Jerry Naylor was a witness to some of the greatest music in the ’50s and ’60s. He replaced Buddy Holly as lead singer of the Crickets after Holly was killed in the 1959 plane crash on “the day the music died,” as it is known thanks to the Don McLean song.
He knew the legends of rock n’ roll like Elvis Presley personally. And the music is still very much a part of his life.
His latest project is a new CD called “Jerry Naylor: 50th Anniversary Tribute: The Rockabilly Legends.” The disc is to celebrate the launch of the Rockabilly Legends Foundation in the UK, which will take place at the Hard Rock Cafe in London, in association with Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. He played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool Tuesday night, according to Click Liverpool.
He previously co-authored a book/DVD package that tells the history of the music called “The Rockabilly Legends: They Called It Rockabilly Long Before They Called It Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
In a phone interview that was full of stories of his memories of the past, Naylor recalled he brought a guitarist friend named Glenn Campbell with him to the session, where he played on “Don’t Ever Change.”
“I’d hired Glenn as a guitar player, brought him out from Alberquerque, N.M. I brought him to California. We wrote some songs together. I needed a guitar player. This agent I was working for in Texas said, ‘There’s a guy in Alberquerque. He works at a place called The Hitching Post and he’s a really really good guitar player.’ He didn’t tell me what a great singer he was.
“But I went there. This was not long after Buddy died in 1959, so I went up there in the summer and we were instantly friends, brothers. I said, ‘I’m on my way to Los Angeles. I have a writing agreement with American Music Publishing Co. And I’m going to work on a new contract for a recording. And no one had mentioned even that I might be in line to be lead singer of the Crickets. I had no dream of that.”
Naylor talked about his first meeting with Buddy Holly.
“I first met Buddy in 1955, maybe in ’54,” he said. “Because there was a radio station in Lubbock, Texas, KDAV, that was built in ’53 or ’54. It was the first full time country music station in America. When you see the ‘Buddy’ play, they use that as the background, KDAV.
“And he and Bob Montgomery, they wandered in. They were still in high school and sang country and hillbilly. Buddy really liked bluegrass. And right away, Dave Stone, the owner, wanted them to do a regular show, which was smart because it would get local listeners listening to these local guys. And the same thing happened at KPAP,” another pioneering country station, which was run by his stepfather, Joe Treadway.
“And that’s how it all started.”
The new CD, to be released in the U.S. June 24, on the Palawan Production’s label, features songs old and new sung by Naylor with a voice sounding much younger than his 74 years. Its first single is one of the new songs, “I Still Love You Peggy Sue.”
“I’m singing the whole thing. I do most of my own harmonies,” he said proudly.
“God does wonderful things. When I started singing again, which was in 2000, it was just there. I had had surgery. They had to go in through the throat and also through the abdomen. I went to a specialist 35 miles outside of Portland, a wonderful doctor of the vocal chords who was from Tennessee.
“He asked me, ‘How old are you?’ And I said, ’70.’ And he said, ‘Have you had a transplant of your vocal chords?’ And I said, ‘I didn’t even know you could do that.’ And he said, ‘Well, you’ve got the vocal chords of a 30-year-old.’
“I have to tell you it’s God’s work. I don’t know. I was just very very blessed.”
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