I can still remember how the music used to make me smile
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Day the Music Died-- when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, the Big Bopper JP Richardson, as well as the pilot, died in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, sending the youth of America into mourning and probably changing the course of rock-n-roll forever:
It's been 50 years since a single-engine plane crashed into a snow-covered Iowa field, instantly killing three men whose names would become enshrined in the history of rock 'n' roll.
The passing decades haven't diminished fascination with that night on Feb. 2, 1959, when 22-year-old Buddy Holly, 28-year-old J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and 17-year-old Ritchie Valens performed in Clear Lake and then boarded the plane for a planned 300-mile flight that lasted only minutes.
"It was really like the first rock 'n' roll landmark; the first death," said rock historian Jim Dawson, who has written several books about music of that era. "They say these things come in threes. Well, all three happened at the same time."
Starting Wednesday, thousands of people are expected to gather in the small northern Iowa town where the rock pioneers gave their last performance. They'll come to the Surf Ballroom for symposiums with the three musicians' relatives, sold-out concerts and a ceremony as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designates the building as its ninth national landmark.
And they'll discuss why after so many years, so many people still care about what songwriter Don McLean so famously called "the day the music died."
"It was the locus point for that last performance by these great artists," said Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. "It warrants being fixed in time."
Clear Lake is an unlikely spot for a rock 'n' roll pilgrimage — especially in winter. The resort town of about 8,000 borders its namesake lake, and on winter days the cold and wind make the community 100 miles north of Des Moines anything but a tourist destination.
...Stewart said the deaths still resonate because they occurred at a time when rock 'n' roll was going through a transition, of sorts. The sound of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Holly was making way for the British Invasion of the mid-1960s.
"The music was shifting and changing at that point," he said. "The crash put a punctuation point on the change."
All three musicians influenced rock and roll in their own way.
Holly's career was short, but his hiccup-vocal style, guitar play and songwriting talents had tremendous influence on later performers. The Beatles, who formed about the time of the crash, were among his early fans and fashioned their name after Holly's band, The Crickets. Holly's hit songs include "That'll Be The Day," "Peggy Sue" and "Maybe Baby."
Richardson, "The Big Bopper," is often credited with creating the first music video with his recorded performance of "Chantilly Lace" in 1958, decades before MTV.
And Valens was one of the first musicians to apply a Mexican influence to rock 'n' roll. He recorded his huge hit "La Bamba" only months before the accident.
The plane left the airport in nearby Mason City about 1 a.m., headed for Moorhead, Minn., with the musicians looking for a break from a tiring, cold bus trip through the Upper Midwest.
It wasn't until hours later that the demolished plane was found, crumpled against a wire fence. Investigators believe the pilot, who also died, became confused amid the dark, snowy conditions and rammed the plane into the ground.
The crash set off a wave of mourning among their passionate, mostly young fans across the country. Then 12 years later the crash was immortalized as "the day the music died" in McLean's 1971 song, "American Pie."
...In part because of its role in rock history, the Surf Ballroom has retained its vintage look, with a 6,000-square-foot dance floor, ceiling painted to resemble a sky, and original cloud machines on either side of the room. Ten Buddy Holly banners line the wall opposite the stage. The 2,100-capacity ballroom still hosts many national and regional performers, most of whom add their names to a backstage wall that is now crowded with drawings and signatures.
"It's quite a special place," said Nicholas, the Surf board member. "This place looks just like it did in 1959."
And they have named the Surf as a National Landmark.
There was also quite a bit of tragic irony in those who were unlucky enough to get on the plane that fateful night.
Holly began a solo tour with other notable performers, including Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. After a performance in Green Bay, Wisconsin at the Riverside Ballroom, on 1 February the tour moved on to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on 2 February 1959. Afterwards, Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new back-up band (Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota, enroute to play the next leg of the Winter Dance Party tour at the Armory in Moorhead, Minnesota. Carl Bunch missed the flight as he had been hospitalized with frostbite three days earlier. The Big Bopper asked Jennings for his spot on the four-seat plane, as he was recovering from the flu. Ritchie Valens was still signing autographs at the concert site when Allsup walked in and told him it was time to go. Valens begged for a seat on the plane. Allsup pulled a 50 cent coin out of his pocket and the two men flipped for the seat. Allsup lost.
The plane took off in light snow and gusty winds at around 12:05 A.M., but crashed a few minutes later. The wreckage was discovered several hours later by the plane's owner, Jerry Dwyer, some 8 miles (13 km) from the airport on the property of Albert Juhl. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson, and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. Holly's body, along with those of Valens and Richardson, was thrown from the wreckage. Holly and Valens lay 17 feet (5.2 m) south of the wreckage and Richardson was thrown around 40 feet (12 m) to the north of the wreckage. The pilot's body remained in the wreckage. All had suffered severe and multiple injuries. Without any doubt, all had died on impact, with the plane hitting the ground at 170 mph (270 km/h). While theories abound as to the exact cause of the crash, an official determination of pilot error was rendered by the Civil Aeronautics Board. Although the crash received a good deal of local coverage, it was displaced in the national news by an accident that occurred the same day in New York City, when American Airlines Flight 320 crashed during an instrument landing approach at LaGuardia Airport, killing 65. Don McLean referred to it as "The Day the Music Died".
Holly's pregnant wife became a widow after barely six months of marriage and miscarried soon after.
Holly's funeral was held on 7 February 1959 at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock under the direction of Sanders Funeral Home. His body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery in the eastern part of the city. Holly's headstone carries the correct spelling of his surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Maria Holly did not attend the funeral and has never visited the gravesite. She told the Avalanche-Journal: "In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn't with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane."
Early in 2008, Maria visited the apartment building where she and Holly lived. There, she observed musicians in nearby Washington Square Park, where Holly often played his guitar. "I gave one musician $9 because 9 was Buddy's favorite number," Maria told the Avalanche-Journal. She said that she had never come to grips with his premature death.