THE MOST TRAGIC DAY IN THE EARLY YEARS OF ROCK & ROLL HISTORY WAS FEBRUARY 3, 1959...
DON McLEAN IN HIS instant-classic hit "American Pie" (Released in the Fall of 1971) termed it "The Day The Music Died", and since then that's the way it's been known.
As a teenager at that time my friends and I could hardly believe the news. It was incredible that three of the most popular entertainers that we listened to on the radio almost everyday had died...been killed in a plane crash !
When you're that young you think you'll live "forever", or, at least for a long, long time. You never think that somebody your own age will die, and, anyway, we were just getting over the tragic death of another of our heroes James Dean, from just a few years earlier, and Elvis had been taken away from us, drafted, which left another void in our youthful world. How much more trauma could we take ?
After all, these were the people who made the songs we listened to and cruised to: "That'll Be The Day", "Chantilly Lace", "Donna"...heck, we knew all of the words to all those songs, and everything else they recorded ! Maybe the reports were wrong, maybe it wasn't true. Maybe it was all a terrible mistake and someone else was on that plane. How could they be gone ?
But it had happened. There was no mistake. They were gone forever, and they were never coming back.
The radio and tv stations, newspapers, and, magazines made sure we'd know what happened with news bulletins, pictures, and, articles written by almost any journalist that could get to their typewriter fast enough to crank out a story.
(Above left: Daily Mirror, February 4, 1959; Above Right: Boston Daily Record, Februrary 4, 1959)
EVER SINCE I STARTED IN BROADCASTING back in 1967, I've always tried to play at least one of the songs recorded by Buddy, Richie, or, J.P., in their memory on that day. And if I was at a station that had a format that wouldn't permit that, I at least mentioned it on-the-air...so that they'd be remembered.
I'VE HAD THIS RARE, HISTORIC NEWS BULLETIN about the crash on that day, February 3, 1959, in my Archives for a long time, but I don't know where it was originally broadcast or who the announcer is. When I decided to add it to the WebSite, I added a little bit of music from Buddy Holly, and Richie Valens to give it a little more balance and give you a chance to hear their voices again.
This special, rare audio that your hearing is not very long...but it is very important. And, maybe next time when you hear Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, or The Big Bopper on your radio you'll think about the musical legacy they left us, and remember that they left us way too soon.
SPECIAL NOTE: As I was putting this Special Tribute Page together, I came across the superbly written article below on the Gibson Website, written by Andrew Vaughan, and thought it would be a perfect compliment to what I've already written, and I give them full credit for it.
I hope you enjoy the stories, the memories, and the sounds of the report of what happened on that fateful day: February 3, 1959...the day that changed Rock & Roll History forever.
Jonnie King (Written Especially For The St. Louis Record Collector & CD Show)
THE FOLLOWING STORY was written by Andrew Vaughan for Gibson Guitar Corp. (Makers of the famous Gibson Guitars) and appeared on their Website: www.gibson.com
(Our special thanks to Andrew Vaughan, Gibson Guitar Corp., and This Day In Music)
"Buddy Holly joined the The Winter Dance Party tour, in the winter of ’58, for the cash. The Crickets had broken apart; he’d left his record company and was newly married with a baby on the way. To pay the bills, he was touring with a new band of Tommy Allsup on guitar, Waylon Jennings on bass and Carl Brunch on drums.
The headliners were Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (a.k.a. J.P Richardson). It was a tough and relentless tour in a harsh Midwest winter. The tour bus wasn’t heated and broke down continually. Holly’s drummer even suffered form frostbite at one point. Most of the musicians were ill with colds and flu.
ON FEBRUARY 3, 1959, Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper played the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Tickets were $1.25.
The evening closed with The Big Bopper doing his mega-hit “Chantilly Lace.” And then it was to outside to the bus.
The night was freezing again and Holly; sick of the rickety old bus they were travelling on dipped into his pocket to charter a plane to travel to their next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota. The plane would fly them to Fargo, North Dakota, the nearest airport to Moorhead. He had two open seats on the plane that he offered for $36 each. Dion didn’t want to pay. Jennings fancied flying but gave his seat to Richardson, since he was ill. Allsup was supposed to be on the plane but flipped a coin with Valens for the seat. Valens guessed right and joined the flight.
Holly, pleased to be escaping the bus, was in a joking mood when he engaged in some lighthearted banter with Jennings. “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up again,” he said. Jennings returned with, “Well, hell, I hope your old plane crashes.”
Little did he know. At around 1 a.m. on February 3rd the chartered plane took off in a blizzard crashing in a cornfield a few miles north of Mason City, Iowa. Holly, Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died in the crash.
The crash was discovered the next morning at 9:30 a.m.
The Moorhead venue insisted that a show go ahead that night and booked a local kid, the 15-year-old Bobby Vee. Jennings would never overcome the trauma and guilt, but became a country music legend. Dion, who couldn’t afford a plane ticket, became a rock and roll great.
Valens and The Big Bopper would be immortalized by the tragedy, while Buddy Holly is still revered as one of the greatest-ever talents in popular music. As Paul McCartney, someone who knows a thing or two about a good tune, once remarked: “At least the first 40 [Beatles] songs we wrote were Buddy Holly-influenced.”
(The Above Story Courtesy Of, And Copyrighted By, Andrew Vaughan & Gibson Guitar Corp. All other photos/images on this page courtesy of their original owners/copyright holders...with sincere thanks.)