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    The Day The Music Died

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    Today is the 50th anniversary of the day the music died. This is the tragic event that ended the lives of three young and promising musicians: Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper.

    It was February 2nd, 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper had performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The musicians had a gig the next evening, and Buddy Holly was reportedly annoyed with the tour bus they were traveling on because the heater broke and the weather was cold. He suggested that some of the performers charter a flight, and avoid the cold bus for a night. After some shuffling of people, the ill-fated musicians boarded a small airplane to Moorhead, Minnesota.

    Soon after takeoff, the owner of the airplane (who was the owner of the company that Buddy Holly chartered the plane from) saw the airplane’s lights descend toward the ground. The owner initially believed that it was an optical illusion, but after the pilot of the airplane never filed his flight report, and the owner of the airplane repeatedly tried to contact the pilot, he reported the plane missing. The next day, the charter company owner flew a plane over the intended path and saw the plane’s wreckage in a corn field.

    This was the day the music died.

    What makes this event so tragic was that the three musicians on board were so young, and had so much talent, and had such bright futures.

    Ritchie Valens


    As a kid, I loved the movie La Bamba as well as the soundtrack for it. I listened to it all the time, and while it didn’t actually feature the original Ritchie Valens versions of the songs, I loved it all the same.

    Let’s take a look at Ritchie’s life, and the musical contributions he made to the world before most of us even knew who we are, and what we’re here for.

    Ritchie Valens was born Richard Steven (Stephen?) Valenzuela on May 13th, 1941 in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles). He reportedly grew up listening to traditional Mexican mariachi music, flamenco, blues, and R&B. As early as 5, Ritchie expressed an interest in music. His father encouraged him to play trumpet and guitar, and Ritchie also taught himself to play the drums. Interestingly, Ritchie who was left-handed (aren’t all the greats?), learned to play guitar right-handed. He would bring his guitar to school in his teens, and soon enough was asked to join a group called the Silhouettes as a guitar player. After the group’s vocalist left the group, Ritchie performed vocals as well. His spirited performances left audiences in awe. In addition to his electric stage performances, he was highly musically skilled, and often improvised lyrics and guitar riffs while performing. He earned the nickname “Little Richard of the Valley” because of his energy.

    Ritchie was soon discovered by Bob Keane of Del-Fi records. In May 1958, Bob invited Ritchie over to his home for an audition. Within a few weeks, Ritchie signed a recording contract with Del-Fi records. After a little time rehearsing and writing, Keane decided it was time for Ritchie to enter a recording studio. The first recoding date produced “Come On Let’s Go” and “Framed”. An instant success, Valens returned to the studio to record “Donna” and “La Bamba”. By the fall of 1958, Ritchie dropped out of school to focus on his career. Bob Keane had booked gigs for Ritchie Valens all over the country. He appeared on American Bandstand twice, as well as Alan Freed’s Christmas Jubilee in New York.

    Ritchie’s career was going well, with much hope for the young musician’s future when he began the midwestern tour known as “The Winter Dance Party”. The tour was full of problems, from the tour bus’s heating system failing, to the illnesses suffered by the musicians, to the illogical routes traveled by the tour bus. Ultimately, the discomfort experienced by the musicians is what prompted Buddy Holly to charter a plane from one of the tour stops to the next. We are only left to ponder what could have been if the musicians experienced more comfort in the tour bus.

    Ritchie Valens’s story is particularly sad because of his age. He was only 17 when he died, and he showed so much promise. Already proving himself as a very competent guitar player and vocalist, as well as magnetic performer, Ritchie Valens surely would have gone on to become a highly influential rock and roll musician in the 60’s. It is suggested that Ritchie Valens’ highly energetic rock and roll sound (as influenced by Bo Diddley), was the precursor to more bluesy rock and roll and classic rock such as Led Zeppelin, and even early punk rock such as the Stooges and The Ramones.

    It hurts to see such talent come to an end so unexpectedly and so abrubptly. RIP, Ritchie Valens. We thank you for your contributions to the world. We love you and miss you.

