Tribute show looks back on music of Buddy Holly 60 years after his death

Andy Matchett is haunted by the spirit of Buddy Holly, and for Matchett, Feb. 3, 1959 is just a day buried in the past.

“It doesn’t matter if Buddy died 60 years ago or 600 years ago,” Matchett said. “For me, his music is alive and as fresh as the day he made it. And it will always be that way.”

Andy Matchett, center, paid tribute to Buddy Holly at Katie Belle’s on Saturday, along with Thom Mesrobian, left, as J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, and Daniel Martinez as Ritchie Valens.

Buddy Holly – along with Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson – died in an airplane crash on Feb. 3, 1959.

And here we are on Feb. 3, 2019, and Holly’s music is as relevant as ever.

Matchett and his group, Johnny Wild and the Delights, proved Saturday in Katie Belle’s that it takes more than death to kill music.

Their tribute show, “The Day The Music Lives,” was more rocking celebration than mournful remembrance. It featured Thom Mesrobian as the Bopper and Daniel Martinez as Valens.

Matchett was born nearly three decades after Holly died at age 22, but that doesn’t matter.

“I grew up surrounded by Holly’s music; it’s always been part of my life,” Matchett said. “I’ve met a lot of people who were alive when Buddy was alive and they loved his music. It’s timeless.”

Andy Matchett captures the spirit of Buddy Holly on the 60th anniversary of the singer’s death.

That was evident when Matchett fired off some hard-rocking Buddy Holly specials like “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “It’s So Easy,” “Rave On” and “Not Fade Away.”

This was the basic, raw rock-and-roll style that inspired the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Matchett is a master showman, and with his slicked-up pompadour and thick black glasses, he seemed imbued with Holly’s look, as well as his music.

He had plenty of help from the Delights. On this night the band included: Simon Palombi, bass; Robert Mola, guitar; and Randy Coole, drums. They were joined by singers Amanda Warren and Jandrea Novak.

Dancers at Katie Belle’s rocked out to Buddy Holly’s music as Johnny Wild and the Delights performed on Saturday night.

Matchett also displayed Holly’s soft side with such ballads as “True Love Ways” and “Words of Love.”

Martinez injected some Hispanic rock and roll into the show with hip-shaking versions of Ritchie Valens’ hits “C’mon Let’s Go” and, of course, “La Bamba.” He also delivered Valens best-known ballad, “Donna,” and told the crowd, “Cherish the moments with your loved ones.”

Martinez was in a philosophical mood during a break, talking about Valens, who died at 17, and the cultural impact of the airplane crash that took the three rock and rollers.

“It’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to embody Ritchie Valens and his music,” Martinez said in a crowded dressing room. “Ritchie Valens is an icon in the Hispanic community. He was the first Hispanic rock and roller, and everybody still plays ‘La Bamba.’”

Avid Buddy Holly and Johnny Wild fans Vic and Mary Cote came dressed for the occasion at Katie Belle’s on Saturday night.

The lessons for Martinez went beyond music.

“Ritchie taught me that anything is possible,” Martinez said. “As an artist, you want to create something that lives beyond your own life. That’s what Ritchie did, and his legacy still matters.”

The Bopper was more fun than anything else, and Mesrobian had a blast romping on stage and singing “Chantilly Lace” and other Bopper songs.

“The Bopper is a fascinating character,” Mesrobian said. “He’s older than the other guys, and his music was so different.”

Left: Hello baby – it’s Thom Mesrobian on the phone as the Big Bopper singing ‘Chantilly Lace’ Saturday at Katie Belle’s. Right: Daniel Martinez pays tribute to the legacy of Ritchie Valens while singing ‘Donna.’

But the Bopper became part of music history on that February night.

“It was a long time ago, and the people who were alive then and remember that day are now in their 70s,” Mesrobian said. “I think, as years go by, there will be more of a disconnect to the three of them.”

Generations may pass and the world will keep changing.

“But,” as Mesrobian said, “the music will still be worth remembering.”

Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.

Amanda Warren, of Johnny Wild and the Delights, helps Andy Matchett with his Buddy Holly hairdo on Saturday.