Norman Petty

Norman Petty was an innovative record producer and piano player in the Southwest who is probably best known for his recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico and for the role he played in promoting Buddy Holly's rise to stardom.

Petty was born in Clovis in 1927. He learned to play the piano as a child and played on local radio shows. In 1948 he moved across the state line to Texas where be worked part-time as a recording engineer. He formed a group with himself on organ, his wife Violet Ann on piano, and Jack Vaughn on guitar, calling it the Norman Petty Trio.

Petty moved back to Clovis, where his wife had been born in 1928. He established his recording studio there in 1954. The Norman Petty Trio recorded a Duke Ellington song, Mood Indigo, on a label they had established and named NorVaJak. The song was leased to an RCA subsidiary and made the top twenty in 1954. Another top forty hit, On The Alamo, followed along with some lesser hits and Petty used the income derived from them to make improvements to the studio.

The early days of rock-and-roll were just coming around and there were groups in West Texas looking for somewhere to record their music. A group called the Rhythm Orchids had been formed at West Texas State University and came to Clovis. They recorded a two-sided record: I'm Stickin' With You was released as Jimmy Bowen with The Rhythm Orchids, and Party Doll as by Buddy Knox and The Rhythm Orchids. Petty leased the songs to Roulette Records and both became million sellers in 1957, with Knox's hit going all the way to number one. [Bowen went on to become the president of MCA Records in Nashville.] Norman Petty was making his impact on the pop music scene, and he put out the word that other musicians were welcome to come to Clovis to use his recording studio.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets showed up from just down the road in Lubbock. Holly and Petty proved to be a good match for each other. Holly was an innovator, and Petty encouraged him to experiment with his music. Petty gave the group encouragement, helped with their arrangements, and made some adjustments in order to learn improved ways of recording rock-and-roll drums. He also took credit for co-writing some of the group's hits, whether he did so or not; this was a practice that was common in the music business at the time. His wife Vi played the piano on some of the group's songs, such as Think It Over. With Edwin Greines Cohen, he co-wrote a song called Someone, Someone which was recorded by the Crickets; the song was later covered by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.

In the Fall of 1958 Holly split from Petty and went to live in New York. After Holly's tragic death in a plane crash in February, 1959, Petty acquired the rights to some of Holly's unreleased tracks. He was criticized for dubbing in parts of these songs and releasing them, but managed to make some hit songs out of tapes that had been intended as demos. The Crickets continued recording in the Clovis studio for a short time.

Petty continued to record other groups from the Southwestern United States. An instrumental group called the String-A-Longs reached the top ten with Wheels in 1961. Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs had several top forty hits, including the Petty-produced number one hit Sugar Shack in 1963.

In the early 70's Petty sold his rights to Holly's songs to Paul McCartney. He continued to operate his famed Clovis studio up until the time of his death in Lubbock in 1984.

Most Recent Update: April 20, 2000

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