Watch the Good-Time Rhythm online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp
Those too young to remember when Buddy Holly was alive and rockin' (he died in 1959, before his 23rd birthday) may not remember that the rave-up "Not Fade Away" was his baby. The song was an early-'60s hit single for the Rolling Stones and a perennial Grateful Dead concert fave. With all due respect to the Dead, the Stones, and the countless others who've taken their shot at "Not Fade Away," Holly's 1957 original recording with his trio, the Crickets is nearly impossible to beat in terms of raw, good-time energy. (Crickets drummer Jerry Allison played the song's funky "drum" part on a cardboard box now that's rock and roll.)
If you call "Not Fade Away" at a jam session, the rhythm guitar player is likely to break into a Bo Diddley-style strum which is the groove most bands set the song to but Holly's rhythm pattern is quite different. The Bo Diddley rhythm puts the accents on beats one, the and of two, and four in the first half of a two-bar figure, and beats two and three in the second bar. But, as you can see in the music below, Holly's "Not Fade Away" figure accents beats two, the and of three, and four in bar 1, and beats two and three in bar 2.
Bars 3 and 4 reprise the first two bars, with an added peeow on beat four of bar 4. (Holly played the quick down glissandos in the song's intro, interludes, and outro, though it's absent in the verses.) The key to acing Holly's "Not Fade Away" riff is to strum the strings relatively hard on the accented beats (see the indications below the staff) and to use a feathery touch on the other beats particularly in bar 1, where beats three and the and of four should be more felt than heard. (The same is true in bar 3, which is identical to bar 1.) Fingering the chords and chord fragments as indicated will help you minimize unnecessary fret-hand movement.
Holly was a Strat man all the way, and like most everyone else in the late '50s his tone was squeaky clean. Because the original recording is basically three guys in a garage with just one microphone, it's hard to be sure which pickup he was using, but bridge or middle are the most likely candidates, and he probably used a low-wattage tweed Fender amp. Start there if you want to dial in an authentic Holly tone. (If you want to go all the way with it, take your gear out in the garage and dig the ambiance.)
If you've never given Holly a good listen, do yourself a favor and pick up a "best of" on your next trip to the record store. Though his recording career was all too brief (from his first home demos in the early '50s, to his sessions at Owen Bradley's Nashville studio in 1956, to his final '59 sessions), Holly has inspired so many bands and songwriters. And his influence is not likely to fade away anytime soon.