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Buddy Holly vs. Decca Records

Buddy Holly vs. Decca Records

Rock & roll pioneer Buddy Holly recorded some demo records for Decca records in Nashville in 1956. In those days it was common practice for a record label to sign an artist to a development deal and fund a demonstration record. In Holly’s case, he recorded five songs for Decca, including a crude version of “That’ll Be the Day,” a song that eventually became his first hit after he re-recorded it with independent producer Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico.

Decca saw the demo sessions as a failure and decided against working with Holly. He was well aware of some of the disadvantageous business practices artists sometimes faced when working with a major record label—especially when an artist sought to sever ties and retain ownership of their work. Holly was preparing himself for a legal dispute when he taped a conversation with Decca executive Paul Cohen from Cricket’s drummer Jerry Allison’s house. Check it out below. Although he doesn’t let on, Buddy had already recorded the soon-to-be smash hit version of “That’ll Be the Day” by this time, and, as you’ll hear, he’s weighing up his options.

How was Holly able to re-record “That’ll Be The Day?”

Holly made a deal with Brunswick Records a few months after this conversation, essentially doing an end run around the recording restrictions mentioned by Cohen in the phone conversation. Can you guess how he avoided legal trouble with the label?


To avoid the predicament, Holly signed with Brunswick Records, which was a subsidiary of Decca. Unaware of the deal at the time, Decca was unwilling to sue its own company once the deal was revealed. Also, Petty released the record under the group name “The Crickets,” further immunizing Holly from legal trouble. Decca reacted by signing Holly to a second contract under another one of its subsidiary labels, Coral, where all his “solo” records would be released. As a side note, Decca eventually tried to cash in on the five-song demo recorded in 1956 by releasing them on a 1958 album entitled That’ll Be the Day.

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