    Buddy Holly

    buddy-hollyBuddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley on September 7th, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas. His family was very musical, and Buddy grew up playing piano, guitar and violin. As a teenager, Buddy met Bob Montgomery, and they formed a duo called “Buddy and Bob”, where they played bluegrass tunes. In high school, Buddy Holly sang in the school’s choir, and became further interested in music.

    Buddy Holly became more interested in rock and roll when in 1955, Elvis Presley performed in Lubbock. Shortly after, Buddy Holly performed on the same bill as Elvis. This caught the attention of Decca records, which signed him to their label. After signing this record contract, Buddy Holly recorded a version of “That’ll Be The Day”. He soon put together a group of musicians which would become known as The Crickets. With his new band, he recorded and performed more, including a famous series of gigs at the Apollo Theatre, where he gained acceptance by the largely African American audience. In 1958, Buddy Holly and his band toured both Europe and Australia.

    Things were looking good for Buddy Holly. He married a young Puerto Rican woman named Maria Elena Santiago in late 1958. He was becoming more interested in working in New York, where some of the largest musical acts in the world were from. Unfortunately, at this point, Buddy Holly’s band was not as interested in the New York scene, and they split up. Buddy Holly continued with his music, earning a spot on the Winter Dance Party tour.

    Buddy Holly, much like Valens, was young, talented, and showed much promise as a musician. He was only 22 when he died, leaving much speculation as to what he could have accomplished if he had lived. Buddy Holly already had developed his own style of singing, which is very distinct. Classic songs like “Peggy Sue” display his “hiccup” (or glottal stop) technique, where he adds extra syllables to words with a very abrupt hiccup sort of sound. You know it when you hear it, and it is a unique characteristic of Buddy Holly’s style. His songwriting has been celebrated as being very advanced compared to much of the popular music during that time. Buddy Holly had been playing music his whole life, and was cleary very committed and talented to his craft.

    Buddy Holly’s legacy continues to this day. From his “appearance” in Pulp Fiction, to Nirvana dressing up in his style in their “In Bloom” music video, to the Weezer song “Buddy Holly”, he continues to influence and inspire musicians. Other notable musicians influenced by Buddy Holly include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan.

    Buddy Holly’s tragic death on this fateful date is a sad moment in the history of rock and roll. We love the contributions he made during his short musical career. Buddy Holly, if you can see this somehow, we love you and miss you. Thanks for the music…

    The Big Bopper

    bigbopperThe Big Bopper was born Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. on October 24th, 1930 in Sabine Pass, Texas. He was known as “JP” to his friends. As a child, JP was interested in sports, and played defense for his high school’s football team. In college, JP was studying pre-law, as well as participating in the school chorus and band. He was also working part-time at a local radio station. He soon accepted a full-time position at the radio station, and got married to Adrianne Joy Fryon in 1952. In 1953, Adrianne gave birth to their daughter, Debra Joy.

    JP’s career in radio was beginning to take off. He was promoted to the position of Supervisor of Announcers. In 1955, JP was drafted into the military, and he served for two years. In 1957, upon release from the military, he returned home, and began his career as a radio personality. He took the name “The Big Bopper” during this time because of a popular dance at the time known as “The Bop”. As a radio personality, The Big Bopper broke a world record for the length of time he spent in one continuous broadcast. He broadcast for 5 days, 2 hours and 8 minutes. He played 1,821 records during this amazing spree.

    The Big Bopper had always been involved with music, and did write and perform in addition to performing his duties as a radio personality. He didn’t have much success initially until “Chantilly Lace” was released in 1958. This song is a stunning example of The Big Bopper’s over-the-top, yet lovable personality. On this recording it is clear as to why he enjoyed such success in the radio business. With the success of Chantilly Lace, The Big Bopper took some time off from the radio gig to tour with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens for the Winter Dance Party tour.

    The Big Bopper’s story is also tragic. At the time of his death, his wife was pregnant with his son. In addition, The Big Bopper was looking to furthering his career in the radio business by investing in a radio station. He also had pioneered the idea of a music video, and was possibly looking at the production of the then unheard of medium. He had also written several new songs, and was in the process of building a recording studio in his basement. The world is left to wonder what JP Richardson could have accomplished had he lived.

