Edited by Gerald Boerner
Growing up in the 1950s put me at the beginning of the rock-n-roll revolution. It was an exciting time since we had the choice between the songs of the big bands, songs by the classical country-western artists, and the new breed of rock and roll artists. Bill Halley and his Comets was among the first of these latter artists. These performers were exciting. They sang songs in stylings that responded to the interests and needs of those entering their teenaged years in the latter 1950s. Among the top stars that we danced to at junior high and high school dances were Buddy Holly and his Crickets, Ritchie Valens, and, of course, “The Big Bopper” himself!
But we were also a generation that saw some of our biggest heroes lost to accidents and assassination. There was, of course, the assassination of our young, dynamic President, John F. Kennedy. We would lose several to automobile accidents — Patsy Cline and Jane Mansfield. Then there were the (alleged) suicides like that of Marilyn Monroe. And in 1959, there was the event that we look at today — the small plane crash in Iowa that took three of the bright, rising stars of Rock and Roll.
In the cold of winter in the upper mid-west, a small Cessna took off after an evening performance with three of the emerging great idols of the teen generation — Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson. I can still remember listening to “Peggy Sue,” “Donna,” “La Bamba,” and “Chantilly Lace” at dances and parties. Those were the songs that captivated our spirits with their catchy rhythms and lyrics. They were also the first of a period of songs that were kept to between two and three minutes so that they could get more air play on the radio. These were the songs that I listened to on KFWB and KRLA.
Without further delay, let’s jump into the exploration of this tragic event and the young artists that we lost on that day… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4391 Words ]
Quotations Related to Rock-N-Roll:
“You can’t stop rock-n-roll!”
— Dee Snider
“You know, there have been a lot of casualties in rock-n-roll.”
— Warren Cuccurullo
“Without Elvis none of us could have made it.”
— Buddy Holly
“Death is very often referred to as a good career move.”
— Buddy Holly
“If anyone asks you what kind of music you play, tell him ‘pop.’ Don’t tell him ‘rock’n'roll’ or they won’t even let you in the hotel.”
— Buddy Holly
“Now, I don’t know how they judge all that, but if anybody in the world deserves to be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Ritchie Valens does.”
— Waylon Jennings
“I’m not trying to stump anybody… it’s the beauty of the language that I’m interested in.”
— Buddy Holly
“Because Ritchie Valens WAS the real deal. He was only starting, but in the time he spent in the business, he made big impact. I don’t know if anybody could have made a bigger one.”
— Waylon Jennings
Musicians Die in Plane Crash: "The Day the Music Died"…
On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, killed three American rock and roll pioneers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson. The day was later called The Day the Music Died by Don McLean, in his song "American Pie". The plane crash has been called the first and greatest tragedy rock and roll has ever suffered.
“The first loss, of course, was that of a single enormously influential individual, gone like Milton’s Lycidas, “ere his prime.” Buddy was the first pop star to die young. He was the first to write and record his songs with his own backup group—later commonplace but then rare outside the R&B circuit. After Buddy and the Crickets toured England in 1958, Paul McCartney and John Lennon named their new group for another bug, and their first recording was a cover of “That’ll Be the Day.” The rights to Holly’s song catalog are currently owned by McCartney. As for the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger was so struck by seeing Buddy perform the Bo Diddley-influenced “Not Fade Away” during the same tour that the Stones made it the first track on their first U.S. album.”
“The loss that keeps Buddy with us today, though, is a larger one that bridges two generations: the so-called war babies, born during World War II, and the first of the baby boomers, who turned 13 in 1959. As they entered adolescence, the first Americans to think of themselves as teenagers were presented with a fresh-faced product of Lubbock, Texas, who was tall and geeky and—unheard-of for an entertainer of any kind—wore black horn-rimmed glasses. He was not a sex symbol like Elvis. He did not make country music like Hank Williams nor “race” music like Chuck Berry or Fats Domino. He was not outrageous like Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, and he was not urban and Eastern like Paul Anka or Frankie Avalon.”
