How a John Wayne Movie Inspired Buddy Holly’s ‘Shall Be the Day’

Buddy Holly gave the world many famous classic rock songs, including The Crickets’ “That’ll Be the Day”. A film starring fellow 1950s icon John Wayne inspired Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” Notably, a top producer once said something very negative about the song.

John Wayne | CBS/Getty Images Photo Archive

1 line from a John Wayne movie inspired members of The Crickets to write a song

Researchers is one of Wayne’s most acclaimed films. The film stars Wayne as a cowboy out for revenge. In one of her earliest roles, Natalie Wood plays Wayne’s niece. In a 2019 interview with Texas musicJerry Allison of The Crickets discussed the impact the film had on him and Holly.

“We went to see John Wayne’s movie Researchers“recalls Allison. “Wayne kept repeating the line, ‘That will be the day.’ Buddy said, ‘Let’s write a song’ and I said, ‘It will be the day!’ Holly and Allison then co-wrote the song of the same name with Norman Petty “We worked on it for about half an hour,” Allison added.

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RELATED: John Wayne reacted to people saying he was the same character in all his movies

A Major Producer Said Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’ Was One of the Worst Songs He’d Ever Heard

Allison explained that “That Will Be The Day” faced an uphill battle. “When Buddy got a record deal, we went to Nashville to record with [producer] Owen Bradley,” he recalls. “Owen was a good guy, but he didn’t understand rock ‘n’ roll – he was all country. So when he heard ‘It’s gonna be the day’, he said, ‘That’s one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.’

Holly finally found a more receptive ear. “We went to Clovis [New Mexico] to record with Norman Petty, and ‘That’ll Be the Day’ was a demo – we recorded it in 30 minutes,” Allison added. “Bob Thiele was the A&R man at Brunswick Records. He brought the demo home and heard his kids play it over and over. Afterwards, Thiele released the song.

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RELATED: The only time the Beatles recorded a Buddy Holly song on a studio album

The way the world reacted to Buddy Holly’s ‘Shall Be the Day’

The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits reports that “Shall Be the Day” peaked atop the Billboard Top 100. Prior to the Billboard Hot 100, the Billboard Top 100 followed chart success. “It Will Be The Day” appeared on the compilation album 20 big gold. 20 big gold peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for 12 weeks.

“That’ll Be the Day” also became a hit in the UK. According to The Official Map Company, the song was No. 1 for three weeks in the UK. It lasted 15 weeks in total. During this time, 20 big gold reached No. 1 in the UK for three weeks of its 20-week run on the chart. “That’ll Be the Day” became a huge hit and it wouldn’t be the same without Wayne.

RELATED: “The day the music died”: Buddy Holly died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959


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