John and I met in a photography class Clovis, NM in the 1989, where we were attending Eastern New Mexico University. We were both married at the time and were just casual acquaintances. A couple years later I was out with a girlfriend and John was on a date and we met again at one of the two local bars. We were both separated at the time and as we say “the rest is history”. Since we were already going to be in New Mexico for our 2019 Summer Trip we decided to go to Clovis and see how it had changed. When we lived there we thought it was a rather depressing and boring place to live and 30 years later that feeling has increased. It doesn’t help that the Air Force Base is much smaller now because that means there are many empty homes and stores.
I wish we had a picture from 1991.
Below is almost 30 years later at Kelley’s Bar & Grill where it all began.
In the Slideshow below:
Twin Cronnies Drive-Inn that hasn’t changed a bit, a typical 50s style drive-in restaurant.
Hotel Clovis – opened in 1931, it’s the only “high-rise” in the whole town.
Downtown Clovis – this was on a Saturday, you can see how empty it is. Very depressing!
Lyceum Theater – a mission style theater opened in 1921, it’s a performing arts venue now.
State Theater – is an art deco style theater that opened in 1936, it’s currently for sale.
The best part and the main reason we went to Clovis was to visit the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum and the Norman Petty Recording Studios.
Did you know that Clovis, NM has a rich musical history and is home to an iconic recording studio (that you can tour for free) as well as a great Rock & Roll Museum (only $6 entry fee) that honors the legacy of Norman Petty and his wife Vi? The museum wasn’t here 30 years ago (it opened in 2008) but the recording studio has been here since the 1950s. Neither John or I toured it when we lived here so we had to make sure to tour it this time. I bet I drove by the recording studio on 7th St. a hundred times and I never paid attention to it.
I called a couple weeks in advance to schedule a tour of the studio and it wasn’t for a couple days so we decided to go to the museum first. The museum is in the basement of the Chamber of Commerce and what a great little museum it is!
They have a 20 minute video that takes you through the history of music in Clovis and the “Clovis Sound”. There is so much memorabilia, instruments and other interesting artifacts that you could spend hours there. Below is a slideshow of some of the highlights for me.
When I called to schedule our tour, I spoke to Kenneth Broad (he’s the executor of the studios) and said he was going to be out of town but there was someone else who would be able to give us our tour. We were thrilled to arrive and find out that our tour guide was David Bigham, one of the singers in Buddy Holly’s backup group, The Roses. Below is David Bigham now and in the photos of The Roses he’s the one on the right. It was so much fun and very interesting to hear his stories.
Norman Petty’s label Nor-Va-Jak is the birthplace of “the Clovis Sound” that was created back in the 50s and continues to influence Rock & Roll to this day.
The first really big hit from Petty’s studio was by Buddy Holly who was from nearby Lubbock, Texas (the big city compared to Clovis, NM) . “That’ll be the Day” was recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1957 and was certified gold (more than one million sold) and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2005 it was added to the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States”.
Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll” was recorded by Petty. Buddy Knox from Happy, Texas and his band performed with Roy Orbison on a radio show and Orbison suggested that they record with Norman Petty. “Party Doll” was written by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen and went to number one on the U.S. Top 100 Chart in 1957. If you’ve ever seen the 1973 move, “American Grafitti”, you will hear the song featured there.
Everyone who worked with Petty said he was a genius when it came to sound and engineering. He came up with all kinds of interesting sounds. For example on Buddy Holly’s song “Peggy Sue” the drummer played the drums in one room and the sound was sent to a speaker in the attic of the building next door, then they mixed a measure of the “live” drum with a measure of the attic recording to create an echo effect.
Buddy Holly brought a portion of the melody to Norman Petty. Norman finished the rest of the melody and wrote all the words and taught the song to Vi Petty, his wife. She sang it for Buddy Holly when he came back to the studio. He told her she ought to record it. She did and Norman had it pressed on their label.
Below is a slideshow of the recording studio.
We finished the tour in the apartment in the back where the artists would hangout, eat, play music and collaborate. I’m bummed because I didn’t take many pictures of it but I was just taking in the whole place listening to Mr. Bigham’s stories.
We don’t recommend Clovis as a destination but if you happen to be driving on Interstate 40 through New Mexico, take a detour to the South. It’s a good place for a quick layover for grocery shopping or other errands and it’s totally worth the detour to visit the museum and take a tour of the recording studio.