Gene Pitney and Gary Rue

Rehearsal at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT, 2000

In 1986 I came on board as the music director for Gene (Town Without Pity) Pitney, a position I thoroughly enjoyed until Gene's death in 2006. (Read on to "How we got here" below.)

How We Got Here

While touring the East coast of the US with Gene in the early 90s, I bumped into Buddy Holly's Crickets on several occasions, and in the process became friendly acquaintances. I lost touch with Sonny Curtis (guitar) and Jerry Allison (drums) after Gene died, but I managed to land a job at McNally Smith College of Music in 2007 as a composition instructor and that proved to be a steppingstone to becoming reacquainted.

Ron Peluso's History Theatre was across the lobby from MSCM, and Ron thought it would be a good idea to have me recruit guitar, bass and drums to back his star performer Nicholas Freeman (as Buddy) to perform in his upcoming run of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story". I was of course very enthusiastic in accepting, and so the task was set before us to faithfully deliver the music. (Mr. Peluso, History Theatre's artistic director and director of our upcoming show, wanted to go avoid the ‘artistic license’ of the Broadway version and keep Buddy real).

During rehearsal I thought it would be a nice feather in my cap if, knowing the Crickets as I did, I could get them to attend the opening. I called. They gave me a firm NO. I returned a firm WHY?. In their words: "Buddy never acted like that on stage (the Broadway version). With Buddy it was never about entertainment, it was always just about the music. And he never stuck a cucumber down his pants. And Joe Mauldin never hopped on his bass fiddle. They were not true to the truth, and the music was no better. No one seemed to be able to 'get' the music. And don't get us started on the Gary Busey movie. There ain't no mountains in Lubbock, Texas."

Long story short, I leveraged my relationship (however thin) and managed to charm them into agreeing to come up from Nashville for the opening. Afterward, they said it was the best all-around performance they'd seen, New York, London, LA and Chicago not withstanding. And the music: "These guys actually 'got it!". Sonny and Jerry returned their fee and honored a matching grant with the Theatre's fundraising efforts.

By the way, we earned an IVEY award for music direction. No small feat, that. Here's how we 'got' the music.


Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly, Joe Mauldin

Most of Buddy's songs contain 3 or 4 chords, not too complicated (don't let that fool you, a songwriter's goal is make the complicated sound simple). It's easy to take it for granted and just bang it out, like any respectable bar band. But there was a secret ingredient that most folks (including most music directors) don't know about. It's called "The Rub". Read on.

The Secret to the Buddy Holly 'Sound': "The RUB"
As music director for "The Buddy Holly Story", I was puzzled as to why we weren't able to capture the precise sound of certain of Buddy's hits. I called in one of my contemporaries, Peter Johnson (former tour drummer for Manhattan Transfer) and said: "Listen. What's missing?" Peter responded that we weren't applying "The Rub".

"The Rub", using my own definition, goes something like this: Drummers in the 50s were typically steeped in Be-Bop, which is a form of 'swing' music a la the 'big band sound'. Buddy was a rock and roller, so he wanted to play everything 'square'. The bass player walked quarter notes, so he/she wasn't concerned with swing versus square. But put a swinging drummer together with a square guitarist, and voila, the rose blooms! This is the exact reason the Crickets endorsed the band, saying it's the best interpretation they had ever heard, and they'd heard a lot...