From that day forward, the legend of Buddy Holly,
one of rock `n roll’s founding fathers, has continued
His story inspired a Hollywood biography, The Buddy
Holly Story, for which actor Gary Busey, in the title
role, received an Academy Award nomination for
Best Actor. A successful Broadway and London
West End musical, Buddy…The Buddy Holly Story
has also documented Holly’s career, running for
12 years. Paul McCartney produced and hosted his
own tribute, The Real Buddy Holly Story, featuring
interviews with Keith Richards, Phil and Don Everly,
Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Holly's family, and
McCartney himself. Even the 1973 blockbuster film,
American Graffiti, mentions how music has gone
down-hill since Buddy Holly died.Since his death
many bands and artists have recorded Buddy Holly
material, including The Beatles, Billy Fury, Cliff
Richard, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Linda
Ronstadt, Humble Pie, Peter & Gordon, Rush,
Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Blind Faith, John Mellencamp,
Foghat, MxPx, Meat Loaf , Pearl Jam, The Knack, The Living End and many others.
Not surprisingly, Buddy Holly was part of the inaugural group of inductees into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Today, people of all ages and cultures around the globe instantly recognize the
black-rim glasses and the unforgettable melodies to “Not Fade Away,” “Maybe
Baby,” and “That’ll Be the Day.”
One of the men honored to carry the
legendary image of the cultural icon
around the world has been John Mueller.
Though he is neither a Boomer or a
Seasoned Senior™, the California-based
singer, songwriter and actor sat down for
this interview between shows in Springfield,
Massachusetts, to talk about the amazing
tours where he performs as Buddy Holly.
DH: You have people of all ages at your
shows. Does that surprise you?
JM: Most of the shows have audiences in which at least half of them are fifty or older. I
guess you’d expect that, but the cool thing is that they also bring their sons and
daughters, and their grandchildren, too. I like that because it spreads the music out to new
DH: So a lot of young people are attracted to Buddy Holly and the music of the Fifties and
JM: Definitely. I’m also surprised at how vocal and energetic the 50-plus crowd gets. I don’t
know if it’s a combination of them re-living the music of their youth, or if it means so much
because of the memories, or it’s just the fun of being in a live venue hearing “That’ll Be
the Day” again. It’s great! There’s a lot of noise and energy. Frankly it makes me feel like
a teenager again to be performing in front of such great audiences.
DH: The whole purpose of MyBestYears.com is to celebrate life over fifty, so that is good
to hear. Speaking of being a teenager again, let’s jump back and talk about your
JM: I was born in Wichita, Kansas. Right after high school I worked for Mack Trucks, and it
didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. My
senior year I had taken a drama class, and I really enjoyed the whole entertainment idea. I
caught the acting bug.
DH: Is this when you got into playing the guitar and singing, as well?
JM: My brother played the guitar very well, so I had sort of drifted into playing it, but I was
definitely the late arrival, in terms of being a musician. I was also the late arrival, coming
along after my siblings were teenagers, so the music that they listened to were people like
Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles. I got their hand-
me-down records. I fell in love with that kind of music, and even though I was growing up
during the late Seventies and Eighties, I was hooked on old rock `n roll.
DH: How do you make the career jump from North High in Wichita to performing Buddy
Holly all over the world? It’s not as if you wake up one day and say, “Hey, I think I’ll start
doing Buddy Holly.”
JM: Actually, there were quite a few stops between those two things. After I started acting, I
moved to Chicago and did plays. While I was still in Chicago, I got a part in the movie in
Bad Boys starring Sean Penn and Ally Sheedy. I ended up on the cutting room floor but
still a great experience. There were a few other parts, including a guest starring role on
ABC TV's Lady Blue and commercials for Oldsmobile, Krogers and Old Style Beer. Then
my agent convinced me to move to LA. I didn’t really want to go there, since I felt more like
I was a Midwestern kind of guy. I was pretty intimidated by either New York or LA. But I
went anyway. I struggled for a few years there, then started getting parts in television
shows such as Ellen, Linda Hamilton's Beauty and the Beast, Days of Our Lives, China
Beach, Lois and Clark and others.
DH: You did some films, too, right?
JM: Nothing too memorable—Return to Horror High, The Roommate and Out of Track.
Some things happened, but I wasn’t really making a living. One day I received an audition
call in Hollywood for the World Premiere production of Be Bop a Lula, which was sort of a
fictionalized stage play about Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran holed up in their hotel
room during their tour of England…Buddy Holly comes to them during a nightmare
sequence! It was kind of an avant garde type of play produced by Adam Ant and John
Densmore of The Doors! Anyway, it was my first taste of performing as Buddy Holly and I
enjoyed it a lot.
DH: That's not a half-bad first taste. What followed?
