Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, Who Inspired a Hit Song, Dies at 78
Oct. 4, 2018
Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, who lent her name to the Buddy Holly hit “Peggy Sue,” with copies of her memoir, “Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?” in Tyler, Tex., in 2008.Jaime R. Carrero/Tyler Morning Telegraph, via Associated Press
Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, who became part of Buddy Holly’s circle of friends as a teenager and long reveled in having her name used as the title of one of his biggest hits, died on Monday in Lubbock, Tex. She was 78.
Her son-in-law, Tom Stathos, confirmed the death but said he did not know the cause.
As Ms. Rackham told the story, she was a sophomore at Lubbock High School in 1956 when she first encountered Mr. 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 realized soon after that her boyfriend, Jerry Allison, was the drummer in Mr. Holly’s band, which would become known as the Crickets.
Mr. Holly wrote ”Peggy Sue” with Jerry Allison and Norman Petty, although he did not receive a writer credit when the song was originally released in 1957.
“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 the producer Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, N.M., preparing to record “Cindy Lou,” a song the group had been performing. (Its title was reportedly a combination of Mr. Holly’s niece’s first name and his sister’s middle name.)
But Mr. Allison was hoping to solidify his on-and-off relationship with Peggy Sue and asked Mr. 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, Mr. Allison “always said, ‘Peggy Sue rhymes with everything.’ ”
“Peggy Sue” — “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue” — was released in 1957, shortly after Mr. Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” reached No. 1. And it was almost as successful, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Mr. Holly shared writing credit for “Peggy Sue” with Mr. Allison and Mr. Petty (although the original label credited only Mr. Allison and Mr. Petty).
Mr. Holly died in February 1959 in a plane crash in Iowa, along with his fellow singers Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson). Ms. Rackham said she toured with the Crickets for a while after Mr. Holly’s death, counting tickets at the gate among other jobs.
She eloped with Mr. Allison in 1958; their marriage ended in the 1960s.
Peggy Sue Gerron was born on June 15, 1940, in Olton, Tex. 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.
Buddy Holly in a publicity photo taken shortly before he died in a plane crash in 1959. “You sure are pretty,” he told Ms. Rackham after (literally) bumping into her in high school.Associated Press
Ms. Rackham’s memoir, written with Glenda Cameron, was published shortly after “Peggy Sue” turned 50. To recall her time around Mr. 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.”
Mr. Holly’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, threatened to sue Ms. Rackham over what she said were false claims in the book.
“He never, never considered Peggy Sue a friend,” she told The Associated Press.
Ultimately, Ms. Holly declined to sue because she thought the publicity would have helped Ms. Rackham sell books, her lawyer, Richard Wallace, said in an email.
Ms. 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 program with the women behind other rock ’n’ roll songs, like “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 Mr. Rackham ended in divorce.
A song as popular as “Peggy Sue” ensured Ms. 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.’ ”
A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 5, 2018, on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, Hit Song’s Muse, Dies at 78. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe