A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.
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.
Don Mc Lean Writes of the Change in Rock and Roll…
On a cold morning in February of 1959… on the morning of this date during that year, a young man, a singer and an aspiring young rock and roll musician named Don Mc Lean was thinking about the music he wanted to play. Rock and Roll had, up to that point in time been played primarily to provide people – mostly young people — music to dance by at social events, and Mc Lean had been looking forward to playing that kind of music; to providing the music that would for other young people bring the happiness and enjoyment that he had always gotten from it. But that morning he was tending his only job other than full-time writing of his music. That job was delivering papers. And on that morning the
news included accounts of the plane crash that had taken the lives of three of the brightest young stars of rock, J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson (“Chantilly Lace”), Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba“), and his idol, Buddy Holly (“That’ll Be the Day”).
Mc Lean thought of Holly and all he had meant to him as a young writer of his own tunes, just as Buddy Holly had been. He thought of Holly’s young wife, Maria Elena, now a widow. Maria had been carrying Holly’s child, but miscarried the next day, possibly as a result of the stress of losing her husband. Mc Lean was writing the famous song, the lyrics of which are quoted above, in 1971, and was thinking of all that had occurred since that crash. The crash had happened right at the end of what was thought by many to be a decade and a period of comparative innocence. The civil unrest which was to permeate so much of the decade of the 60’s and which came to infect that generation of America’s youth had not set in yet. But that decade did come and thereafter the music which Mac Lean had so loved became infected with the social disillusion, and political radicalism of that period. The Brits such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and Americans such as Bob Dylan had risen to prominence, and had changed the face of rock and roll forever. The era of sex, drugs, and free love had taken over, and now was the face of rock and roll. For Mac Lean, that wreck had indeed been the day that the music died.
The Final Concert for the Three, and Their Ill-Fated Flight
On February 2, 1959, Holly, Valens and Richardson were on the eleventh night of their Winter Dance Party tour through the a Mid-west that was as choked with snow as it could be. It was a Monday — a school night — but 1,100 teenagers had jammed Clear Lake, Iowa’s Surf Ballroom for two shows which had been sold out. Between sets, Holly tried getting other people to join him on the airplane which he had chartered to fly to the next show in Moorehead, Minnesota. The musicians had been riding the bus on their tour for over a week, and were very weary. The plane ride to their next destination offered some relief to the monotony of the bus, and might get them to Minnesota early enough to allow them some rest before their next show.
Roger Peterson, a 21 year old pilot had agreed to fly the singer to Fargo, North Dakota — the closest airport to Moorehead. Peterson was himself at the end of a long work day – he had put in 17 hours of work already. But he was a fan, and wanted to fly Buddy Holly to his next job. Holly’s bass player, Waylon Jennings, was scheduled to fly on the plane but gave his seat to the Big Bopper, who was running a fever and had trouble fitting his stocky frame comfortably into the bus seats. When Holly heard that Jennings wasn’t taking the flight, he said, “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up.” To which Jennings replied, “Well, I hope your plane crashes.” This friendly banter of friends would haunt Jennings for years. Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsup flipped a coin with Richie Valens for the remaining seat. Valens “won”, and the three musicians boarded the red and white single-engine Beech Bonanza around 12:30 on Feb. 3. Fans crowded the tarmac, waving and clamoring for autographs. The plane taxied down the windswept, snowy runway and took off. The sky had been clear, and Peterson received clearance from the control tower to go. Regrettably, he had not been told of two weather advisories that warned of an oncoming blizzard.
After remaining airborne for only a few minutes, Peterson apparently flew directly into the blizzard, losing visual reference and accidentally flew the plane down instead of up. The four-passenger plane crashed headlong into a cornfield at over 170 mph, flipping over on itself and throwing all of it’s passengers into the air. Their bodies came to rest some yards away from the wreckage. All of them were killed. Their remains stayed there for over ten hours because in the blizzard conditions, nobody could reach the crash site until later that same morning. The Winter Dance Party tour went on, with Waylon Jennings singing Holly’s songs and other well known singing phenoms, including 18-year-old Frankie Avalon, brought in to finish the tour. Holly’s body was shipped back home to Lubbock, Texas, wherein his Baptist family, who had never approved of his music would not play any of his songs at his funeral.
Holly’s Fame and Influence Rise Posthumously
Holly had indeed been enjoying some success at the time of his death at the far too young age of 22. But this was nothing compared to the way his music and his techniques skyrocketed into prominence after he died. The sale of his records continued to rise in the months following his death, with one of his singles, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” rising to # 13 on the charts. His songs really went up in England where a young John Lennnon and George Harrison would learn about guitar playing in part by listening to his albums. Don McLean’s 1971 single “American Pie” memorialized the plane crash as the moment Rock and Roll in America left it’s youth behind, and entered the world of psychadelia, and youth rebellion. As Claire Suddath wrore in “Time” Magazine in 2009:
“He wrote of teens wearing pink carnations and driving pick-up trucks, dancing and falling in love and dancing some more. The snow fell silently outside as the country teetered on the brink of the 1960s; no one in the ballroom had any idea what would happen next.”
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The Trio = robbiedisme.blogspot.com
Buddy Holly Band = http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1876542,00.html
Newspaper = jalopyjournal.com
Crash site = http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2443345/posts