Buddy Holly tribute a star-studded bash
Darryl Sterdan /QMI Agency
September 8, 2011
HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — For a 75th birthday bash, it was a pretty loud affair.
More than a dozen singers and musicians — from icons like Stevie Nicks and Graham Nash to upstarts like Patrick Stump and members of Cobra Starship — gathered at Hollywood Boulevard's Music Box Theater on Wednesday to pay tribute to the music of Buddy Holly on what would have been the late rock great's birthday (which was officially proclaimed Buddy Holly day in L.A.).
"We'd like to make tonight's concert a serious rock ’n’ roll party," explained co-host and musical director Peter Asher by way of introduction. The former member of Peter and Gordon — who had a hit with Holly's True Love Ways back in the ’60s — is the man behind the related new tribute CD Listen to Me, whose set list and performers formed the backbone of the three-hour event.
That's right, it lasted three hours. More precisely, it took three hours. The event was also being filmed for an upcoming PBS special, and as anyone who's watched TV production can attest, it can be a fairly tedious and repetitive endeavor replete with glitches, retakes, delays and general silliness (including, on this occasion, a bizarre debate over whether attendees would be allowed to eat cupcakes at their tables — don't ask).
Between all the hurry-up-and-wait, though, several hundred invited guests — including Holly's widow Maria Elena, old pal Phil Everly, a handful of celebrites like Priscilla Presley and Nigel Lythgoe, plenty of musicians and industry types, and a few reporters like yours truly — were slowly but surely treated to a 20-song set of Holly classics. Here's a quick (and hopefully technical difficulty-free) rundown:
Stevie Nicks | Not Fade Away
It's the first song on the Listen to Me CD. It's a bona fide Buddy gem. And Nicks is arguably the biggest star on the roster. So opening with it is a no-brainer. Fleetwood's Mac's gypsy queen is her usual witchy self, clad head to toe in black and sporting aviator shades. The song itself isn't messed with too much — it still bops to the trademark Bo Diddley beat, pounded out by an all-star house band fronted by corkscrew-haired guitar slinger Waddy Wachtel and anchored by the veteran rhythm section of drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar. No complaints there.
Lyle Lovett | Well...All Right & I'm Looking For Someone to Love
After being introduced by co-host Chris Isaak — wearing the spangliest suit this side of Liberace's corpse ("It's not too much, is it?") — Lovett renders Well...All Right with some homespun hickory twang. Asher joins in with some harmony vocals, making the first of many guest appearances to come. The next guest: Legendary rockabilly guitar hero James Burton, who adds some searing fretwork to a bopping cover of I'm Looking for Someone to Love. Very cool.
Shawn Colvin | Learning the Game
The singer-songwriter was a late addition to the lineup, Asher told me last week. You'd never know it from the magnificent, melancholy version of Learning the Game she delivers. A violinist adds an extra layer of heartbreak.
Patrick Stump | Everyday & Oh Boy!
Remember the heavy-set, mutton-chopped frontman from Fall Out Boy? Well, forget him. This is the new Stump — thinner, blonder, and without glasses. You'd never have recognized him — until he opened his mouth and unleashed that unmistakable voice on his inspired reinvention of the sweetly melodic Everyday, which now features marimba, plenty of other percussion and strings. It's one of the most distinctive and charming cuts on the Listen to Me CD, and that goes double live. For bonus points, Stump also delivers a rockabilly version of Oh Boy!
Chris Isaak | Crying, Waiting, Hoping
Following a video tribute from Keith Richards — "I wouldn't be here today ... if it weren't for you, and I know a couple of guys in Liverpool who'd say the same thing” — Isaak sings a fittingly retro rendition of Crying, Waiting, Hoping. Not surprisingly, it sounds a bit like Roy Orbison covering Holly. "If you don't think that's nerve-wracking to sing that for Phil Everly," he says afterward, "I dare you to come up here." There are no takers.
Michelle Branch | Words of Love
First, another video tribute — this time from Ringo Starr, who wishes everybody "peace and love" as always. Then Branch offers up an endearing Words of Love — with some old dude named Nash singing backup.
