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March 24, 2008

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died

Early in 1959, Buddy Holly had separated from his boyhood friends, the Crickets. His new back-up group consisted of Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, and Waylon Jennings. They were on a tour that would include stops in 24 cities in three weeks. Joining them was Dion MiMucci, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson “The Big Bopper”.

The bus they were using for this winter tour of the mid-west became quite uncomfortable due to the heating system breaking early on in the trip. In fact, due to the cold bus, the drummer, Carl Bunch, received frostbite of his foot, which required a hospital stay for a few days. Tired of riding the cold bus, Buddy Holly chartered a four-seater Beechcraft Bonanza plane, piloted by 21year-old Roger Peterson.

The price per seat was $36.00 for the flight to Fargo. MiMucci thought that that was too expensive for him. Ritchie Valens had never been on a small plane and asked Allsup for his seat. Allsup didn’t want to give up his seat very easily and decided on a coin toss with Valens. Valens won the toss, and therefore the seat. The Big Bopper asked Waylon Jennings for his seat because he was suffering from the flu and couldn’t see himself riding that bus to Fargo. Jennings gave up the seat. When Holly heard that Jennings gave up the seat he stated, “Well, I hope your ole bus freezes up!” Jennings shot back at Holly, "Well, I hope your damn plane crashes!"

So, on board the plane were Holly, Valens, “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson, and the pilot, Peterson. It was February 2, 1959, which was, as Don McLean would include in his song American Pie, the day the music died.

Barely 18 months into his rocketing career, Holly, 23 years old, had already achieved numerous hits including Peggy Sue, That’ll Be the Day, and Crying, Waiting, Hoping. He would be a great inspiration to the members of The Beatles, who named their group partly as homage to the Crickets. McCartney now owns the publishing rights to Holly’s music. A young Bob Dylan attended a concert of the tour about three days prior to the last concert. Many say the group the Hollies were named as a tribute to the deceased singer.

The life of Ritchie Valens was made into a film in 1987 entitled, La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips. The film had the group, Los Lobos, performing Valens’s hits. Valens, too, had a very short career but had lasting impressions to the music world with his hits, Donna, and, LaBamba. He was only 17 and had signed his record deal just eight months prior.

The plane took off from Clear Lake, Iowa just before 1:00am on February 2nd 1959 in windy and snowy conditions. Eight miles from the air strip, the plane fell to the ground going about 170 miles per hour.

From American Pie: Don McLean

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.

© 2008 J. Delbridge.

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Updated March 24, 2008

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