The Man Who Gave Buddy Holly His Glasses

The Wall Street Journal profiled 96-year-old Lubbock optometrist J. Davis Armistead, who outfitted the iconic musician with his famous specs.
Thu December 15, 2011 3:00 am
mcdlttx | Flickr

The Wall Street Journal  recently made it out to Lubbock to profile 96-year-old J. Davis Armistead, Buddy Holly's eye doctor and the man who gave the musician the glasses that were so integral to his look. 

Billboard.com fashion editor Gregory DelliCarpini Jr. suggested that "rock's first great fashion statement," as the Journal's Charles Passy calls Holly's specs, may have inspired John Lennon and Elton John to don distinctive eyewear, and even paved the way for Lady Gaga's meat dress, in terms of making an accessory part and parcel of a musician's persona.

It all started with Armistead, who diagnosed the teenager with 20/800 vision. But, writes Passy, Holly "didn't want to put on glasses for fear they would spoil the rebellious image he was trying to project as a musician." Holly tried wearing contact lenses but found them to be uncomfortable (imagine the 1950s version of the corrective eyewear), and at one point, opted to forgo glasses altogether, which he soon realized was a mistake after he lost a guitar pick onstage.

The rising rock star was reluctantly wearing a plain, hopefully unnoticeable style when Armistead found inspiration one night watching Phil Silvers on  Sgt. Bilko: 

The doctor noticed how Mr. Silvers, playing the role of beleaguered U.S. Army Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko, used his heavy black frames to accentuate his everyman persona. "The next morning I got up and said, 'This is what Buddy Holly needs,'" Mr. Armistead says.

The clunky black frames were not common in America but were popular in Mexico, so Armistead picked up a couple of pairs while on vacation in Mexico City, and the rest was (sadly, too-short) rock and roll history.

Armistead told Passy he never fitted any other patients with those same glasses. These days, the "hipster hero," as Benjamin Samuel at  The Outlet  dubbed Armistead, is occasionally called out to the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock to pose for a picture with the oversized pair displayed at its entrance. 

As Passy's story also noted, Armistead is no small figure in his field: he is a former University of Houston Regent, and UH's College of Optometry building is named for him .

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week