For people of a certain age, Gary Busey is best known as a rapscallion of disputable ’00s television, popping up in programs such as Entourage, I’m With Busey, Dancing With The Stars, Celebrity Apprentice, and Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew to offer up loopy yet undeniably heartfelt exhortations to follow your dreams to anyone who would listen. But before he found that particular niche, he was one of Hollywood’s busiest character actors, bringing an unhinged energy to films such as Point Break, Lethal Weapon, and Lost Highway. He also played a tour manager in the 1976 Barbra Streisand version of A Star Is Born, bringing a bit of rock ‘n’ roll authenticity to the proceedings.
Busey’s most acclaimed performance was the titular role in 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and which in many critical corners is considered one of the most authentically charismatic portrayals of a rock star. The spirit of Holly has long stayed with Busey, apparently, as he was known to drop by Saturday Night Live and The Late Show With David Letterman to perform “Stay All Night,” and now Busey is gearing up to release a studio version of Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” backed by his original composition “All The Way.”
Busey was a self-taught musician before he became an actor, getting his start playing in Oklahoma’s the Rubber Band before appearing in character as Teddy Jack Eddy on a local Tulsa television comedy show. He eventually became friends with Leon Russell, who invited Busey to play (under his television moniker) on his Will O’ The Wisp album and join him on tour. Russell eventually made Busey the godfather to his son Teddy Jack Bridges, who produced Busey’s upcoming single.
The single will be released on November 7 through PledgeMusic, and Busey is hoping to be able to release a full album and tour with Bridges. He also recently released his memoir, Buseyisms: Gary Busey’s Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Co-written with his wife Steffanie Sampson, the book delves into his battles with addiction, his brain injury, and his thoughts on living a fulfilling life. He was kind enough to share a few of those with us below.
STEREOGUM: So you’ve been playing music for decades. What made you decided to release these two singles right now?
BUSEY: It wasn’t my decision. It was a decision that we came to in a cooperation between myself and my godson, Teddy Jack Bridges, who is the son of Leon Russell. And I played drums and toured and lived with Leon for several years. We got together, and it was an angelic intervention that did that, because it’s working so well and so good. I’m learning so much from him. He’s so talented with a guitar and the writing, and he plays every instrument in the room. And it’s just a beautiful blessing and miracle that Teddy Jack and I are working on the music [which is] “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly and a song called “All The Way” which is mine. And we have several other songs we’re gonna record, we’re gonna make a statement of recording, producing, touring, and selling products like T-shirts and mugs and hats and everything that brings the feeling you had hearing the music. That feeling you had during the show will stay with you when you have the product.
STEREOGUM: You’re still working on the album?
BUSEY: It’s a work in progress. Always is — music never stops, it never dies, and it is forever. And it’s a great feeling to have this with Teddy Jack because we have so much in common, yet we’re opposite in so many ways, and that’s the beauty of the colors of a rainbow right there. And this is a rainbow coalition here — me and Teddy Jack — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, those are the colors of the rainbow. And the different colors of the rainbow are in every song we do.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about writing “All The Way.”
BUSEY: It was 1983. I was in Birmingham, Alabama doing a movie called The Bear. I was playing Coach Bear Bryant from Alabama. And feelings came to me, and the song came out of me naturally. And it’s actually a universal song, about [how] your love goes all the way with everything you love, everyone you love, every place you love, everything you have you love. Love is a very powerful world. L-O-V-E stands for Living On Victorious Energy. So you live on victorious energy, you’re gonna win, and these songs are winners.
STEREOGUM: You sang “Not Fade Away” in The Buddy Holly Story. What does that song mean to you? It’s been in your life for a very long time.
