The Day The Music Died

The golden age of  rock suffered a tremendous loss on February 3, 1959.  Rock was still in its infancy when 3 of it’s biggest and most promising new stars were lost in a plane crash.  The day has been immortalized as The Day the Music Died.  Rock lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

Buddy Holly was the star of the show.  He already had 3 hit albums out.  His Peggy Sue and Oh Boy had made the top 10 and That’ll Be The Day was a #1 hit.

Ritchie Valens was a newcomer to rock recording.  He released his first album barely 8 months before.  Ritchie had a few hits including La Bamba.

J. P.” Richardson, known best as “The Big Bopper” was a DJ and songwriter.  J. P. wrote several songs that became #1 country hits for George Jones and Johnny Preston.

Winter Dance Party

The Winter Dance Party tour was planned to visit 24 midwest cities in only 3 weeks.  Just about every night was a concert and every day was travel.  It was winter in the midwest, the weather stank, and the tour bus had heater problems.  Some of the band members caught the Flu and drummer Carl Bunch had to be hospitalized for frostbite on January 31st.  It was a long way from the way that we pamper rock stars today.

The Winter Dance Party tour poster that led to the day the music died
Poster for the Winter Dance Party tour that led to the day the music died

Their next date was February 1st in Green Bay, Wisconsin with Dion and the Belmont’s Carlo Mastrangelo filling in on drums for everyone.  Richie Valens and Buddy Holly filled in on drums when Carlo was singing with the Belmonts.

February 2nd brought them to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  Their next concert was in Moorhead, Minnesota, almost 400 miles away.  Buddy Holly wanted to avoid the long trip on the unheated bus and arranged for a small charter plane.

The Day the Music Died

As the story goes, the plane had room for the pilot and only 3 others.  Buddy Holly and J. P. Richardson claimed the first 2 sets, Dion DiMucci decided that the $36 share of the charter was too much and didn’t go, and that left Waylon Jennings and Ritchie Valens to fight over the remaining seat.  They flipped a coin and Ritchie Valens got the seat.   I can’t really say that he won because the plane crashed shortly after take off and all aboard were killed.

The fateful day was given its historical name “The Day The Music Died” by Don McLean in his 1971 opus American Pie.

The Day the Music Died video from National Squid Jun 30, 2017.

[Song: Sleepwalk] February 3rd, 1959 was the day culture took a drastic step in a different direction, the day the innocence of the early rock and roll generation had come to an end, the day the music died. ♫Para bailar la bamba!♫ On a cold winter night in Clear Lake, Iowa, rock and roll singing stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.

P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson were continuing their music tour across the Midwest United States known as “the Winter Dance Party” attending the Surf Ballroom. Due to fierce weather conditions and difficulties operating their travel bus, a plane was chartered to take them to their next destination instead.

They departed at 12:55 am on the early hours of February 3rd. The plane crashed just minutes after takeoff, landing in a corn field 5 miles away from Mason City, leaving behind no survivors. The scene was discovered at around 9:30 am by the owner of the Dwyer Flying Service Company, which operated the flight.

There were no witnesses. The significance of this incident stretched far beyond the end of the rock and roll music era and made news around the country. The implication of these three musician’s death on the same day hailed in not only the death of an era of music, but marked the end of a decade of stylistically unique American culture.

It was the quintessential end of the 1950s. ♫I had a girl!♫ Without any first account bystanders present for the tragic event, no certain conclusions can be made about the cause of the crash. The most widely accepted theory is that the plane crashed due to pilot error and spatial disorientation due to the snowy weather that night.

The pilot, Roger Peterson, was not officially qualified to fly in visually challenging conditions and likely took flight beyond his certified limitations. Peterson had received multiple weather forecast reports hours before takeoff, and despite warnings of lowering cloud base, strong winds, and heavy snowfall, continued the flight anyway.

If he was unable to perform the duties that VFR flight required, a misinterpretation of the plane’s altitude and direction may very well have solely resulted in a crash. While this conjecture has been overall deemed true, theorists also speculate about other possibilities of a more grim and strange cause of the incident, due in particular to an unusual piece of evidence recovered from the site.

About two months after the crash happened, a .22 caliber pistol was found in the residual wreckage. It was also observed that this gun had been fired more than once. Serial numbers verified that the gun in fact belonged to Buddy Holly. A popular theory arose that an accidental firing from the gun could have caused a sudden panic and led to an unexpected crash when the plane was in flight.

Another theory poses the idea that J.P. Richardson survived the initial crash, and went looking for help, and was shot. This takes into consideration that Richardson’s body was in fact the farthest from the scene, appearing over 30 feet away from the wreckage and the other three bodies. People have questioned whether this crash was solely a tragic accident, or a murder case as well.

In 2007, Richardson’s casket was exhumed for reburial in the monument section of the Forest Lawn cemetery. The Richardson family thought this would be the perfect time to find the true answer to this long told legend. During the exhumation process, forensic anthropologist William Bass performed an autopsy and discussed his findings.

“Okay, so we have to change this. Let’s do an x-ray autopsy of him. We got the body out of the casket and we x-rayed from the top of the skull to the bottom of the feet. He is fractured from the top of the skull, to the bottom of the feet. There were probably, 200 fractures in that body. Both legs broken across and, um, fractures in the skull and the face and so forth.

There’s no way he could have survived and there’s no indication of a gunshot wound. So, I was able to answer both of them.” These discoveries bring us much closer to the truth, though they might not entirely invalidate the possibility of gunplay being involved. There isn’t any evidence that backs up or disproves the notion that an accidental firearm discharge occurred midflight, not necessarily wounding anyone, but potentially crashing the plane.

There are just too many questions that haven’t been answered. In March of 2015, a petition was brought to the National Transportation Safety Board to reopen the investigation of the event. The request was made by former pilot L. J. Coon, who came up with his own theories on the failure of the flight.

Based on his experiences in aviation, he suggested the possibility of problems with the plane’s rudder and fuel system, as well as weight imbalances. Unfortunately, this petition was turned down, and the case was not reinstated. Ritchie Valens. Jyles Richardson. Roger Peterson. Buddy Holly. In a single day these names became etched onto a special part of the American consciousness, perhaps for eternity, perhaps not to fade away.

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