    JP Richardson was a character full of life. From his boisterous on-air personality to his introduction to Chantilly Lace, he was adored by many. His legacy continues to this day with Chantilly Lace played daily on rock and roll stations across the country. His son, JP Richardson, Jr. continues to promote his father, and keep his legacy alive. The Big Bopper, RIP. We miss you.

    It is a sad day remebering these three lives cut short, but we cannot feel sad forever. These musicians were about the joy of music, and all loved their craft. They did it because it made them happy and it made their audiences happy. To be happy while enjoying their music is the greatest way that we can pay tribute.

    Some morals: Life can sometimes be cut short without warning. Always tell the people you love that you love them.

    A moment of silence for these three amazing young perfomers.

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    Topics: Artist Tributes, Musicians I Like, Rock | 2 Comments »

    2 Responses to “The Day The Music Died”

    1. Johnny Hughes Says:
      February 3rd, 2009 at 8:46 am

      Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, and the Cotton Club
      by Johnny Hughes,
      January 2009

      Elvis Presley was leaning a against his pink, 1954 Cadillac in front of Lubbock’s historic Cotton Club. The small crowd were mesmerized by his great looks, cockiness, and charisma. He put on quite a show, doing nearly all the talking. Elvis bragged about his sexual conquests, using language you didn’t hear around women. He said he’d been a truck driver six months earlier. Now he could have a new woman in each town. He told a story about being caught having sex in his back seat. An angry husband grabbed his wife by the ankles and pulled her out from under Elvis. I doubted that.
      Earlier, at the Fair Park Coliseum, Elvis had signed girl’s breasts, arms, foreheads, bras, and panties. No one had ever seen anything like it. We had met Elvis’ first manager, Bob Neal, bass player, Bill Black, and guitarist Scotty Moore. They wanted us to bring some beer out to the Cotton Club. So we did. My meeting with Bob Neal in 1955 was to have great meaning in my future. I was 15.

      The old scandal rag, Confidential, had a story about Elvis at the Cotton Club and the Fair Park Coliseum. It had a picture of the Cotton Club and told of Elvis’ unique approach to autographing female body parts. It said he had taken two girls to Mackenzie Park for a tryst in his Cadillac.

      Elvis did several shows in Lubbock during his first year on the road, in 1955. When he first came here, he made $75. His appearance in 1956 paid $4000. When he arrived in Lubbock, Bob Neal was his manager. By the end of the year, Colonel Tom Parker had taken over. Elvis played the Fair Park Coliseum for its opening on Jan. 6th, with a package show. When he played the Fair Park again, Feb. 13th, it was memorable. Colonel Tom Parker and Bob Neal were there. Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery were on the bill. Waylon Jennings was there. Elvis was 19. Buddy was 18.

      Elvis’ early shows in Lubbock were:
      Jan 6th 1955, Fair Park Coliseum. Feb 13th. Fair Park, Cotton Club April 29 Cotton Club June 3: Johnson Connelly Pontiac with Buddy Holly, Fair Park October 11: Fair Park October 15: Cotton Club, April 10, 1956: Fair Park. Elvis probably played the Cotton Club on all of his Lubbock dates. He also spent time with Buddy Holly on all his Lubbock visits.

      Buddy Holly was the boffo popular teenager of all time around Lubbock. The town loved him! He had his own radio show on Pappy Dave Stone’s KDAV, first with Jack Neal, later with Bob Montgomery in his early teens. KDAV was the first all-country station in America. Buddy fronted Bill Haley, Marty Robbins, and groups that traveled through. Stone was an early mentor. Buddy first met Waylon Jennings at KDAV. Disk jockeys there included Waylon, Roger Miller, Bill Mack, later America’s most famous country DJ, and country comedian Don Bowman. Bowman and Miller became the best known writers of funny country songs.

      All these singer-songwriters recorded there, did live remotes with jingles, and wrote songs. Elvis went to KDAV to sing live and record the Clover’s “Fool, Fool Fool” and Big Joe Turner’s “Shake Rattle and Roll” on acetates. This radio station in now KRFE, 580 a.m., located at 66th and MLK, owned by Wade Wilkes. They welcome visitors. It has to be the only place that Elvis, Buddy, Waylon, and Bill Mack all recorded. Johnny Cash sang live there. Waylon and Buddy became great friends through radio. Ben Hall, another KDAV disc jockey and songwriter, filmed in color at the Fair Park Coliseum. This video shows Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Buddy and his friends.

