The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Peggy Sue"

Friday, June 29: 12:29 p.m.
Posted by Shelby Morrison
Buddy Holly and the Crickets' "Peggy Sue" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

On Monday, July 1, 1957, Buddy Holly and the Crickets set up their equipment in Clovis, New Mexico, at the Norman Petty Recording Studio to lay down the songs “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Listen to Me” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too.” During the session, they unwittingly had a special guest – a real cricket had found its way into the echo chamber and ended up on two of the songs, “Listen to Me” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too.” All attempts at trapping the serendipitous cricket had failed, so they kept the tape rolling.

Holly had brought a song called “Cindy Lou” to Clovis to record. This song eventually became the hit “Peggy Sue.” Originally, Holly composed the song using the name “Cindy,” after his sister Pat’s small daughter; and “Lou,” after Pat’s middle name. “Cindy Lou” was already being featured in the Cricket’s stage set, played to a Latin beat. When the Crickets began rehearsal for the songs, drummer J.I. Allison warmed up with a hard, pounding double paradiddle beat with no cymbals on his snare drum. Holly liked the sound and suggested that they use it on “Cindy Lou” and the band agreed. The custom-built, acoustically perfect walls inside the Petty recording studio magnified the drum beat so much that Allison had to move his drum kit to the reception area of the studio, next to the Coke machine.

As the Crickets started to record the song, they found the words of the song – in essence, about a toddler in pigtails – did not work with the newfound tempo and beat. At the time, Allison was dating a blonde majorette who also played alto saxophone in the Lubbock High School band named Peggy Sue Gerron. Allison wanted to honor his new gal – and future wife – and asked whether they could change the name of the song to “Peggy Sue.” Holly agreed, and with a new beat and new girl, the song really took shape – but not without issue.

Initially, Holly struggled playing guitar to the revved up rhythm, as he couldn’t get his hand to the pickup selector switch on his Fender Stratocaster without losing the beat.  As a workaround, guitarist Niki Sullivan knelt beside Holly during the recording and flipped the switch for him at the appropriate points. Producer Norman Petty was also flipping switches, as he turned the echo chamber’s control switch off and on continuously, so that it sounded like there were two drummers playing on the record. With the ingenuity of their recording techniques, the instrumentation and Holly’s hiccup-inflected vocals, the song was perfect.

The song was a hit, catapulting to number three on Billboard’s pop charts in late 1957 / early 1958. “Peggy Sue” continues to resonate, as it has been covered by a multitude of artists from the Beach Boys to John Lennon to Cobra Starship. Holly was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986; and the Crickets were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Buddy Holly is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Cities and Sounds exhibit, in the Rave On – Rock and Roll's Early Years section, which pays tribute to the pioneers who created the sound and style of rock and roll.

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