“Buddy Holly was an original, most notable for all the things he was not—and by not being any one of them, he became all of us. His was the embarrassing face every adolescent white kid saw when he looked in the mirror. Even his name—Buddy!—seemed unthreatening and reassuring. If the raw energy of songs like “Peggy Sue” and “Rave On” suggested an awakening sexuality, the unrestrained joyfulness of others like “Oh Boy!” spoke also to latency, the pre-puberty stage of life when the imagination is free to fantasize without being bombarded by sexuality and insecurity.” (Quotes from “Why That Music Makes Us Smile”)
Buddy Holly on the Arthur Murray Dance Party… (2:31)
Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crash, Holly is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” His works and innovations inspired and influenced contemporary and later musicians, notably The Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, and exerted a profound influence on popular music. Holly was among the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly #13 among "The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time".
Holly saw Elvis Presley sing in Lubbock in 1955, and began to incorporate a rockabilly style, similar to the Sun Records sound, which had a strong rhythm acoustic and slap bass. On October 15, 1955, Holly, along with Bob Montgomery and Larry Welborn, opened the bill for Presley, in Lubbock, catching the eye of a Nashville talent scout. Holly’s transition to rock continued when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local show organized by Eddie Crandall, the manager for Marty Robbins.
Following this performance, Decca Records signed him to a contract in February 1956, misspelling his name as "Holly". He thereafter adopted the misspelled name for his professional career. Holly formed his own band, later to be called The Crickets, consisting of Holly (lead guitar and vocals), Niki Sullivan (guitar), Joe B. Mauldin (bass), and Jerry Allison (drums). They went to Nashville for three recording sessions with producer Owen Bradley. However, Holly chafed under a restrictive atmosphere that allowed him little input. Among the tracks he recorded was an early version of "That’ll Be The Day", which took its title from a line that John Wayne’s character says repeatedly in the 1956 film The Searchers. (This initial version of the song played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the later hit version.) Decca released two singles, "Blue Days, Black Nights" and "Modern Don Juan", that failed to make an impression. On January 22, 1957, Decca informed Holly his contract would not be renewed, insisting, however, that he could not record the same songs for anyone else for five years.
Holly then hired Norman Petty as manager, and the band began recording at Petty’s studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty contacted music publishers and labels, and Brunswick Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed the Crickets on March 19, 1957. Holly signed as a solo artist with another Decca subsidiary, Coral Records. This put him in the unusual position of having two recording contracts at the same time.
A rock and roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement, Valens’ recording career lasted only eight months. During this time, however, he scored several hits, most notably "La Bamba", which was originally a Mexican folk song that Valens transformed with a rock rhythm and beat that became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement.
On February 3, 1959, on what has become known as The Day the Music Died, Valens was killed in a small-plane crash in Iowa, a tragedy that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Valens was an accomplished singer and guitarist. At his appearances, he often improvised new lyrics and added new riffs to popular songs while he was playing. This is an aspect of his music that is not heard in his commercial studio recordings.
In May 1958, Bob Keane, the owner and President of Del-Fi Records, a small Hollywood record label, was given a tip by San Fernando High student Doug Macchia about a young performer from Pacoima by the name of Richard Valenzuela (Little Richard of the Valley). Keane, swayed by the Little Richard connection, went to see Valenzuela play a Saturday morning matinée at a movie theater in San Fernando. Impressed by the performance, he invited Ritchie to audition at his home in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, where he had a small recording studio in his basement. The recording equipment comprised an early portable tape recorder—a two-track Ampex 6012—and a pair of Neumann U-47 condenser microphones.
After this first ‘audition’, Keane decided to sign Ritchie to Del-Fi, and a contract was prepared and signed on May 27, 1958. It was at this point that he took the name Ritchie, because, as Keane said, "There were a bunch of ‘Richies’ around at that time, and I wanted it to be different." Similarly, it was Keane who decided to shorten his surname to Valens from Valenzuela, in order to broaden his appeal.