JM: Next up was the first regional premiere of Buddy..the Buddy Holly Story by Hallmark
Card’s American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City, MO. They had put out a national
search for the lead part of Buddy Holly. The actor obviously needed to be able to sing and
play guitar. It was kind of an epiphany for me. I said, “Man, I really want this part!” I
practiced like crazy, taping myself singing Buddy Holly songs. Then I decided to dress the
part for the audition videotape I needed to submit. This was the mid-1990s.
DH: Where do you go in the mid-1990s to find thick black-rim glasses?
JM: Yeah, I had to scramble to find everything, going through thrift stores and finding all
the clothes from that era. I watched the Paul McCartney video, The Real Buddy Holly
Story, over and over, trying to get the speech patterns and mannerisms down.
DH: How did it go during the audition?
JM: Normally you go through a process of call-backs three or four times, then you meet
the director, producers, and the theater manager. It’s very nerve wracking, and there’s no
guarantee you’ll get the part. Meanwhile, you’re trying to keep some kind of job going in
order to be able to afford something to eat.
DH: Is that the way it went with this audition?
JM: No. Actually, I just sent in an audition videotape of me singing like Buddy, and the
called me back to say, “You’ve got the part!” I couldn’t believe it. I had never had that kind
of quick reaction before.
DH: You must have done something right.
JM: Apparently, but that immediately put more pressure on me to do the part right.
Thankfully, it went real well in Kansas City. The opening got great reviews. The audience
reaction was awesome.
DH: What are some of the favorite memories during that time?
JM: One was meeting Niki Sullivan, Buddy’s
rhythm guitar player. He lived in the Kansas City
area and came to the show many times. He was
very complimentary. I got such a great kick out of
that. He also told me a lot things about Buddy that
you wouldn’t necessarily see in Hollywood movie
DH: Niki also said some very nice things about
you, too. Let me read one: "John is a reincarnation
of Buddy Holly. He is that good. He has the same
determination in his eyes that Buddy did and when
John is on stage, he is a totally dynamic
performer, just like Buddy.”
JM: That is amazing to me, coming from someone
like Niki Sullivan, and very humbling.
DH: You also won the prestigious Drama Desk award for your stage portrayal of Buddy
That success also had to be a real boost in affirming what you had chosen for a career,
JM: It did. I felt really fortunate that it had all fallen in my lap, in a sense.
DH: So how did you go from regional theater to traveling as Buddy Holly with the Winter
Dance Party tour each year.
JM: I did the play for a couple of years. We finished in 1999. The idea started forming
about doing something special for the fortieth anniversary of the original Winter Dance
Party tour coming up. Then someone said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to play some of the same
ballrooms that are still standing?” We had no idea if anyone would even show up or if it
would all come together.
DH: You opened in Green Bay, right?
JM: Actually we opened in Milwaukee,
just like the original tour did and the
audiences were great. We got the key to
the city in Green Bay! Over 1100 people
showed up on a Monday night. The place
was packed at the same ballroom where
Buddy and that first tour played. It was
fantastic. It kind of snowballed from there.
We picked up some of the best band
DH: How did the Big Bopper’s late son, Jay P. Richardson, Jr., get involved?
JM: I didn’t even know he existed. He called in early 2000 and said, “Hey, I’ve heard what
you guys are doing. It sounds great. I’d like to be involved.” It just kept growing from there,
and it added so much authenticity (later replaced by Linwood Sasser). Then we added
Fernando Vega (later replaced by Ray Anthony) who played Richie Valens. Here we are
DH: You’ve received some glowing comments from Buddy’s family members. They don’t do
these things. How did that happen?
JM: We’ve been doing this for years now, and that’s the
kind of thing that keeps it so exciting. It seems like every
year something new happens or you meet somebody
new that was involved in Buddy’s life. Mary Elena,
Buddy’s wife, has been very supportive. One year, we
had Gary and Ramona Tollett who actually sang back-up
during the session when Buddy recorded “That’ll Be the
Day.” They came up on stage and sang it with me.
Everybody that we’ve met who were involved in Buddy’s
life have been such super-nice people, and it has been
such a pleasure and honor to meet them.
DH: Mary Elena Holly has said some pretty amazing
things about you: “I've never endorsed anyone doing
Buddy, but I was really impressed with John.... John is
the only one who does it exactly like Buddy did. He's a
great musician in his own right. “ It must be very
gratifying to have that kind of response by the people
who were closest to him.
JM: I always had such utmost respect for what Buddy
did and for his legacy, so I have always tried to honor
him with each performance. I’ve always been very careful
to make sure it wasn’t like a caricature or something
cheesy.I always wanted to be as authentic as possible,
while paying homage to what he did.
DH: Share one of your favorite moments doing Buddy.JM: They’ve started a musical festival each year in the same city where Norman Petty's
JM: I was in Lubbock for the first time, and I met Buddy’s
brothers. They came to see the show. I could tell they were a
little wary at first, but they both came backstage and said some
of the nicest things. It was so gratifying. We’ve kept in touch and
the friendship has grown. It’s great to have that kind of
connection with people who were close to a legend that I respect
DH: Tell me about what happened recently in Clovis, New Mexico.
studio still stands. Norman, of course, recorded Buddy and the original Crickets and many
others. When we went there, they opened the studio that had been closed for thirty years
or so and let us record there. I can’t even tell you what that felt like. It was a blast!
