He was a gawky, shy Texas kid with glasses who had rock 'n' roll quicksilver in his soul. In the mid 1950's, Buddy Holly (Gary Busey) and his two high school chums Jesse Clarence (Don Stroud) and Ray Bob Simms (Charlie Martin Smith) are playing traditional c&w fare in their home town of Lubbock. But word spreads like wildfire when Buddy premiers "That'll Be the Day" at the roller rink. The kids can feel in their bones that somethin' exciting is coming alive.
An executive at Decca Records who hears the three-some's music on the radio invites them down to Nashivlle but then scorns their "nigger sounding music." Back home again, Buddy learns one of his tapes has gotten around the East and is very popular. Holly and "the Crickets" (Clarence & Smith) shake the dust from their feet and head off for New York City. Having learned a valuable lesson in Nashville, Holly talks Coral Records into allowing him to produce his own records. The executive balks but gives in to the shrewd country boy.
Buddy Holly rides a streak of good fortune. His creative juices are flowing with new numbers and he falls in love with a Puerto Rican girl (Maria Richwine). One of the best scenes in the film shows a frightened Holly and the Crickets standing in front of an all black audience at Harlem's Apollo Theatre. But once they begin to play, the Esperanto of rock 'n' roll sets the place a rockin' and a reelin'.
Gary Busey's performance as Buddy Holly is a tour de force one of the year's best screen portraits. He radiates the singer/songwriter's sincerity and, best of all, communicates the genuine vitality that has been plasticized this year in all of John Travolta's impersonations of individuals affected by popular music. Busey's strongest moments on screen come when he marries and undergoes a dry period in his career. He is especially pained by a separation from the Crickets. All of this makes the ending doubly sad. We learn that just before an expected reunion with his old group Holly was killed with three others in an airplane crash.
Director Steve Rash and screenplay writer Robert Gittler are to be commended for keeping this bio-drama on an intimate level throughout. We are moved by the joyfulness of the music (all three lead characters can really rock 'n' roll) and we are touched by the honest sentiment of the plot. The Buddy Holly Story should be experienced by the whole family. It is possibly the only rock film release of the year that could be enjoyed by youth and adults alike.