Several songs that would later be re-recorded at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood were first demoed in Keane’s studio. The demos were mostly just Ritchie singing and playing guitar. Some of them featured drums. These original demos can be heard on the Del-Fi album Ritchie Valens — The Lost Tapes. As well as the aforementioned demos, two of the tracks laid down in Keane’s studio were taken to Gold Star and had additional instruments dubbed over to create full-band recordings. "Donna" was one track (although there are two other preliminary versions of the song, both available on The Lost Tapes), and the other was an instrumental entitled "Ritchie’s Blues".
After several songwriting and demo recording sessions with Keane in his basement studio, Keane decided that Ritchie was ready to enter the studio with a full band backing him. Amongst the musicians were Rene Hall and Earl Palmer. The first songs recorded at Gold Star, at a single studio session one afternoon in July 1958, were "Come On, Let’s Go", an original (credited to Valens/Kuhn, Keane’s real name), and "Framed", a Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune. Pressed and released within days of the recording session taking place, the record was a success. Valens’ next record, a double A-side which was the final record to be released in his lifetime, had the songs "Donna" (written about a real girlfriend), coupled with "La Bamba".
The Big Bopper
Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr. (October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959) also commonly known as The Big Bopper, was an American disc jockey, singer, and songwriter whose big voice and exuberant personality made him an early rock and roll star. He is best known for his recording of "Chantilly Lace".
On February 3, 1959, a day that has become known as The Day the Music Died (from Don McLean’s song "American Pie"), Richardson was killed in a plane crash in Iowa, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
He worked part time at Beaumont, Texas radio station KTRM (now KZZB). He was hired by the station full-time in 1949 and quit college. Richardson married Adrianne Joy Fryou on April 18, 1952. In December 1953, their daughter, Debra Joy, was born. Earlier that year Richardson had been promoted to Supervisor of Announcers at KTRM.
Following his discharge as a corporal in March 1957, Richardson returned to KTRM radio, where he held down the "Dishwashers’ Serenade" shift from 11 AM to 12:30 PM, Monday through Friday. One of the station’s sponsors wanted Richardson for a new time slot and suggested an idea for a show. Richardson had seen the college students doing a dance called The Bop, and he decided to call himself "The Big Bopper". His new radio show ran from 3 to 6 p.m. Richardson soon became the station’s program director.
In May 1957, he broke the record for continuous on-the-air broadcasting by eight minutes. From a remote set-up in the lobby of the Jefferson Theatre in downtown Beaumont, Richardson performed for a total of five days, two hours and eight minutes, playing 1,821 records and taking showers during five-minute newscasts.
Richardson — who played guitar — began his musical career as a songwriter. George Jones later recorded Richardson’s "White Lightning", which became Jones’ first #1 country hit in 1959 (#73 on the pop charts). Richardson also wrote "Running Bear" for Johnny Preston, his friend from Port Arthur, Texas. The inspiration for the song came from Richardson’s childhood memory of the Sabine River, where he heard stories about Indian tribes. Richardson sang background on "Running Bear", but the recording wasn’t released until September 1959, after his death. Within several months it became #1.
The man who launched Richardson as a recording artist was Harold "Pappy" Daily from Houston, Texas. Daily was promotion director for Mercury and Starday Records and signed Richardson to Mercury. Richardson’s first single, "Beggar To A King", had a country flavor, but failed to gain any chart action. He soon cut "Chantilly Lace" as "The Big Bopper" for Pappy Daily’s D label. Mercury bought the recording and released it in the summer of 1958. It reached #6 on the pop charts and spent 22 weeks in the national Top 40. It also inspired an answer record by Jayne Mansfield titled "That Makes It". In "Chantilly Lace", Richardson pretends to have a flirting phone conversation with his girlfriend; the Mansfield record suggests what his girlfriend might have been saying at the other end of the line. Later that year, he scored a second hit, a raucous novelty tune entitled "The Big Bopper’s Wedding", in which Richardson pretends to be getting cold feet at the altar. He was known for his "Hello baby!"
