Interview: Rockin’ with Jethro Tait In The Buddy Holly Story

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Read Time:10 Minute, 40 Second

The phenomenal Jethro Tait brings the legend of Buddy Holly back to life in the world’s most successful rock & roll musical, BUDDY – The Buddy Holly Story! Making its highly anticipated return to Johannesburg’s magnificent TEATRO at Montecasino from April 21st to May 28th 2023, this dazzling production features a stellar all-South African cast, led by the talented singer-songwriter Jethro Tait as Buddy Holly himself. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jethro to discuss his journey into the iconic role, the inspiration he’s drawn from Buddy Holly’s life and music, and the unforgettable experience of working alongside the outstanding cast and creative team of this timeless tribute to a true rock & roll pioneer.

Jethro Tait as Buddy Holly: Photo Credit Gustav Klotz

Below, you’ll find my interview with this talented performer, where he discusses everything from his preparation for the role to the camaraderie among the stellar cast: Enjoy the Interview!

Jethro, it’s an honour to speak with you. You have been cast as Buddy Holly himself, and I would love to know how it feels to portray such an influential and iconic musician like him in The Buddy Holly Story?

“Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I feel super privileged to have gotten the chance to play Buddy Holly. I obviously have some very big shoes to fill with the likes of Craig Urbani having been so successful & memorable in the role. When I was contacted to audition for the role I honestly didn’t think I was going to get it, so I’m super grateful to have been given this opportunity to take on this role. I’m giving it my best shot and hopefully, I am doing Buddy justice.”

Can you share with us the process you went through to prepare yourself for this icon role of Buddy Holly? Were you a fan of his music before auditioning?

“To be completely honest with you I didn’t know much about Buddy before this show. I was familiar with the name but I didn’t really know the music. The first thing I did when preparing for the role was dive into the music. Buddy had a very specific way of playing guitar which included a lot of downstrokes and interesting rhythms. The chord progressions are fairly simple but it’s the style they’re played in and the little riffs and solos in between that took some time getting the hang of. Being an artist in the late 50s and having died at just 22, there isn’t much footage of Buddy so I had to somewhat invent some mannerisms and performance aspects.”

Buddy Holly’s music has influenced countless artists over the years. What does it mean to you to be a part of keeping his legacy alive and sharing a stage with so many talented performers?

“I never realised how much of an influence Buddy had on music and I’m so grateful that this show has brought everything he did for music to my attention. He influenced greats like The Beatles & Bob Dylan who have in turn influenced me as a songwriter, so my career path kind of leads back to him. It means so much to me to play such an iconic character and kind of go through the journey of his career “with him.” I’ve learnt so much from this show and I’ve learnt so much from Buddy that I’ll definitely take with me into the rest of my career. Working on this show has been so much fun. The cast, crew and creative team are all so talented and hard-working. It’s such a privilege working with all of them.”

What aspects of Buddy Holly’s life and music do you find the most fascinating, and how have they resonated with you as an artist?

“I find the whole story very fascinating! Like I said, I didn’t really know much about Buddy before this so I’ve found everything I’m learning about him through this journey very fascinating. I think what captures my imagination the most is how much more he would have achieved and accomplished had he lived longer. He died so young and did so much with such a short career. I think he would have gone on to influence music even more greatly. Being a singer-songwriter myself a lot about his journey resonates with me. A big thing is how much he believed in the music he was making and how hard-headed he was about it. He didn’t let anyone tell him what to do and he made music he believed in. I’ll definitely be taking that with me into my own music.”

Working with acclaimed director Nick Winston as well as Niall Griffin must be a thrilling experience. How has it been in preparation for the Show and behind the scenes for you?

“Nick and Niall are so amazing! It’s been the biggest privilege working with them. I was really nervous about meeting Nick because I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he is really one of the nicest directors. He’s so approachable and easy to work with. His way of working is very collaborative and he gives you a lot of freedom to find what works for you without being restrictive. He had such a refreshing vision for the show and really livened things up! Niall was actually the first person I met with after getting the role to do measurements for costumes. From the get-go he was so friendly and welcoming. He has done such an incredible job with the costumes and set design! He’s really taken the visuals of the show to another level!”

The cast for THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY is incredibly talented. How has it been working with your fellow South African musicians and actors? Has it been all work and no play?

