David Bigham has performed with The Roses, Buddy Holly and other rock superstars.
David Bigham told tourists he had immense respect for Buddy Holly and Norman Petty, praising their work ethic. (Photo by David Stevens)
CLOVIS – He sang with Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Buddy Knox on several successful records. He provided backing vocals to Norman Petty’s studio from 1957 to 1959 when he produced 12 Top-40 singles from Billboard magazine. In December 2000, he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for his career as a member of The Roses trio.
But David Bigham’s legacy may not be his musical contributions alongside rock legends. Longtime friends and those who have only had brief encounters with him as he led tours of the Petty studio next to his home on West Seventh Street in Clovis say they will instead be remembered for his ability to storyteller, his kindness, his humble but engaging personality.
Bigham, one of Clovis’ last direct ties to Orbison, Holly and Petty, died Wednesday after a months-long struggle with pneumonia. He was 84 years old.
“My heart is broken by this news,” Richard Upston wrote on Studio Petty’s Facebook page last week. “David was the most wonderful person and a true friend who put up with all the stupid questions 2 Buddy Holly fanatics and 3 musicians from Sydney Australia asked him. He will remain strong in our memory, deep in our hearts and above all else. in our prayers.. God bless you … peaceful soul. “
Dozens of similar tributes were recorded on the social media site by music fans around the world who only knew Bigham through their brief conversations with him on tour in the historic studio.
Those who knew him outside of the music world also expressed warm memories of his passing.
âGod made David Bigham special,â said Randal Crowder of Clovis, now a state representative who employed Bigham as a homebuilder in the mid-’90s. âHe was one of the nicest people, his work ethic, his attitude … I’ve never met someone like him.
âWe were working together and I was thinking of something we would need and I looked down and David would have it in hand. He was always looking to the future. Everything about him was special.
“When he resigned (after 15 years) my office manager cried. She said she wasn’t sure there could ever be another man like him.”
Crowder said the humble Bigham worked with him for over a year before learning of his connections to Petty and the rock stars.
Maryline Bigham said she had been married to her husband for 15 years before finding out.
âI walked in and he was on the phone. I asked him who he was talking to and he said it was Robert Linville, his singing partner,â she said. “That’s how I discovered music.”
A rock-and-roll fan herself, she said she began to question him, as thousands of others have since.
Most of these questions usually revolved around Petty and Holly, two men for whom David Bigham expressed his admiration.
â(Buddy Holly) was fun to be around, but he was more goal-oriented than most people at that age,â Bigham told a reporter in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of Holly’s death in a plane crash.
âThe more I was around Buddy the more I knew he was one of those people who would make his mark in the music industry because he was so driven and versatile. But his notoriety and popularity hadn’t gone to his head so he didn’t sound like he was. All these guys – Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox, Buddy Holly, they were all regular people. “
Petty, he said, “was a very private person and he didn’t like to flaunt his musical success to anyone. Of course the people who came here to record weren’t from Clovis. . And all the recordings were made at night. So really, the citizens of Clovis had no idea what was going on there (in the studio on Seventh Street). “
Bigham has often told studio visitors that he particularly admires Holly and Petty’s work ethic. After the recording sessions, the studio musicians and Holly’s band the Crickets would go out and ride motorcycles or some other activity together. But Petty and Holly would get together for hours and try to polish the music they just made.
Bigham has always been quick to dispute any claim that Petty and Holly were at odds over money at the time of Holly’s death, as some have claimed. Bigham said the couple were talking about opening a music studio in Lubbock days before Holly’s death.
Maryline said she was a waitress at Sam’s Lounge in Odessa, TX when David walked in with a friend in 1972. “That’s how we met and seven days later we got married,” she declared.
“It seemed like an instant friendship. We realized we had a lot of the same interests so we just started talking.”
David was at the time the manager of an Odessa Whataburger. Later he went to work for Walmart in Odessa. Walmart moved him to Clovis – where he made music in his early twenties – in 1996, where he was the lawn and garden manager and then the household chemicals manager. He even sang with a choir of Walmart employees before retiring and working for Crowder.
Music was not a big part of Bigham’s life as the 1960s turned into the 70s disco. The Roses had stopped playing together and he had lost touch with his friends Linville and Ray Rush. But in the mid-1980s, Linville helped found the annual Clovis music festival and began telling reporters he wanted to reunite with his former singing partners.
“David Bigham’s daughter read her story in an Amarillo newspaper (in 2001) and brought the two together after more than 30 years,” according to the story from The Roses studio Petty website.
The three never performed together again, but Bigham sang with both men – with Rush at Lubbock in 2004 and several times with Linville, most notably at the Grand Ole Opry in April 2001.
Linville died at the end of 2001 in Clovis. Rush died in 2020 at a nursing home near Houston.
Maryline Bigham, who has been on studio tours often with her husband for 49 years, said David never bragged about his music career, but enjoyed telling stories when asked.
âHe was so happy to talk about those days because they were such a sweet and special time in his life,â she said. “He felt so honored to have met Norman. He was so grateful for it all and loved every minute of it.”
Memories of the rose
Here are some of the tributes paid last week to David Bigham, one of Clovis’ last direct connections to rock and roll history:
Kenneth Broad, the curator of the Petty studio, had been friends with Bigham for four decades.
âHe was a gentleman who really loved the fans who gathered around,â said Broad.
âI think that made his later years so meaningful. People showed their appreciation for him and he didn’t take it for granted. When he did an autograph it was with real pride. He was gracious and nice and always thought, ‘Can I do a little more for you?’
* Jamey Karr, a longtime Amarillo radio personality, said Wednesday night he was heartbroken by the news.
âDavid was a wonderful and generous host in all things Buddy Holly,â said Karr. âI did a few Clovis and studio tours with Dave. When ‘Think it Over’ was performed in the studio, David sang his old role, blowing everyone away. The man was part of rock and roll history. .
“He was a wonderful, modest and gentle man. I will never forget him. Glad to have known him.”
* More than 70 Bigham tributes from around the world had been posted on the Norman Petty Studios / Nor-Va-Jak Music Facebook page on Friday afternoon. A sample :
âVery sad to hear this news,â wrote Michael Slater of Brisbane, Australia. âI had a very enjoyable afternoon with David and Kenneth (Broad the studio curator) about 10 years ago. The three of us sat at the table for about 3-4 hours and talked about the music and of all the problems in the world. It was a day that I will never forget. “
From Marc A. Hermann, Brooklyn, NY: âI’ll never, ever forget being in the control room in 2017 and harmonizing with him onâ It’s So Easy. âThanks for the music , David. “
From Paul Garden, Edinburgh, UK: âI am very sorry to hear this news. I had the chance to meet and speak with David when I visited the studio on a trip to the road. His willingness to share stories and the joy you see he had for those days was there for all to see. Rest in peace. “