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Articles - Diaries > The 80s & 90s: The Comeback Years

John Pickering - 1987

As far as The Picks know, it was 20 years after the fact before Norman Petty had finally mentioned The Picks (and The Roses) publicly. Petty, whom the Pickerings had known for almost 40 years at the time, was answering a question in a British TV Buddy Holly documentary, which John Pickering happened to see and hear in Houston about 1977. It was a brief reference, but it was exciting to one who had expected credits since 1957. But other than that belated brief reference by Norman Petty, apparently no one but Niki Sullivan publicly acknowledged The Picks for almost 20 years.  In fact, it was 30 years after the fact in 1987 when The Picks were finally credited in the USA by MCA in a reissue of the original “The ‘Chirping’ Crickets” album of 1957. This came a bit late for “enhancing the careers” of  Bill (by then deceased), John, and Bob: “The Picks” (or the careers of Bill and John, “The Pickering Brothers”).


After Bill Pickering’s sudden illness in 1973, John Pickering had kept singing as a soloist at Houston, Texas, releasing the country-oriented “The Picks 25th Anniversary” cassette (1982) for fan clubs, while his brother Bill recuperated at mother Beth’s home in Lubbock. Bill Griggs (BHMS) had found Bill there in 1981, thus “finding” The Picks for the fans, 24 years after the fact. The Picks were then reunited with Bob Lapham in 1982 at the annual BHMS convention in Lubbock, Texas. It was after that meeting that John and Vicky Pickering first discussed the possibility of more Picks overdubs of Holly songs. Vicky began “bio” mail-outs to the media almost immediately, but it took awhile for John Pickering to bring about new sessions for “Buddy Holly & The Picks”.


In 1984, Bill and John arranged for a meeting and met with Maria Elena Holly at the Buddy Holly Suite in Lubbock, Texas. They informed her of their desires to overdub more Buddy Holly solos, and she agreed that it was a good idea. She told them that Buddy spoke of them often and had planned to record with them again. Upon request, original masters were sent by MCA from storage vaults, and John Pickering wrote vocal arrangements, as he and Bill had done in 1957 at Clovis. John produced the sessions and the results were offered to MCA, precipitating an interesting part of the story to be covered by John Pickering in a coming book.


John Pickering began preparing for new sessions and wrote arrangements for the original “Picks” as they gathered from the Texas cities of Lubbock (Bill) and Abilene (Bob) to the John Pickering household in Houston, Texas. There they prepared to overdub many more Holly solos. The actual sessions occurred at a Houston recording studio call Sound Masters.


Motivation for the new sessions is obvious. By 1982, it appeared (especially in the USA) that the only way the public would ever be told about The Picks’ contributions to Buddy Holly’s music would be at The Picks’ own time and expense. Obviously, there seemed to be no intention of anyone who actually knew the truth to speak out publicly about what happened in July and October of 1957 at that small isolated studio in Clovis, New Mexico in the wee hours of several mornings. It was like no one in the world except The Picks knew about it. However, the success of their singing on Crickets releases, in terms of record sales, quality and longevity, cannot be denied. It was as voices of “The Crickets” that Buddy Holly and his key harmony group The Picks won the “Best Vocal Group” awards of 1957, and it was long past time for the world to know it.


Release of new versions began in 1986 with an album entitled “Buddy Holly & The Picks ‘The Original Chirping Sound!’”.  This album and all the “Buddy Holly & The Picks” recordings and albums listed in the Collectibles section of this web site were the result of new Picks overdubs of Buddy Holly solos actually recorded by Holly in 1956/1957/1958. On more than one occasion, these versions were offered to MCA.


A detailed account of Houston sessions and subsequent releases will be included in a book by John Pickering in the future. Nine original vocal group-sound hit songs by Buddy Holly & The Picks were finished at Clovis, New Mexico in July/October of 1957. These originals were first released in late 1957 as by “The Crickets” on the Brunswick label (“Vocal Group with Orchestra”). Only four individuals were present in the studio when the harmony voices were added: the late Norman Petty, the late Bill Pickering, John Pickering and Bob Lapham. Only two remain, and they alone know the details of the sessions that produced nine vocal group songs, backed by the instrumental Crickets, among which are most of “The Crickets” biggest hits (according to Billboard’s Hot 100).


