Don McLean is forever linked to Buddy Holly because of his "American Pie" tribute, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Fifty years after Holly's untimely death, McLean calls his song about the "day the music died" the proudest accomplishment of his career. "Long before I decided how I would use music or what kind of artist I would be, Buddy was there," he tells CNN, hailing his hero's originality and raw electric guitar tunes. "Gershwin or Berlin would have marveled at his compositions."
At 13, McLean was crushed by Holly's fatal plane crash. His father's subsequent death amplified McLean's grief and loneliness. Holly's songs kept him company, McLean recalls, as he roamed from job-to-job alone. "I was able to exorcize my grief with the opening verse of "American Pie," he says. "It's as if we both gave each other new life."