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The Power of Mentoring

///Pull (Train)///

February 3, 1959, is called "The Day The Music Died", when rock and roll singers Richie Valens, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) and Buddy Holly were killed in a late-night plane crash just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa. Originally, the plane had been chartered by Buddy Holly, for him and his band to fly ahead to their next show. They all needed to get their clothes washed and get some much-needed rest (touring in those days consisted 3 to 5-week gigs playing almost every night to include matinees on the weekends). Holly's lead guitar, Tommy Allsup, would go on to become a top Nashville session musician and songwriter. Allsup worked with Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Merle Haggard, Asleep At The Wheel, Bob Wills and many others. Allsup was an inductee in the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Former Beatle, Paul McCartney said of Allsup upon his death in 2017, "Tommy Allsup was a western swing and rockabilly innovator and one of the finest guitar players in the world". But, Allsup will best be remembered for the fateful “lost” coin flip with Richie Valens, and losing his airplane seat to the 17-year-old musician. The tour's drummer, Carl Bunch came down with frostbite when the tour buses heater broke down forcing him to be hospitalized the day before in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Big Bopper suffering from the flu asked Holly's bass player if he could take his seat on the aircraft to see a doctor before the music show the next evening. The 20-year-old from Littlefield, Texas, a close friend of Holly's, acquiesced to the star's request. His name was Waylon Jennings!

Description & Discussion

In 1954, Waylon Jennings was working in a local radio station in Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly's home town. Both Jennings and Holly had bands and met through the various radio station show's in West Texas. On meeting Holly, Jennings said, “We just seemed like we were forever running into each other. We got to be friends. We’d hang out when we had a chance.” Holly soon became Jennings’ mentor, helping him to get into the business by producing songs and writer collaborations.

In late 1958, Holly and his band, the Crickets, were tied up in legal entanglements over music royalties with their producer. Holly needed cash, having just married and relocated to New York City to work on the next phase of his music career. Needing a band, he recruited Allsup on lead guitar, Bunch on drums and Jennings on bass for the upcoming "Winter Dance Party". The tour was three-week push through the frigid Midwest, starting on January 23, 1959. Throughout the tour, the bus froze up and the heater broke down because of the extreme weather conditions. After the Clear Lake, Iowa show, Holly had had enough and was willing to pay for some much-needed rest. The rest of the story is tragic history.

Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly were influential in their own rights, Jennings secured his own record contracts and began to make music with a stripped-down production style and rock rhythm beginning in the late 1960s, and lasting until a year before his death in 2002. With a career spanning five decades, Jennings changed the direction of country music, by merging rock, R&B, and the blues into country that indirectly created the "Outlaw Movement" (while selling over 40 million records and being inducted in to the Country Music Hall of Fame). Buddy Holly was a pioneer in rock and roll music, influencing The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, and on and on. Holly achieved all of his success in less than five years before dying at the age of 22. Jennings never failed to give Holly the credit for his success by believing in him, pushing him to get better as an artist and by being a thoughtful mentor. In 1996, Jennings released "Waylon", his autobiography saying about Holly:

"We were best friends. We got close because it was almost as if he had the premonition that he wasn’t going to be around. And he did like me. He liked me a lot and I liked him. We never had a problem. And he tried to help me. He was trying to warn me about things and teach me about music as we went along. He loved music. The last day of his life he was still excited about music and every song he sang. I learned that from him. Buddy was the first person to have faith in my music. He encouraged me in my music and my writing. He was my friend. If anything, I’ve ever done is remembered, part of it is because of Buddy Holly.”

The story of Buddy Holly and “The Day the Music Died,” is well-known, but the friendship between the rock and roll icon and the country music “outlaw” is far less documented. Today the only living performer from that ill-fated tour is Dion DiMucci of "Dion & The Belmont’s", whose late 50’s, early 60’s hits included “Teenager In Love, I Wonder Why, Runaround Sue and The Wanderer”.

Decision, Design & Discipline

A key point made in books and documentaries about Waylon Jennings was how important and influential Buddy Holly was to his life. Jennings songwriting, his sound, his production and performance style all echo back to Holly. More importantly, was Jennings being taken under Holly’s wing and explaining the pitfalls of the music industry. The value of being mentored by the right person is priceless. The power to mentor is a gift and for those who were mentored owe it to the next generation to pass on what they have learned.

I think back to the mentors I've had, who saw something in me I didn't and were able to mold me into the person I am today and the mentor I try to be. In high school, my wrestling coach, Dennis Bunting taught me to work to my gifts, speed and leverage can be strength almost any day. In college, a history professor, John Reidy, showed me how to look at historical trends as a blueprint for ongoing events. In the Marine Corps, my drill instructor, Sergeant Curtin, who pushed me to consider other career options outside of the infantry or my first NCOIC in garrison, Gunny Sergeant Arnett, who demonstrated every day that leadership was about ownership of one's decisions.

Working in government for over 30 years exposed me to an amazing group of men and women who were not only good leaders but also great mentors. Some of whom I can talk about include, Nick Pratt, the ultimate professional, who made sure we knew there were always other options. Bill Cervenak, a hilarious personality, who stood by his people, making sure they knew that he backed their operational decisions in the field. Bud Petty, an on'ry encyclopedia of how to make the system work for you. Carol Paine, no better operations officer existed, who taught her subordinates that the most important thing they would do would be to educate the next generation through their experiences. Ray Acosta, who in his Senior Navy Chief way, taught us the value of humility, and that it takes a team, even when you all alone doing what you know must be done.

My mentors taught me many intended things, but I don't know if they realized all the other things they shared. They provided information, knowledge, and insight into planning, budgeting and running daily operations. They allowed me to come to them for advice, because they were always brutally honest and told me exactly what they saw. They never failed to offer encouragement and guidance that gave me hope and confidence. My mentors were each in their own way disciplinarians that set necessary boundaries which solidified my work ethic, sharpened my focus, and clarified my priorities. They always proved to be superb sounding boards to bounce ideas off for an unfiltered opinion. Each of the above were trusted advisers who became friends, some very dear friends. Some of these mentors to this day remain connectors who provide unique access to skills, expertise, and information.

I look at what Waylon Jennings learned from Buddy Holly over five short years. It changed music, so one wonders what would have happened if Holly, being the innovator that he was, had lived to influence other artists. The power of mentoring can be summed up in the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

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