Buddy Holly was already a big star before he ever went to New York to record, due mostly to the 12 songs of Brunswick Records’ “The ‘Chirping’ Crickets” album and his Coral Records’ solo release of “Peggy Sue”. In fact, his biggest all-time hits, while he lived, were all recorded at Norman Petty’s 7th Street Studio in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1957.


By now well known in most of the world, The Picks have received greatly appreciated localized and sporadic media coverage in recent years, but no national coverage in their own country, where distribution has been very difficult. Now listed in most books about Buddy Holly, The Picks are supportive of the music and the memory of Buddy Holly, the Star.


It cannot be denied that The Picks helped Buddy Holly succeed with their overdubbed backup harmonies, especially in the crucial early stages of his career. For example, “Oh Boy”, as recorded by Buddy Holly & The Picks/Crickets, has already received for writer Sonny West BMI’s Special Citation of Achievement in recognition of the great national popularity as measured by over one million broadcast performances attained by the song. Recently, a picture of that citation held by Sonny West was received by John Pickering, with the following inscription: “John, I owe a lot to you for this – Sonny”.


It should be mentioned that in 1987, John and Vicky Pickering returned to Clovis, New Mexico, where John recorded three gospel albums (as well as a solo version of “True Love Ways”).  Many of the gospel songs were written by John. The couple stayed in the apartment in the back of the old 7th Street Recording Studio. They were there off and on for a period of three months. While there, they helped plan and organize the first “Clovis Music Festival”.


In December 1987, John and Vicky attended the filming of “A Tribute To The Crickets” (with the instrumental Crickets and numerous other legendary artists) filmed at Austin City Limits. Backstage, Kris Kristofferson told John “I learned harmonies listening to you guys on ‘The Chirping Crickets’ album“.  His autograph to John stated “Thanks for showing us the way”. Acting as master of ceremonies, Kris introduced Buddy’s family members, his widow Maria Elena Holly, Norman Petty’s widow Vi Petty, and John Pickering of The Picks to the studio and film audience. John Pickering’s introduction was removed from the edited film version that was released for television viewing audiences.


Later overdubs are designed to help keep Buddy’s memory alive by making it possible for fans to hear more “Crickets-like” group-sound versions similar to the nine originals of 1957. They are also designed to bring recognition of The Picks overall contributions – especially on behalf of the late Bill Pickering.


In December 1957, Buddy Holly personally thanked The Picks for their work on his behalf.  He stuck out his hand and said “You guys made that album (“The ‘Chirping’ Crickets”), and I’ll never forget it”. His public compliments of “Oh Boy” and his desire for The Picks to perform with him on the “Ed Sullivan Show” were additional proof that he appreciated their work. [Buddy Holly bought them tickets, but for reasons still not clear, the trip and their appearance with Buddy Holly was cancelled.]


The Picks will always appreciate Buddy Holly’s personal show of confidence and appreciation. They are grateful to him for allowing them to be a part of his legendary career. John Pickering has exemplified The Picks respect for Buddy Holly with his compositions “Buddy Holly Not Fade Away” (1980s) and “Forever 22” (1990s). These songs are found on many “Buddy Holly & The Picks” CDs released worldwide. Recently, Buddy’s brother Travis, who posed for the Buddy Holly statue in Lubbock, wrote to John and said “It takes the best to sing with the best”.  [The Picks were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of  Fame (as seen on that web site) in 1998.]


Almost 43 years after The Picks sang with Buddy Holly in July/October 1957, the Buddy Holly Museum was opened in September 1999 at Lubbock, Texas. Featured there is the first and only group-sound album released while Buddy Holly was alive. This is “The ‘Chirping’ Crickets” album (Brunswick BL 54038, 33 1/3 LP, 1957), which contains all nine of the original Crickets’ releases containing the voices of The Picks: Bill Pickering, John Pickering and Bob Lapham. Songs like “Oh Boy” and “Maybe Baby”.


Once again, there is no mention of The Picks – this time on the museum’s Buddy Holly Day-by-Day exhibit. An interesting question is this – Why not?