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
Something touched me deep inside the day the music died
AMERICAN PIE by Don McLean
I remember that morning in February 1959. It was a typical winter day, grey and grim, and I was delivering newspapers. Plastered over the front page of the ‘Daily Mirror’ was the headline ‘Top Rock Stars Die in Crash’. Above it, arms spread, was a photograph of J.P Richardson – the Big Bopper – and below, grinning from behind his horn rimmed glasses, was my hero, Buddy Holly. They were both dead, along with 17 year old Ritchie Valens…
From BARRY HARDING New York, Tuesday
Three of America’s top rock ‘n’ roll stars were killed in a plane crash today, a few hours after delighting teenagers at a “big beat” concert.
They were BUDDY HOLLY, whose recording of “That’ll Be The Day” sold more than a million and a half copies; BIG BOPPER (Jape Richardson), singer of the current hit “Chantilly Lace”; and RITCHIE VALENS, composer of the Tommy Steele favourite “Come On, Lets Go.”
All three appeared last night at a winter ball for teenagers at Lake North, Iowa. Early this morning they boarded a small charter plane at Mason City to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, where they were billed to appear tonight. The plane took off in a slight snowstorm and nothing more was heard of it.
Hours later the pilot of a search plane spotted wreckage on a farm about ten miles from Mason City. The bodies of the three stars and the pilot, Roger Peterson, lay near by. Bad weather is blamed for the crash.
DAILY MIRROR – Wednesday 4th February
Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were three of the stars on a “Winter Dance Party” tour around 24 cities in America’s mid-western states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. From the moment the tour left Milwaukee on January 23rd 1959 it was clear that it was going to be a nightmare. The distances between the venues were enormous, the weather was appalling with heavy snow and the poorly heated tour bus was clearly inadequate for the task. On February 1st Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch left the tour with frostbitten feet. By the time the tour reached the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on 2nd February after eleven days on the road everyone was in a dirty mood – and dirtier laundry.
Fed up with conditions aboard the tour bus Buddy decided that night to charter a plane to fly up to their next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota. His plan was to get a decent night’s sleep in a proper bed and his laundry done. After some negotiation – helped by the toss of a coin – fellow performers J.P Richardson and Ritchie Valens travelled with him. The plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, took off from Mason City Airport around 1:00 AM in driving snow and crashed only minutes later in a corn field, killing all three rock stars and the pilot. Because the plane didn’t catch on fire when it crashed, the wreckage wasn’t found until 9.00am that morning.
Buddy Holly was the first famous rock ‘n’ roll star to die. The deaths of other iconic stars like Eddie Cochran, Sam Cooke, Johnny Kidd and Elvis were yet to come. At the time Buddy Holly was immensely popular in the U.K particularly with teenage boys (me! me!) and the inspiration for countless pop groups. He had demonstrated that you do not have to be good looking or sexy to be a pop star. Even guys with specs could make it. You didn’t have to be a brilliant guitar player either. All you needed was the gift of weaving three chords into memorable songs. With his group, the Crickets, Buddy put down the basic template for rock ‘n’ roll success – two guitars, a drummer and a bass player. The Shadows, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and countless other groups were to prove in the 1960’s.
“He made it O.K to wear glasses. I was Buddy Holly.”
“I play Buddy Holly every night before going on stage. It keeps me honest”
Ever since Don McLean released his single “American Pie” in November 1971 which describes the death of Buddy Holly as “the day the music died” that title has been given to 3rd of February 1959. However this is far from the case. 54 years later Buddy Holly and his music lives on. Modern artists still record his songs, people still buy and play his records, performers still favour his bespectacled ‘nerdy’ looks and over 20 million of us have enjoyed the musical “Buddy” in 20,000 productions around the world. As Buddy said himself…
“Memories will follow me forever,
Tho’ I know that dreams cannot come true.
All those precious things we shared together
Time goes by, I’ll still remember you.”
THAT MAKES IT TOUGH – by Buddy Holly
In March 1958 Buddy Holly and The Crickets visited Britain on a 25 venue tour that took them from Liverpool and Blackburn in the north to Cardiff and London in the south. Although they enjoyed being in the UK they weren’t very taken with the tour comic…
“We are getting to where we can carry on pretty good on the stage what with a few little jokes and all. Everyone comments on how my jokes get bigger laughs than the comedian on the show, Des O’Connor. Who knows, we might change and be comedians instead of rock ‘n’ roll stars!”
A LETTER THAT BUDDY HOLLY SENT TO HIS PARENTS 22nd MARCH 1958
Buddy Holly sings “That’ll be The Day” on the Ed Sullivan Show
The Quarrymen sing “That’ll be The Day”-featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Recorded 14th July 1958
Credit: The photograph of Des O’Connor is by Dezo Hoffman
“A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.”
— from Martyn Day