“It’s funny, when you work on a show like this it’s almost like you’re in this little bubble. You see these people every day for months and you become very close very quickly. I’ve had the best time working with the cast. It definitely has been a lot of hard work but we’ve definitely found moments of play. We all get along really well and the show is just so perfectly cast. I’ve definitely formed lasting connections and I’m going to miss seeing them every day once the show is done.”

In the show, you’ll be performing some of Buddy Holly’s most beloved songs. Do you have a personal favourite, and if so, what makes it stand out to you?

“I do! From the get-go, my favourite has been “Not Fade Away.” When I got the role the first thing I did was dive into Buddy’s music. As soon as I heard “Not Fade Away” I fell in love with it. It has a very interesting rhythm and I love the way the melody flows. It’s not the most complex song but there’s something about the way it’s written that just really captured my attention from the first listen.”

Your career has had many highlights, from signing with Universal Music Publishing to working with major artists like DJ Kent. How do you think your experiences in the music industry have prepared you for your role in The Buddy Holly story?

“Thank you! I think being an artist myself has helped me understand the role and connect to Buddy in a very specific way. I’ve gone through a lot of the same things. From trying to get people to take your music seriously to building yourself up to a point where people are actually interested in listening to the music you make. Obviously, my career is on a much smaller scale than Buddy’s, but I can still relate to aspects of it. Having been an artist beforehand also helped me feel comfortable in the concert environment of the show. Performing in front of people can be daunting but because I’ve played quite a lot of gigs as a singer-songwriter I understand that feeling of getting up and playing your original songs in front of people and not knowing what their reaction is going to be like. As much as this is an acting role there’s a lot I haven’t had to “fake” because I have similar personal experiences which come from me being in the music industry.”

Fans will no doubt be singing and dancing along with you as you perform Buddy Holly’s hits. What would you want each audience member to take away from the show?

“I think the main aim is just for people to enjoy themselves. If they leave the theatre feeling happy and entertained then we’ve done our job. Personally, I hope to do justice to Buddy the Person and give his fans a nostalgic night out. Transporting them back to the 50s and enjoying the music they love. If there are people watching the show who do not know Buddy Holly, I hope they leave as fans who now love the music as much as I have come to love it.”

Now I have to ask this question, as it’s always fun to have a look into someone’s life. If you could perform a duet with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why? (Besides Buddy Holly off course).

“That is such a difficult question because there are so many artists I love! If I had to choose one I would probably say, Ed Sheeran. I discovered his music at a time when my songwriting was still developing and he heavily influenced the way I write and make music. I don’t think I would be where I am now musically without having discovered his music. So yea, a duet with Ed Sheeran would definitely be one for the bucket list.”

When you’re not making music or performing, how do you like to spend your free time? I know you are an avid vegan and plant-based supporter and often attend events relating to this cause.

“Yea, I am! I try to go to whatever Vegan events or markets I can. To be honest I’m quite a homebody though. I don’t go out that often and like to spend time in my own space. If I’m not working on music (which I am doing 90% of the time) I’ll either be watching series/movies or cooking. Being vegan I’ve had to learn to cook and I actually really enjoy it now. So I’m often finding new recipes to try.”

Lastly, I love to ask the question, what would your words of wisdom be to someone that has a dream to be where you are and do what you do? Someone that might be looking up to you and might be heavily talented but the industry can be extremely challenging at times to get into. 

“This industry is incredibly hard. There is definitely a misconception about it, that it’s all fun and games. It’s incredibly draining at times and incredibly fulfilling at others. It takes a huge amount of hard work and self-belief. There are so many people who will make you not feel good enough as well as actually tell you you’re not good enough. You need to have a really thick skin. It sounds cliche but the biggest piece of advice I can give is really to just believe in yourself. Don’t let people derail your plans. More often than not they do not have your best interests at heart. Don’t be naive about the industry. Do your research and find out what it’s actually like. Getting started there are going to be a lot more downs than ups. More no’s than yeses. If it’s really what you want to do you need to be strong through those parts and keep your end goal in sight. Be as self-sufficient as you can be. Learn to write, learn to produce, etc. and practice every day. The more you can do yourself the less you have to rely on other people and wait for them to come to the table in order for you to reach your dreams.”

Jethro, thank you immensely for graciously allocating time from your busy schedule to participate in this interview with me. Your kindness is truly appreciated, and I am eager to see the remarkable milestones you will achieve in the future!

Follow Jethro Tait on social media here:

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Shaun Zietsman

Blogger and Content Creator from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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