Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham obituary: Woman immortalised by Buddy Holly song

Real life ‘Peggy Sue’ sustained her connection to the hit song over the decades

2009: Peggy Sue Gerron arrives for the opening night of  “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Gaye Gerard/Getty Images

2009: Peggy Sue Gerron arrives for the opening night of “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Gaye Gerard/Getty Images

 

Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham

Born: June 15th, 1940

Died: October 1st, 2018

Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, who became part of Buddy Holly’s circle of friends as a teenager and long revelled in having her name used as the title of one of his biggest hits, died Monday in Lubbock, Texas. She was 78.

Her son-in-law, Tom Stathos, confirmed the death but said he did not know the cause.

As Rackham told the story, she was a sophomore at Lubbock High School in 1956 when she first encountered Holly, who had graduated a year earlier. She was walking to the school’s band room – she played alto saxophone – and he was rushing to the auditorium to attend an assembly.

He crashed into her, sending her to the floor, her books scattering and her poodle skirt rising over her knees.

“I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t have time to pick you up,” he said, as she recalled the moment in her autobiography, Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue? (2008). “But you sure are pretty.”

He headed off. But she would get to know him better when she realised soon after that her boyfriend, Jerry Allison, was the drummer in Holly’s band, which would become known as the Crickets.

The Crickets

“As a threesome, Jerry, Buddy and I spent most of our time together just hanging around at my house, listening to records or to Jerry arguing politics with my dad,” she wrote. She and Jerry went horseback riding, bowling and to the movies with Buddy and his girlfriend, Echo McGuire.

Peggy Sue became “Peggy Sue” a year later. The Crickets were in producer Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico, preparing to record Cindy Lou, a song the group had been performing. (Its title was reportedly a combination of Holly’s niece’s first name and his sister’s middle name.)

But Allison was hoping to solidify his on-and-off relationship with Peggy Sue and asked Holly to change the song’s name.

“I think Buddy liked it because he knew me,” she told the website MusicDish e-Journal in 2004. And, she added, Allison “always said, ‘Peggy Sue rhymes with everything.’”

Billboard charts

Peggy Sue – “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue” – was released in 1957, shortly after Holly’s That’ll Be the Day reached No 1. And it was almost as successful, rising to No 3 on the Billboard charts. Holly shared writing credit for Peggy Sue with Allison and Petty (although the original label credited only Allison and Petty).

Holly died in February 1959 in a plane crash in Iowa, along with his fellow singers Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (JP Richardson). Rackham said she toured with the Crickets for a while after Holly’s death, counting tickets at the gate among other jobs.

She eloped with Allison in 1958; their marriage ended in the 1960s.

Peggy Sue Gerron was born on June 15th, 1940, in Olton, Texas. Her mother, Lillie (Rieger) Gerron, was a homemaker, and her father, John, was a civil engineer. Over time, she worked as a dental assistant and owned a plumbing business with her second husband, Lynn Rackham.

Rackham’s memoir, written with Glenda Cameron, was published shortly after Peggy Sue turned 50. To recall her time around Holly and the Crickets, she said, she used about 150 contemporaneous diary entries.

“I wanted to give him his voice,” she told the Guardian in 2008. “It’s my book, my memoirs. We were very, very good friends.”

Holly’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, threatened to sue Rackham over what she said were false claims in the book.

“He never, never considered Peggy Sue a friend,” she told the Associated Press.

Declined to sue

Ultimately, Holly declined to sue because she thought the publicity would have helped Rackham sell books, her lawyer, Richard Wallace, said in an email.

Rackham sustained her connection to Peggy Sue in other ways over the years. She judged a Buddy Holly look-alike contest, helped promote the musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in Australia and appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s television programme with the women behind other rock ‘n’ roll songs, such as Angie, Barbara Ann and Donna.

She is survived by her daughter, Amanda Stathos; her son, Von Rackham; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Rackham ended in divorce.

A song as popular as Peggy Sue ensured Rackham a dollop of everlasting fame.“It’s very hard to stand still,” she told the BBC in 2009, “when you’re listening to Peggy Sue.”