On February 28th, 1957, Buddy Holly placed a call to Decca Records. At the time, he assumed he had been dropped by the label. According to the terms of his original contract, Holly couldn’t rerecord any songs he taped while with the company for another five years—a lifetime in the music business. One of the songs Buddy was trying to get back was “That’ll Be the Day.” It and other Holly tunes had been recorded during a July 1956 session in Nashville, but Decca—after their first two Holly singles flopped—passed on issuing any of the material. In a February 1957 session held in New Mexico, Buddy took another stab at “That’ll Be the Day” resulting in an even better take. Days later, Holly rang up Decca in the hopes the label would allow him to release “That’ll Be the Day” and the other songs that had been recorded in Nashville, on another label.
Buddy recorded the call, surely so he could prove it if given consent. But there would be no such luck. Holly initially contacted Decca’s A&R man/producer, Milt Gambler, but he was out of the office at the time. We then hear Buddy place a second call, this time to Decca executive Paul Cohen. One can’t help but feel bad for Holly, as Cohen explains that they’ll be holding on to those songs of his, though Buddy isn’t exactly innocent here. When asked by Cohen if he has rerecorded any of the songs, he says he hasn’t. Holly was open about taping the call to Gambler, but it’s unclear if Cohen knew their conversation was being recorded.
It’s a fascinating listen.
In the event your attention span won’t allow you to get through the whole thing, here’s the gist of it:
Though denied by Cohen, Holly found a way to issue the New Mexico recording of “That’ll Be the Day.” Rather than put the single out under his own name, his new label, Brunswick, credited it to his latest backing band, the Crickets. It was released in May 1957, and by September it was #1 on Billboard.
When the suits at Decca found out about the 45, they were mighty pissed, until they realized Decca owned Brunswick—! As the song was climbing the charts, Decca released the Nashville rendition of “That’ll Be the Day.”
By this point, Coral Records, another subsidiary of Decca, was now the home for new solo recordings by Buddy Holly, while Brunswick would continue to put out records under the Crickets moniker.
Here’s the familiar New Mexico version of “That’ll Be the Day” on Brunswick: