THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
On a cold winter's night a small private plane took off from
Clear Lake, Iowa bound for Fargo, N.D. It never made its
When that plane crashed, it claimed the lives of Buddy Holly,
Ritchie Valens, J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson and the pilot,
Roger Peterson. Three of Rock and Roll's most promising
performers were gone. As Don McLean wrote in his classic
music parable, American Pie, it was "the day the music
Performing in concert was very profitable and Buddy Holly needed the money it provided. "The Winter
Dance Party Tour" was planned to cover 24 cities in a short 3 week time frame (January 23 - February 15)
and Holly would be the biggest headliner. Waylon Jennings, a friend from Lubbock, Texas and Tommy
Allsup would go as backup musicians.
Ritchie Valens, probably the hottest of the artists at the time, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts
would round out the list of performers.
The tour bus developed heating problems. It was so cold onboard that reportedly one of the drummers
developed frostbite riding in it. When they arrived at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were cold,
tired and disgusted.
Buddy Holly had had enough of the unheated bus and decided to charter a plane for himself and his guys. At
least he could get some laundry done before the next performance!
That night at the Surf Ballroom was magical as the fans went wild over the performers.
Jiles P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper to his fans, was a Texas D.J. who found recording success
and fame in 1958 with the song Chantilly Lace.
Richie Valenzuela was only 16 years old when Del-Fi record producer, Bob Keane, discovered the
Pacoima, California singer. Keane rearranged his name to Ritchie Valens, and in 1958 they recorded
Come On, Let's Go. Far more successful was the song Valens wrote for his girlfriend, Donna, and its flip
side, La Bamba, a Rock and Roll version of an old Mexican standard. This earned the teenager an
appearance on American Bandstand and the prospect of continued popularity.
Charles Hardin "Buddy" Holley (changed to Holly due to a misspelling on a contract) and his band, The
Crickets, had a number one hit in 1957 with the tuneThat'll Be The Day. This success was follwed by Peggy
Sue and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. By 1959, Holly had decided to move in a new direction.
He and the Crickets parted company. Holly married Maria Elena Santiago and moved to New York with the
hope of concentrating on song writing and producing.
Dwyer Flying Service got the charter. $36 per person for a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza.
Waylon Jennings gave his seat up to Richardson, who was running a fever and had trouble fitting his stocky
frame comfortably into the bus seats.
When Holly learned that Jennings wasn't going to fly, he said, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up."
Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." This friendly banter of friends would haunt Jennings
Allsup told Valens, I'll flip you for the remaining seat. On the toss of a coin, Valens won the seat and Allsup
the rest of his life.
The plane took off a little after 1 A.M. from Clear Lake and never got far from the airport before it crashed,
killing all onboard.
A cold N.E wind immediately gave way to a snow which drastically reduced visibility. The ground was
already blanketed in white. The pilot may have been inexperienced with the instrumentation.
One wing hit the ground and the small plane corkscrewed over and over. The three young stars were thrown
clear of the plane, leaving only pilot Roger Peterson inside.
Over the years there has been much speculation as to whether a shot was fired inside the plane which
disabled or killed the pilot. Logic suggests that encased in a sea of white snow, with only white below,
Peterson just flew the plane into the ground.
Read the Coroner's Report or the Civil Aeronautics Board Report for more info.
Deciding that the show must go on at the next stop, Moorhead, MN, they looked for local talent to fill in. Just
across the state line from Moorhead, in Fargo ND, they found a 15 year old talent named Bobby Vee.
The crash that ended the lives of Holly, Valens and Richardson was the break that began the career of Vee.
Tommy Allsup would one day open a club named "The Head's Up Saloon," a tribute to the coin toss that
saved his life.
Waylon Jennings would become a hugely popular Country singer.
Dion di Mucci would enjoy a long lived solo career.
Inscribed on Ritchie Valens' grave are the words, "Come On, Let's Go."
This text was borrowed from www.fiftiesweb.com