Events Leading to the Crash
"The Winter Dance Party" was a tour that was set to cover twenty-four Midwestern cities in three weeks. A logistical problem with the tour was the amount of travel, as the distance between venues was not a consideration when scheduling each performance. Adding to the disarray, the tour bus used to carry the musicians was not equipped for the weather; its heating system broke shortly after the tour began.
The condition of the bus and the grueling pace of the tour are evidenced by the fact that Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized in Ironwood, Michigan, due to a severe case of frostbitten feet that developed when the bus broke down enroute to Appleton, Wisconsin during the overnight trip following the January 31, 1959, show in Duluth, Minnesota. As Holly’s group had been the backing band for all of the acts, Holly, Valens and Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts) took turns playing drums for each other at the Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Clear Lake, Iowa, shows.
The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was never intended to be a stop on the tour, but promoters, hoping to fill an open date, called Surf Ballroom manager Carroll Anderson and offered him the show. He accepted and the show was set for Monday, February 2.
By the time Buddy Holly arrived at the Surf Ballroom that Monday evening, he was frustrated with the tour bus. According to VH-1′s Behind the Music episode, "The Day the Music Died", Holly was also upset that the laundromat in Clear Lake was closed that day, and he would need time before the next performance to finally clean some undershirts, socks, and underwear. Holly told his remaining band mates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup, that they should try to charter a plane to save time and to avoid the cold bus ride of 380 miles (610 km) to the tour’s next stop – Moorhead, Minnesota.
Richardson had developed a case of flu during the tour and asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said in jest, "Well, I hope your old’ bus freezes up" and Jennings responded, also in jest, "Well, I hope your old’ plane crashes". This exchange of words would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.
Ritchie Valens had never flown in a small plane before, and, in spite of his own fear of flying, asked Tommy Allsup for his seat on the plane. Tommy said "I’ll flip ya for the remaining seat". Contrary to what is seen in La Bamba, the coin toss did not happen at the airport shortly before takeoff, nor did Buddy Holly toss it. Bob Hale, a DJ with KRIB-AM, was working the concert that night and flipped the coin in the ballroom’s sidestage room shortly before the musicians departed for the airport. Valens won the coin toss, and with it a seat on the flight.
Dion had been approached to join the flight, although it is unclear exactly when he was asked. Dion decided that, since the $36 cost of the flight was the same as the monthly rent his parents paid for his childhood apartment, he couldn’t justify the indulgence.
The plane departed from the ramp and taxied to then-Runway 17 at around 12:55 AM Central Time on Tuesday, February 3. Contrary to popular belief, there was no blizzard at the time but a very light snowfall with winds out of the south at 20 knots, gusting to 30 knots and a cloud ceiling of 3,000 feet above the ground. The ceiling had dropped by 2,000ft in the previous hour. Though there were indications of deteriorating weather along the route, the weather briefings that Peterson received failed to relay the information.
Hubert Dwyer, owner of the plane and the flight service company, watched from a platform outside the tower and "saw the tail light of the aircraft gradually descend until out of sight", just after 1:00 AM. Peterson had earlier told Dwyer he would file a flight plan with Air Traffic Control by radio after takeoff. When Peterson did not call the tower personnel with his flight plan, Dwyer requested that they continue to attempt to establish radio contact, but all attempts were unsuccessful. By 3:30 AM, when Hector Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, had not heard from Peterson, Dwyer contacted authorities and reported the aircraft missing.
Around 9:15 AM, Dwyer took off in his own Cessna 180 to fly Peterson’s intended route. Within minutes he spotted the wreckage less than 6 miles (9.7 km) northwest of the airport, in a cornfield then belonging to Albert Juhl. The Bonanza was at a slight downward angle and banked heavily to the right when it struck the ground at around 170 miles per hour (270 km/h). The plane tumbled and skidded another 570 feet (170 m) across the frozen landscape before the crumpled wreckage came to rest against a wire fence at the edge of Juhl’s property. The bodies of Holly and Valens lay near the plane, Richardson was thrown over the fence and into the cornfield of Juhl’s neighbor Oscar Moffett, and Peterson’s body remained entangled inside the plane’s wreckage. With the other participants on "The Winter Dance Party" enroute to Moorhead, it fell to Surf Ballroom manager Carroll Anderson, who drove the musicians to the airport and witnessed the plane’s takeoff, to make positive identifications of the musicians. All four had died instantly from "gross trauma" to the brain, the county coroner Ralph Smiley declared.
