Gary and Ramona Tollett, who were friends of Buddy Holly, will return to Clovis to sing in the 2005 Clovis Music Festival. They will sing backup vocals in a rendition of “That’ll be the Day.” (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
At a pharmacy in Lubbock, Texas, a mutual friend introduced musician Buddy Holly to Gary and Ramona Tollett, a young couple from Arizona pursuing a career as gospel singers.
“He gave me the first impression of being a shy, young man,” said Ramona.
The introduction led to a friendship and soon, a working relationship blossomed. In 1957, the Tolletts traveled to the Norman Petty Studio to record backup vocals for the song That’ll be the Day which, Gary says, jump-started Holly’s career.
Then Holly played lead guitar on a demo for Gary, which landed him a record deal in the Big Apple.
What did they do, after recording sessions with Buddy Holly?
“We ate Fritos and drank 8 oz. cokes that cost 24 for 39 cents,” Ramona said. “We’d play Wahoo, a game of marbles, laugh and tell jokes.”
“For several months, we spent almost every night together,” her husband added.
Soon after, Holly became a household name.
When Holly hit it big, “we were just tickled to death,” Ramona said.
Meanwhile, Gary, 72, shelved his singing ambitions for a college degree while Ramona, 68, raised a family.
“He was a shy person, but when he got on the stage, it was a change of personality: He really came alive,” Ramona said in a recent interview at the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce. Her husband sat beside her.
The couple returned to the county to sing in the 2005 Clovis Music Festival. They will sing backup vocals in a rendition of That’ll be the Day.
A flood of memories accompanied the trip to Clovis. The couple ate at the original K-Bob’s Steakhouse and visited the studio where they collaborated with Buddy Holly.
However, things have changed since the 50s, the couple said. The very heart of rock and roll has altered since those days of friendship with Holly. There were no flashing lights or stage tricks back then.
“It was just Buddy on the stage with drums, his guitar, an amp and a mic(rophone),” Ramona said.
“Rock and roll was based on talent then,” said Gary. “Now the music is secondary.”
The couple do not envy Holly’s path; they look to that nugget of time with a sense of nostalgia.
Buddy Holly is forever remembered in their minds as a gentleman, and as a friend.