This will probably be one of the more lengthy blogs I’ll ever write.
About three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend John Mueller’s Winter Dance Party Tour – the only tribute in remembrance of these three that is endorsed by their families. So well that a former band member of The Crickets referred to Mueller as a ‘reincarnation’ of Buddy Holly.
Although I live in Lubbock, aside from visiting the Buddy Holly Center it wasn’t until then that I really began showing interest in their story and their music.
As I listen to “American Pie” on repeat while typing this, this is my best shot at honoring them – though nothing can ever match up to the honor their talents deserve.
Here’s a story I’m sure you all have heard already, but will never be able to hear enough.
On February 3, 1959, three incredibly talented rock and roll musicians – Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Buddy Holly – were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, along with their pilot, Roger Peterson.
At the time, Holly and his band which included Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch were traveling across the Midwest for their “Winter Dance Party” tour which had scheduled 24 shows. Also, Dion DiMucci and his band, The Belmonts, joined the tour for an extra profit. Valens and Richardson went along with these two bands, trying to create an image for themselves as rising artists.
Traveling Midwest in early February, the weather conditions were not very good as obvious as it may seem. Holly was fed up with the weather and decided to charter a plane from Dwyer Flying Service of Mason City, Iowa as his means of transportation to their next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The landing destination would be Hector Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, which was the closest airport to Moorhead.
The bus they traveled in could not handle such bad conditions and the heating system broke down. Several band members became sick. In fact, Bunch was hospitalized for several frostbitten feet.
Richardson was also one of them and became sick with the flu. For this reason, Jennings traded his seat on the plane for Richardson’s bus seat.
Once hearing Jennings was riding the bus, Holly joked “I hope your bus freezes up.” Jennings took a jab back and said “Well, I hope your plane crashes.”
Allsup lost his seat on the plane to Valens, who once had great fear in flying and won a coin toss against him. He claimed it was the first time he had won anything in his life.
Roughly six miles from the Mason City Municipal Airport, the plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, crashed in a cornfield belonging to Albert July. The crash was said to be caused by spatial disorientation, as the pilot was not qualified to fly in *Instrument Meteorological Conditions.
With four years flying experience, 711 hours recorded total, 128 of which were on the Beechcraft Bonanza, Peterson also had 52 hours of instrumental flying. However, he had only passed the written exam and was not yet qualified.
It is said that the weather conditions were light snow with a visibility of six miles and winds from 20-30 miles per hour.
All three passengers were all ejected from impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled within the crash.
Holly, 22-years-old, had fatal head and chest trauma, and fractures on his arms and legs.
Holly’s wife, Maria Elena, learned of his passing on television. After only six months of marriage, she became a widow. She was also two months pregnant and miscarried due to “psychological trauma.” She blames it on herself because she was sick from her pregnancy and it was the only time she didn’t go with him. Knowing that, she believes he would not have have gotten on the airplane if she were with him.
In the circumstances in which she was informed of his death and the aftermath of it, a policy was later adopted to not disclose victims’ names until after their families have been informed.
His mother, Ella Pauline Drake Holley (this is the correct spelling of his family name – but Holly changed it after receiving his first recording contract form Decca Records who misspelled his last name) collapsed whenever she heard the news on the radio in her Lubbock home.
Richardson, 29-years-old, was ejected so far over the fence into Juhl’s neighbor’s field. There was an investigation as to whether or not he died instantly or made his way out and began looking for help because he was so far from the other three. It was confirmed that he died instantly on impact.
Valens, 17-years-old, suffered massive head injuries along with blunt force trauma to the chest.
His girlfriend, Fox-Coots, refused to get on a plane until she was 29-years-old and has dreams of Valens occasionally.
There are currently two movies depicting and mentioning the accident- The Buddy Holly Story and La Bamba. Don McLean’s song “American Pie” is also in reference to the accident with the lyrics “I can’t remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride. Something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.”
Going down as one of the greatest musicians to ever live, Holly has left a phenomenal legacy in the rock and roll industry.
Known as a rock and roll pioneer and one of the forefathers for the Chicano style, Valens influenced famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana.
In 2010, Richardson was inducted into Iowa’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, widely loved for his humorous aspects in his performances.
Holly is now buried in Lubbock, TX. Valens is buried in Los Angeles, CA. Richardson is buried in Beaumont, TX.
“The Day the Music Died” honors three incredibly talented men, who left this earth way top soon. Farewell to a time where music could be understood; where music required being talented and gifted; and where music could actually speak to its listeners. Here’s an even bigger farewell to three young men who encompassed nothing less than these characteristics.
*Instrument Meteorological Conditions is an aviation flight category that describes weather conditions – typically cloudy or bad weather – in which pilots are required by reference to instruments.
Isaiah 46:4 // Brandi Addison