The Untold History of a Local Legend

When prospective car buyers enter Gary Blakley’s office, it is no secret he has a long history with the music industry. Brightly-colored guitars, drums and faded concert pictures line the white walls of his Frisco office, and it does not take long to learn that, before his days as a car salesman, he was a successful rock and roll drummer who played with some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, including The Everly Brothers, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell … and that is just to name a few! He began his professional career playing as a drummer for Buddy Holly on his Winter Dance Party Tour in 1958, before Mr. Holly’s sudden, tragic death in a plane crash that happened on February 3, 1959.

Mr. Blakley grew up in West Texas in the small town of Levelland, outside of Lubbock, but was discovered when he was only 14 while playing the drums in his band, The Sparkles, in the mid 1950s. The Sparkles originated in Levelland in 1957 and were invited to play at the Majestic Theater in Dallas. From there, their fame only grew. Though the bandmates are retired now, The Sparkles lasted nearly 47 years with different members. “Waylon Jennings and I were friends, and Buddy Holly was putting together a group for his last Winter Tour in late 1958 and early 1959. He hired me, as well as one or two other guys, to be drummers,” Mr. Blakley says. “I had dropped out of high school to play with Buddy on his last tour, but after he died, I decided to go back and get my diploma.”

After finishing school in the early 1960s, Mr. Blakley briefly played as Waylon Jennings’ first drummer, but then left, as he wanted to play more rock and roll, while Mr. Jennings was playing more country-western music. Next, Mr. Blakley found himself playing drums for The Everly Brothers for a couple of years, and then played off and on with Roy Orbison’s tour. He even assisted on the first-ever recording of the famed song “Pretty Woman,” which spent three weeks at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 list when it was released in 1964. “I really just toured for a long time after high school. I did the Janis Joplin tour in 1969 when her drummer got sick, which is about the time my hair turned gray,” Mr. Blakley comments with a laugh. “I also worked with Glen Campbell for about six months and did a couple of March of Dimes tours with Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, in the late 1960s.”

Mr. Blakley found out about the Plano and Frisco areas while he was in a band opening for The Eagles in Austin in the late 1970s. The Blakleys decided to sell their home in West Texas and bring their children to Plano, so they could enroll in a nicer public school system. Mr. Blakley considers himself mostly retired from music these days and now spends his time working as a car salesman for Hendrick Volkswagen Frisco. However, he still practices the drums every single night, stating that he will never give it up. “I still do a little jamming every now and again. I built a new house about 12 years ago and have a music room and five sets of drums throughout the house,” Mr. Blakley shares. “My daughter has my white Pearl drums I played during my Buddy Holly days on display in her den at her house in Colorado.”

Mr. Blakley temporarily came out of retirement with The Sparkles in 1989 to play with Little Richard at a private concert in Austin for a birthday party, and says he can, on occasion, be found playing around the Dallas/Fort Worth area when out to dinner with friends. “If we are out to dinner or drinks somewhere and there is live music, all my friends will send a note up to the band and tell them who I am and my background and they will usually get me up on stage. We will play something like ‘Pretty Woman’ or ‘Peggy Sue,’ and some people will just go crazy snapping pictures to send to their parents or friends,” Mr. Blakley humbly explains.

He has now been working in the car industry for about 18 years, and got involved in it through a friend who offered him a part-time job at his dealership after his retirement from professional touring. “Drummers are usually pretty hyper, and my friend knew that, so he figured it would be nice for me to have something to do instead of just being retired,” Mr. Blakley says. “Then, I just started having so much fun talking to people that I just stayed involved in it. Fast forward nearly two decades and now I am the customer loyalty manager for our Frisco office.”

Mr. Blakley was involved in several different business ventures during the 1990s, but found the car industry to be, by far, the best fit for him. He also says his time in the music industry has greatly influenced how he operates as a salesman, having decades of experience dealing with people and crowds from which to draw upon. Not to mention, his eccentric office filled with mementos from his touring days is always a surefire way to break the ice with a new customer. “Music has actually really helped me in my career in the car industry because it just taught me how to deal with people,” Mr. Blakley says. “Sometimes you are at a concert with an audience of 10,000 people and every concert is not necessarily a success. If people are not clapping or having a good time, you know you have got to turn the volume up or make a change somehow. It is the same way when you are trying to make a sale.”

In addition to his nightly solo practices and occasional stints on stage at restaurants and bars, Mr. Blakley also enjoys seeing and helping mentor local bands and musicians. “I have a couple of bands I work with touring around right now. I really like to help bands get together and help young musicians come together because I know how it is when you start out on your own at such a young age,” Mr. Blakley comments. “It is fun to live in the Dallas area now because it is where I got my start. I would love to be able to help a local kid make it the way I did.”

Mr. Blakley’s story goes to show that you never know how talented some of your Frisco neighbors may be! Everyone has a unique story to tell.

Rachel Beaird is a recent University of Arkansas graduate, travel enthusiast and a public relations aficionado.