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Monday, January 27, 2014

Buddy Holly: Reminiscing


1) Reminiscing; 2) Slippin' And Slidin'; 3) Bo Diddley; 4) Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie; 5) Baby, Won't You Come Out Tonight; 6) Brown Eyed Handsome Man; 7) Because I Love You; 8) It's Not My Fault; 9) I'm Gonna Set My Foot Down; 10) Changing All Those Changes; 11) Rock-A-Bye-Rock.

I do not know why it took Norman Petty almost three years to realize the benefits that could be gained from continuing to milk Buddy's archives. However, since Reminiscing came out in Feb­ruary '63, it certainly was not tied in to the British Invasion, which had not yet begun, and could not have caused additional interest in the dead man behind it all. More likely, it was caused by a growing deficit in Petty's own pockets.

In any case, neither this particular record, nor any of its three or four follow-ups, released through the 1960s, have any reason to exist these days, what with all of Buddy's undubbed demos, out­takes, rehearsals etc. now legally available on various boxsets and rarities collections. But just for the sake of history, and also for the sake of letting you know that these overdubbed recordings were never quite as terrible as devoted fans often proclaim them to be, I suppose that a word or two is in order at least about the first few of these mutants.

So, the story as it stands: Reminiscing is a set of eleven Holly / Crickets tunes, originally re­corded from 1956 to 1958, then left in the can until 1962, when Petty hired the Fireballs, a now-forgotten but then-modestly-popular rockabilly band, to bring the tapes to completion. Unlike «The Apartment Tapes», which were just Buddy and his acoustic, these songs, however, ranged from acoustic demos to semi-completed tracks that already had the Crickets playing on them, so Petty basically had one band play on top of the other every now and then — no wonder the sound is, mildly speaking, a bit messy in places.

That said, the Fireballs were a bona fide rock band like any other, and, at the very least, these overdubs make sense. The main problem of Reminiscing is not the tampering — it is the lack of high quality material. For sure, Buddy was a prolific recorder, but he wasn't that good of a song­writer to strike out a new great tune every day. After the «Apartment Tunes» had all made their appearance, in one form or another, on Story, the majority of what was left in the vaults turned out to be covers of other people's stuff — and given that Buddy's covers of other people on his regular LPs were rarely the focus of attention, what could one expect to find at the bottom of the barrel? I wouldn't go as far as to say that Petty was doing Buddy a huge reputational disservice, but there is not a single song here that could count as a lost gem (okay, maybe one).

About half of the tracks are well-known standards by Buddy's rock'n'roller competitors or imita­tions of these competitors (ʽI'm Gonna Set My Foot Downʼ is a transparent copy of Roy Orbi­son's ʽOoby Doobyʼ with a little bit of ʽEverybody's Trying To Be My Baby / Blue Suede Shoesʼ thrown in for good measure). Sometimes the arrangements are drastically experimental, but not to a reasonable effect — the attempt to reinvent Little Richard's ʽSlippin' And Slidin'ʼ as a slow «shuffle», with heavy emphasis on voice modulation, is sort of weird for weirdness sake, and was, I believe, rightfully abandoned by the artist because the song ceased to make sense. Elsewhere, we have Buddy trying on the shoes of Bo Diddley (ʽBo Diddleyʼ) and Chuck Berry (ʽBrown Eyed Handsome Manʼ) — decent homages, but completely unnecessary.

That one song which could qualify for posterity gave the album itself its title: a leftover from a session where Buddy was backed by sax master King Curtis. Although ʽReminiscingʼ is formally credited to the sax guy, it is reported that Buddy was the author, and that he handed the credit over to Curtis in acknowledgement of the man agreeing to play for him. Not that the composition is particularly original, but the Buddy/Curtis combination is, and it kind of makes one sad that the same combination was not tried out on some of Buddy's better songs.

Of the other originals, ʽBecause I Love Youʼ is a bit too draggy, monotonous, and simplistic to influence me with its tenderness, and the rest is rather generic rockabilly that might or might not date back to Buddy's earliest, not particularly adventurous sessions — all in all, if you were truly «reminiscing» about the man back in 1963, just hearing his voice on yet another bunch of tunes must have been an extraordinary experience, but now that it's all one for the newer generations, Reminiscing is understandably easier associated with Petty's pettiness than with Holly's holiness, if you get my drift. Therefore, a thumbs down here, even if the title track is well worth a spin or two in the playlist of your choice.

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