Investigators concluded that the crash was due to a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error, resulting in spatial disorientation. Peterson, working on his instrument rating at the time, was still taking flight instrumentation tests and was not yet certificated for flight into weather that would have required operation of the aircraft solely by reference to his instruments rather than by means of his own vision. The final Civil Aeronautics Board report noted that Peterson had taken his instrument training on airplanes equipped with an artificial horizon attitude indicator and not the far-less-common Sperry Attitude Gyro the Bonanza was equipped with (it was further discovered that Peterson had failed his instrument checkride shortly before the incident). Critically, the two instruments display aircraft pitch attitude but depict such information in a visual manner opposite of one another; therefore, the board considered that this could have caused Peterson to think he was ascending when he was, in fact, descending. They also concluded that Peterson was not given adequate warnings about the weather conditions of his route, which, given his known limitations, might have caused him to postpone the flight out of prudence.
Don McLean sings "American Pie"… (8:30)
Please take time to further explore more about The Day the Music Died, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, J. P. Richardson Jr., Behind the Music, Civil Aeronautics Board, Civil Aeronautics Authority, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll, Rock-N-Roll, Roger Peterson, Don McLean, and American Pie (Song) by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
Massachusetts authorizes the first paper currency issued in America.
Working as a journalist in Virginia City, Nevada, Samuel Clemens uses the pen name “Mark Twain” for the first time to sign a travel account published in the Territorial Enterprise newspaper.
The Sixteenth Amendment, authorizing a federal income tax, is ratified.
The United States breaks off diplomatic relations with Germany after a German submarine sinks the ocean liner RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. This was one of the events that triggered the United States entering World War I on the side of its Allies Great Britain and France.
The Army transport ship Dorchester sinks after being hit be a German torpedo off the coast of Sicily. Four chaplains onboard handed out life preservers to the men; when they ran out, they took their own preservers off and gave them to the troops.
Toni Sailer of Austria is the first skier to win all three Olympic alpine skiing events, getting gold medals by substantial margins in the men’s downhill, slalom and giant slalom events at the Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
Rock ‘n’ roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed along with pilot Roger Peterson when their chartered plane crashes minutes after takeoff near Clear Lake, Iowa. The young rock stars (Holly was 22, Valens 17, and Richardson 28) will be immortalized in Don McLean’s 1972 hit “American Pie,” which fittingly refers to this date as “the day the music died.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins becomes the first woman to pilot a NASA space shuttle mission when she lifts off aboard Discovery. In July 1999, Collins will also become the first female space shuttle commander.
Alberto Gonzales is confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 60-36 vote, becoming the first Hispanic attorney general of the United States.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: “The Day the Music Died”…
Wikipedia: Buddy Holly…
Wikipedia: Ritchie Valens…
Wikipedia: The Big Bopper…
Wikipedia: American Pie (Song)…
Wikipedia: Behind the Music…
Wikipedia: Civil Aeronautics Board (Civil Aeronautics Authority)…
Wikipedia: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…
Fifties Web: The Day the Music Died…
AARP Bulletin: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…
Brainy Quote: Rock-n-Roll Quotes…
Brainy Quote: Buddy Holly Quotes…
Brainy Quote: Ritchie Valens Quotes…
Other Posts on Related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Jim Marshall: Rock Music Photographer…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Elvis Presley: "King of Rock and Roll"…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Rock-N-Roll: Bill Haley & His Comets…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: British Rock’n’Roll Invasion: The Beatles in New York City…