Friday, February 3, 2012

The Day the Music Died: February 3, 1959

A monument to the three performers constructed by Ken Paquette in 1988. Located on private farmland about five miles from Clear Lake.

At the onset of 1959, Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens were three of the biggest rockers around. Holly had scored hits like “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”. Richardson’s biggest hit was the top 10 “Chantilly Lace” and Valens, only 17, was just getting started with his #2 hit “Donna” and the iconic “La Bamba”.

Along with Dion & the Belmonts, the trio of rockers embarked on a Winter Dance Party Tour set to hit 24 Midwestern cities over three weeks. On February 2, they performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly was frustrated with the unheated tour bus and needed extra time to do laundry so he chartered a plane for himself and his bandmates Waylon Jennings and Tommy Alsup. However, Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson who had the flu, and Alsup lost a coin toss with Valens. Jennings, later of country music fame, joked with Holly, “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Jennings has said the words haunted him the rest of his life. WK

The Beechcraft Bonanza plane, piloted by Roger Peterson, departed around 1am and crashed less than 6 miles outside of the airport. Everyone died instantly. The crash was attributed to poor weather conditions and pilot error. Peterson was still testing on flight instrumentation and had not been certified to fly in weather required sole reliance on the instruments.

Don McLean famously eulogized the event in his hit 1972 #1 hit “American Pie” as “the day the music died.” It has been called “the first and greatest tragedy rock and roll has ever suffered.” WK

Don McLean “American Pie”

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