girl” which was a UK hit for Billy Fury in 1963?
There’s no story to it. The idea came to me and I wrote the song, and that’s it. At the time I was producing records in the daytime as I had to make a living. I wrote the songs at night. It was published by E. B. Marks and I think Billy Fury was the first to record it. I thought Billy made a good record and I’m certainly happy to have it.”