Graham Nash | Raining in My Heart
"I wonder what Buddy Holly would have thought of all this," ponders that old dude as technicians try to fix their latest problem. "In 100 years, will anybody remember us? No. They'll remember Buddy Holly." Partly because of songs like Raining in My Heart, no doubt. Nash's take is wonderfully hushed and lush, complete with strings and a harmonica solo. The psychedelic screen on the front of his electric piano is a nice touch.
Graham Nash & Peter Asher | Take Your Time
"Now I get to introduce my other musical hero," Nash says of Peter Asher. "I only have two — and Crosby's not one of them." Ouch. If you're still a little confused about the first one, Nash used to be in a band called The Hollies. "We don't have the rest of The Hollies here because they live in England and they're too cheap to pay for the air fare," he cracks. (Maybe organizers should have got him to co-host.) Anyway, he and Asher pull off a very presentable take of Take Your Time, which was covered by Nash's old mates back in the day. That'll teach ’em to stay home.
Boz Scaggs | Maybe Baby & Rave On
And the hits keep on coming: Boz Scaggs — still looking too cool for the room in shades — raises the temperature with a swampy, CCR-ish Maybe Baby, then kicks up his heels with a full-on Rave On, with Nash, Asher, Wachtel and more fleshing out harmonies. Somebody's musical clam means we get a retake of the latter, which is a total bonus in this case. Scaggs' two-fer is easily the most rockin' performance of the night so far.
Raul Malo | Listen to Me
A final roundup of video tributes from the likes of Imelda May, Natalie Merchant, Jackson Browne, Eric Idle, Brian Wilson and Train's Patrick Monahan (who jackassedly praises Holly for being able to "make the bread and have the cred"). Then former Mavericks frontman Raul Malo lends his big, romantic pipes to Listen to Me — and adds just a dash of Tex-Mex. It looks like he's playing a tenor guitar. But then again, Raul is a mighty big hombre. And he gets a big, well-deserved ovation.
Chris Isaak & Michelle Branch | Heartbeat
Isaak: "When they make a movie about my life, I want Raul Malo to play me." Branch: "They're never making a movie about your life." But if they do, you can always include this jangly, strummy reading of Heartbeat on the soundtrack.
Gabe Saporta & Victoria Asher | Peggy Sue
Gabe Saporta & Patrick Stump | Think It Over
In case you were wondering: Yes, Victoria Asher is Peter's daughter. Nepotism aside, she and lanky Cobra Starship bandmate Saporta pull off the most extreme makeover of the event with their chugging, yelpy dance-rock update of Peggy Sue. Even Victoria's tight, bright orange dress isn't enough to distract from the music. For an encore, Stump returns to join Saporta on a bouncy Think it Over, laced with "Ba-ba-baaaaaaaaah" backups.
Paul Anka | It Doesn't Matter Anymore
"Let me do it; I won't f--- it up," announces Anka after host Asher flubs his intro. He's kidding, right? Sure. But it seems the Ank has perhaps spent too many years playing the Big Room in Vegas; his vibe is Rat-Packy, his jokes are shtiky, his name-dropping is annoying ("This was the biggest buzz next to writing My Way for Sinatra") and his mahogany tan makes Snooky seem like Johnny Winter. Still, you gotta give it up for his gorgeous performance of Holly's posthumous hit It Doesn't Matter Anymore, which Anka wrote for him at age 18. And when I say you gotta give it up, I mean it: Anka finishes the song, then perches on the edge of the stage like a bellhop waiting for a tip until the audience gives him a partial standing O. Dude couldn't have milked us any harder if we had udders.
Stevie Nicks | It's So Easy
Nicks returns for a second go-round — and makes it look easy with this cowbell-rocking version of It's So Easy. "I totally miss him," she says of Holly. Awww. After her tune, Isaak cracks: "Stevie Nicks — remember that name. You're going to be hearing a lot from that girl."
Raul Malo | True Love Ways
Another welcome return: Malo comes back to get romantic one last time with Holly's marriage present to Maria Elena (he proposed on their first date in 1958, just months before he died in that infamous plane crash). Sweet as the tune is, we have to be getting near the end soon. After all, Holly didn't write THAT many songs.
Grand Finale | That'll Be the Day
Finally, just in time to ensure the show actually ends while it's still Buddy's birthday, most of the performers — along with stage-crashers Phil Everly and Albert Lee — bash out a loose, jammy cover of Holly's first hit That'll Be the Day. And that'll be a wrap! Until the next anniversary, at least.
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