Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Day The Music Died…

On February 3, 1959, Charles “Buddy” Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The three musicians were touring the mid-west together as part of “The Winter Dance Party” – a tour covering 24 midwestern cities in three weeks. The bus hired to take the musicians from city to city was faulty, and the heating system died out causing most of the musicians to develop frostbite. In an attempt to bypass another cold bus ride, Buddy Holly chartered a small plane to take his band from Iowa to their next tour stop in Moorhead, Minnesota. Each band member would be charged $36 for the plane ride.
            In what has become a subject of rock and roll legend, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson asked one of Holly’s band members, Waylon Jennings, for his seat on the plane as he was suffering from the flu. Ritchie Valens had never flown in a plane before, and asked Holly’s other band mate, Tommy Allsup, if he could have his seat. Allsup said he would let a coin toss decide, and Valens won the seat. When Buddy Holly heard that his band mate Waylon Jennings would not be accompanying him on the plane, he teased, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up,” to which Jennings responded, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” These words would haunt Jennings for the remainder of his life.
            The passengers boarded the plane around 12:40 AM and the plane took off around 12:55 AM. People observing the plane from the control tower in Clear Lake saw the taillight of the plane descend at 1:00 AM. That morning, search teams found the wreckage in a field near Clear Lake, Iowa; all three musicians and the pilot died instantly upon impact. An investigation blamed the crash on a combination of bad weather and pilot error. A large pair of horn rim glasses, like those worn by Buddy Holly, now marks the entrance to the crash site.
            Here is a newsreel showing crash site footage:

            The death of these musicians was a huge loss to rock music, and their legacies are apparent in the influence their music has had on other musicians. The Beatles cited Buddy Holly as a large influence, and they covered his music on Beatles for Sale. Don McLean wrote “American Pie” about “the day the music died.” In more recent years, Weezer named checked Buddy Holly in a song. To celebrate their memory, here is Buddy Holly performing “Peggy Sue” on the Arthur Murray Dance Party. I particularly enjoy the host’s defense of this new thing called rock and roll in her introduction.

[Images via ruhrtalcruising and wikimedia]

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