      Wade’s dad, Big Ed Wilkes, owner of KDAV, managed country comedian, Jerry Clower, on MCA Records. He sent Joe Ely’s demo tape to MCA. Bob Livingston also sent one of the tapes I gave him to MCA. This led to a contract. Pappy Dave Stone, the first owner of KDAV, helped Buddy get his record contract with Decca/MCA.

      Another disc jockey at KDAV was Arlie Duff. He wrote the country classic, “Y’all Come.” It has been recorded by nineteen well-known artists, including Bing Crosby. When Waylon Jennings and Don Bowman were hired by the Corbin brothers, Slim, Sky, and Larry, of KLLL, Buddy started to hang around there. They all did jingles, sang live, wrote songs, and recorded. Niki Sullivan, one of the original Crickets, was also a singing DJ at KLLL. Sky Corbin has an excellent book about this radio era and the intense competition between KLLL and KDAV. All the DJs had mottos. Sky Corbin’s was “lover, fighter, wild horse rider, and a purty fair windmill man.”

      Don Bowman’s motto was “come a foggin’ cowboy.” He’d make fun of the sponsors and get fired. We played poker together. He’d take breaks in the poker game to sing funny songs. I played poker with Buddy Holly before and after he got famous. He was incredibly polite and never had the big head. The nation only knew Buddy Holly for less than two years. He was the most famous guy around Lubbock from the age of fourteen.

      Niki Sullivan, an original Cricket, and I had a singing duo as children. We cut little acetates in 1948. We also appeared several times on Bob Nash’s kid talent show on KFYO. This was at the Tech Theatre. Buddy Holly and Charlene Hancock, Tommy’s wife, also appeared on this show. Larry Holley, Buddy’s brother, financed his early career, buying him a guitar and whatever else he needed. Buddy recorded twenty acetates at KDAV from 1953 until 1957. He also did a lot of recording at KLLL. Larry Holley said Niki was the most talented Cricket except Buddy. All of Buddy’s band mates and all of Joe Ely’s band mates were musicians as children.

      Buddy and Elvis met at the Cotton Club. Buddy taught Elvis the lyrics to the Drifter’s “Money Honey”. After that, Buddy met Elvis on each of his Lubbock visits. I think Elvis went to the Cotton Club on every Lubbock appearance. When Elvis played a show at the Johnson Connelly Pontiac showroom, Mac Davis was there. I was too.

      The last time Elvis played the Fair Park Coliseum on April 10,1956, he was as famous as it gets. Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, and Don Guess were a front act. They did two shows and played for over 10,000 people. Those wonderful I.G. Holmes photos, taken at several locations, usually show Buddy and his pals with Elvis. Lubbock had a population of 80,000 at the time. Elvis was still signing everything put in front of him. Not many people could have signing women as a hobby.
      Many of the acetates recorded at KLLL and KDAV by Buddy and others were later released, many as bootlegs. When Buddy Holly recorded four songs at KDAV, the demo got him his first record contract. It wasn’t just Lubbock radio that so supportive of Buddy Holly. The City of Lubbock hired him to play at teenage dances. He appeared at Lubbock High School assemblies and many other places in town.

      Everyone in Lubbock cheered Buddy Holly on with his career. The newspaper reports were always positive. At one teenage gig, maybe at the Glassarama, there was only a small crowd. Some of us were doing the “dirty bop.” The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal had photos the next day showing people with their eyes covered with a black strip. Sonny Curtis mentions that in his song, “The Real Buddy Holly Story.” When Buddy Holly and the Crickets were on the Ed Sullivan show, the newspaper featured that. The whole town watched.

