Posted on 02/02/2018 at 04:30 PM by Troy Cummings
Winter Dance Party Tour 1959
After mechanical difficulties with their tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party tour. However, J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson convinced Waylon Jennings, a member Holly’s band at the time, to give up his seat and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for a seat on the plane.
Holly, born Charles Holley in Lubbock, Texas, was just 22 when he died. He had begun singing country music before switching to rock and roll after opening for various performers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and toured internationally, playing hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Holly wrote all his songs, many of which were released after his death and influenced such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.
Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, started out as a disk jockey in Texas and later began writing songs. Richardson’s most famous recording was the rockabilly hit “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, “The Big Bopper.”
The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela in a suburb of Los Angeles, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba,” an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song (though Valens barely spoke Spanish). In 1987, Valens’ life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a number 1 hit. Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens, and Richardson in the 1972 number 1 hit, “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959, as “the day the music died.”
The Surf Ballroom has been infamous ever since that fateful night. I have personally visited The Surf on several occasions for different concerts. Most memorable was REO Speedwagon (sold out) in 2014. It’s an amazing venue, possibly my favorite music venue. The history is just so heavy in that place and it’s clear that the artists feel that too. So many acts make The Surf a stop on their tour, even though it’s a pretty small place, and often sells out in minutes. Artists like to pay tribute to what happened that night and it’s always a special occasion to be at a show up in good old Clear Lake, IA.
Written by Jake Brummer, Road Breakdown and Concertholic
Editor's Note: The young pilot, Roger Peterson, was the fourth victim in the plane crash. He was only 21 when he died and had been a certified pilot since age 17. While investigations into the crash cited pilot error and weather, his boss had disputed that for years. In 1988 when a memorial at the Surf Ballroom was dedicated to the musicians who perished in the plane crash, it also included the name of the pilot. In 2009, a plaque of wings bearing Roger Peterson's name was added to the memorial at the crash site.