On Feb 3rd 1959, 53 years ago today, The Winter Dance Party, a traveling rock and roll show, played at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The show featured Frankie Sardo, Dion & The Belmonts, The Big Bopper, Bobby Vee & The Shadows, Jimmy Clanton, Ritchie Valens, Fabian and Frankie Avalon. Buddy Holly and the Crickets headlined.
The show was moving on to Fargo North Dakota, and Holly chartered a A Beech Bonanza for his band. However, his band didn’t go. Instead, bassist Waylon Jennings gave his seat to The Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson, who had the Flu, and guitarist Tommy Allsup gave his to Ricthie Valens, who won a coin toss at the ballroom for Allsup’ seat on the plane. Upon hearing of the new flying arrangements, Holly told Jennings, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up,” to which Jennings replied “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Jennings was haunted by the exchange for the rest of his life.
The rest can be told best by the Civil Aeronautics Board:
The aircraft was observed to take off toward the south in a normal manner, turn and climb to an estimated altitude of 800 feet, and then head in a northwesterly direction. When approximately 5 miles had been traversed, the tail light of the aircraft was seen to descend gradually until it disappeared from sight. Following this, many unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the aircraft by radio. The wreckage was found in a filed later that morning.
All aboard the flight died. The only body in the wreckage was that of pilot Roger Peterson. Both Holly and Valens were found seventeen feet from the plane, Richardson’s forty feet.
It was the first major death of the rock and roll era. Twelve years later Don McLean would write American Pie about the accident, noting it was The Day The Music Died. It is a phrase that has stuck and is today generally regarded as such.
There would be more deaths of the rockers we loved. Last week another plane crash, the Lynyrd Skynyrd one was in the news, and Jim Croce also perished in a small plane. There are too many to mention that went by substance abuse, some in car crashes, some suicides. But the Day the Music Died is unquestionably the most remembered, the most cited.
Buddy Holly is, fifty years later, still a major musical figure, one of the absolute greats of rock and roll. Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper less so. But all three are remembered today as pioneers in the music so many of us came to love.
A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they?d be happy for a while.
But february made me shiver
With every paper I?d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn?t take one more step.
I can?t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died…
And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.
Tags: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens
Well, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die