      Buddy was fighting with his manager Norman Petty over money before he died. They were totally estranged. Larry Holley told me that Norman said to Buddy, “I’ll see you dead before you get a penny.” A few weeks later, Buddy was dead. When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, it was headline news in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Over 1000 people attended the funeral on February 7, 1959. Buddy was only twenty-two years old. His widow, Maria Elena Holly, was too upset to attend. The pall bearers were all songwriters and musicians that had played with Buddy: Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Sonny Curtis, Bob Montgomery, and Phil Everly. Elvis was in the Army. He had Colonel Tom send a large wreath of yellow roses.
      In 1976, I was managing the Joe Ely Band. They had recorded an as-yet -to-be-released album for MCA Records. I was in Nashville to meet with the MCA execs. They wanted Joe to get a booking contract and mentioned some unheard of two-man shops. Bob Neal, Elvis’ first manager, had great success in talent managing and booking. He sold his agency to the William Morris Agency, the biggest booking agency in the world, and stayed on as president of the Nashville branch.

      I called the William Morris Agency and explained to the secretary that I did indeed know Bob Neal, as we had met at the Cotton Club in Lubbock, Texas when he was Elvis’ manager. He came right on the phone. I told him the Joe Ely Band played mostly the Cotton Club. He said that after loading up to leave there one night, a cowboy called Elvis over to his car and knocked him down. Elvis was in a rage. He made them drive all over Lubbock checking every open place, as they looked for the guy. Bob Neal invited me to come right over.

      Bob Neal played that, now classic, demo tape from Caldwell Studios and offered a booking contract. We agreed on a big music city strategy: Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London, and Austin. Bob drove me back to MCA and they could not believe our good fortune. The man had been instrumental in the careers of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rodriguez, and many others. The William Morris Agency sent the Joe Ely Band coast to coast and to Europe, first to front Merle Haggard, then on a second trip to front the Clash. The original Joe Ely Band were Lloyd Maines, Natalie’s father, steel guitar, Jesse Taylor, electric guitar, Steve Keeton, drums, and Gregg Wright, bass. Ponty Bone, on accordion, joined a little later. The band did the shows and the recording. The recorded tunes were originals from Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

      However, some of the William Morris bookings led to zig zag travel over long distances to so-called listening clubs. When I complained to Bob Neal, he’d recall the 300 dates Elvis played back in 1955. Four guys in Elvis’ pink Cadillac. When Buddy made some money, he bought a pink Cadillac. Joe Ely bought a pristine, 1957 pink Cadillac that was much nicer than either of their pink Cadillacs.

      When I’d hear from Bob Neal, it was very good news, especially the fantastic, uniformly-rave, album and performance reviews from newspapers and magazines everywhere. Time Magazine devoted a full page to Joe Ely. The earliest big rock critic to praise Joe Ely was Joe Nick Patoski, author of the definitive and critically-acclaimed Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. After one year, MCA was in turmoil. Big stars were leaving or filing lawsuits. We were told they might not re-new the option to make a second record. MCA regularly fired everyone we liked. Bob Neal thought the band should go to Los Angeles for a one-nighter.

      He booked the Joe Ely Band into the best known club on the West Coast, the Palomino, owned by his dear pal, Tommy Thomas. We alerted other record companies. They drove back and forth to L.A. in a Dodge Van to play only one night. Robert Hilburn, the top rock critic for the Los Angeles Times, came with his date, Linda Ronstadt.

      The Joe Ely Band loved to play music. They started on time, took short breaks, and played until someone made them stop. Robert Hilburn wrote that Ely could be, “the most important male singer to emerge in country music since the mid-60s crop of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson.” The long review with pictures took up the whole fine arts section of the biggest newspaper in the country. Hilburn praised each of the band individually. He was blown away when they just kept playing when the lights came on at closing time. After that, several major record companies were interested.

      The last time I saw Bob Neal was at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco on February 22, 1979. Little Pete, a black drarf who was always around Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, was traveling with the band. To open the show, Little Pete came out and announced, “Lubbock, Texas produces the Joe Ely Band!” Then he jumped off the elevated stage and Bo Billingsley, the giant roady, caught him. Bob Neal, the old showman that had seen it all, just loved that.

      This comment originally appears on http://www.virtualubbock.com Anyone may make copies of this one article or post it on any web site. Thanks to Chris Oglesby and Larry Holley.


    2. Mark Vice Says:
      June 12th, 2010 at 7:51 pm

      I love it!