BUSEY: Every time I play a Buddy Holly song, I know it’s mine. Simply because I was the messenger in the movie singing his songs, and getting them out there so people could understand what an incredible forefather of rock ‘n’ roll he was and is still today. It’s a beautiful song, “Not Fade Away,” and how it happened: Buddy Holly And The Crickets were booked to play the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York. That’s because the owner and manager of the Apollo thought they were black. He booked them, because that’s an all-black venue, and they got booed the first night. And Buddy took the Crickets back home and said: “Listen, let’s show them how it’s gonna be.” And he wrote the song called [singing] “I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be/ bop bop/da bop da da da/ You’re gonna give your love to me.” He wrote that song and blew the roof off the place, they loved it, and it’s in the movie. And it’s also in the recording — you hear that fever of love and power in the recording of “Not Fade Away” that Teddy Jack produced, and directed me in the singing. It’s just a beautiful combination of artistic power.
STEREOGUM: You were a musician before you were an actor, correct?
BUSEY: They both kind of happened at the same time, in the fifth grade.
STEREOGUM: When did you first start playing music?
BUSEY: Well I started… I got a Folgers coffee can, a Maxwell coffee can, empty, and a coupla of boxes, coupla cards — what do you call ‘em, the round things in Quaker Oats? So I got some pencils and started using those as drumsticks. I’m a self-taught drummer, just because I have it in my rhythm. In my gift of expression, drumming. And I was the only one who knew the song, so I ended up being a singing drummer, where I was singing the songs and playing the drums like Levon Helm did with the Band. And Phil Collins did with Genesis. I’m not comparing myself to them, I’m just saying the combination and the effort of singing and playing at the same time can be done.
STEREOGUM: When did you decide to focus more on acting than making music?
BUSEY: It’s not a conscious thought. It’s just what happens. And I tell you what, doing music and doing movies, yeah, I did a movie that has ‘em both, The Buddy Holly Story. And I sang those songs, and I realized a coupla months after I sang ‘em, the spirit of Buddy Holly was singing through me. I was just the messenger.
STEREOGUM: You were also in the Barbra Streisand version of A Star Is Born. How did that come about?
BUSEY: I was called for a meeting. I had a red bandana around my neck, a long-sleeve red shirt with a Hawaiian shirt over that, Levi’s, a good belt, shirt tucked in, and [Streisand] said, “My gosh, you just dress so good!” I said, “Thank you!” She said, “What are you doing now?” I said, “I’m playing drums with Leon Russell.” And she said “Oh my God, Leon Russell, I want to meet him. When can I meet him?” I said, “Get in my van.” We got in the van, drove out to Leon’s house, knockin’ on the door, opens up, Leon was there, I said “Leon, this is my new friend Barbra Streisand, this is Leon Russell.” So, we went in the house and Barbra was just amazed at Leon’s music ability. Leon ended up with a song in A Star Is Born. And it was just a great experience.
STEREOGUM: Do you plan on seeing the new Bradley Cooper version of A Star Is Born?
BUSEY: Oh sure, why not? I love movies.
STEREOGUM: You worked on a book with your wife, Buseyisms.
BUSEY: She wrote it, co-wrote it with me. And it’s an incredible book, it’s a memoir of my whole life, everything I’ve been through, the bankruptcy, the two divorces, the cancer in my face, the traumatic brain injury, drug overdose, movies, music, life growing up, life growing older. It’s a beautiful book of inspiration and motivation to those who read it. And I also have the book out on audio, where you can get the CD in your car and listen to me read. I’ll be talking right to you like I am now.
STEREOGUM: What did you learn doing the book?
BUSEY: I learned a lot about me, I learned a lot about freedom, the word freedom, F-R-E-E-D-O-M stands for, stands for Facing Real Exciting Energy Developing Out Of Miracles. The miracle is of the freedom you can have, and you are a miracle, you are a miracle Mr. Tedder. You have a miracle in you, you were born a miracle and you will live a miracle if you choose to accept that truth that you have in you when you were born.
STEREOGUM: Thank you Gary, that’s very nice to hear.
BUSEY: Well you’re welcome, it’s very nice to say to you because you deserve it and you’ve earned it. So live it!