DH: In addition to doing Buddy Holly and the Winter Party tour each year, you’re also
doing some other programs, including Pat Hazell's one man show, The Wonder Bread
Years. What excites you today and what are some of your plans?
JM: The Wonder Bread Years is a really fun show to do. It hits many of the same
demographics as when I do Buddy Holly. What excites me is finding that common ground
as an entertainer and making the connection each night with the audience. I love seeing
them go, “Oh, yeah! Wasn’t that great?” It brings a lot of joy to me to see them enjoying
the show. There’s so many things in our modern complex world that we tend to forget
some of the old memories, and The Wonder Bread Years does that.
DH: In some ways, it also puts a little added pressure to do it right, in order to make that
connection and bring back the flood of memories, doesn’t it?
JM: It does. I don’t take the responsibility lightly. I always say a prayer backstage before I
go on: “Let me bring some laughter and enjoyment to these people’s lives.” If I can do
that, it brings such fulfillment to see the shared experience.
DH: With The Wonder Bread Years, you’re sometimes doing two full shows a day. That
has to be daunting, especially since people don’t pay to see your B-game.
JM: Absolutely. They may come to the second show and not even know that there was an
earlier performance. You have an eager audience. You’ve got to forget that you are tired
or your knees are hurting or your voice is croaky. But that’s what makes this job so
special. I often remind myself that I’m getting to do what I truly love doing. These people
coming to the shows have jobs, too, and they want my A-game. It’s always worth it.
DH: Do you have family and friends who are still waiting for you to grow up and get a real
JM (laughs): It’s funny. I’ve got friends in Wichita who still don’t believe that I’m doing this
and can make a living at it. So many really are waiting for me to settle down and get the
real job. That’s what makes it so interesting to be in the entertainment business.
Something inside me just wasn’t created to do a 9-to-5 job. I admire people who do that,
but I truly thrive on what I do. And the people who sit behind a desk everyday probably
think I’m crazy for loving this, but I do.
DH: Are your friends from the old days surprised at your success?
JM: Shocked, maybe! When a new TV role or a new show comes along, a lot of them think
it’s really great. They joke about me being a quasi celebrity, but I also think they like it that
I’m still pretty much the same old John they knew back then.
DH: Being on the road and living in motels as much as you do must
take a toll. Especially since MyBestYears.com is geared to people over
fifty, even though you aren’t there yet, how do you keep in shape and
eat right, even with your schedule?
JM: A long time ago I realized that I couldn’t just show up and sing. Like
any other thing, staying healthy means making good choices. I still get
run down sometimes, but I do a lot of preventative things. I take
vitamins. I try to eat lots of greens and healthy things. I do lots of
exercise and stretching. I drink tons of water. I’ve learned to protect my
voice a lot more than in the early years. I make sure I get plenty of rest.
When I feel better physically, it makes me feel better all over in every
other area of my life.
DH: So you can keep doing this for many years to come, right?
JM: I want to do a lot of things during the coming years, but few things
continue giving me more pleasure than being onstage performing as
Buddy Holly. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of it.
Now that you have got to know him better, you have absolutely,
positively got to see a live performance of John Mueller as
Buddy Holly (the only tribute show endorsed by the Holly,
Richardson and Valens estates)! For his most recent touring
schedule, or for CD and DVD information, go to
...Buddy Holly and Beyond
In his legendary 1971 song, “American Pie,” Don McLean immortalized it as “the
day the music died.”
That infamous day, during the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, a
chartered single-engine smashed into a field near Clearlake, Iowa. Morning
headlines shocked the world with the news that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and
J. P. Richardson (the “Big Bopper”), along with their pilot, 21-year-old Roger
Peterson, had been killed in that plane crash.
The change of spelling of
"Holley" to "Holly" came
about because of an error in
a contract he was asked to
sign, listing him as Buddy
Holly. He kept the spelling for
his professional career.
However, the original spelling
of "Holley" was engraved on
John Mueller as Buddy Holly
|John Mueller and Niki Sullivan
|John receives the key
to the city of Green Bay
|Maria Elena Holly and John
|John with Carl Bunch
who played drums with
Buddy Holly on the original
Winter Dance Party
|Backstage with the
(l to r) Glen Hardin,
Jerry Allison, John
Mueller, Joe B.
Mauldin and Sonny
John Mueller...RAVE ON!
|"There’s a lot of
noise and energy.
Frankly it makes me
feel like a teenager
again to be
performing in front
of such great
me more pleasure
I don’t think I’ll
ever grow tired
and feature for
by bestselling author