February 3, 1959. It remains a significant date among rock music fans: the first accidental premature deaths of its stars in the still new style when a single-engine Beechcraft 35 Bonanza plane crashed not long after take-off and took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Holly hired the plane in Clear Lake, Iowa to get to the next stop in Moorhead, MN, and hopefully catch some needed sleep and do his laundry. The “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest was certainly not a party for the performers. It was 24 shows in as many nights and long rides, sometimes overnight, in a cold, uncomfortable and primitive bus.
Holly originally figured his band members would take the two other seats in the four-person plane. Holly’s bassist was a friend and talented young artist in his own right from Lubbock, TX: Waylon Jennings. He let Richardson, who was suffering from the flu, have his place. It was a decision that haunted Jennings for the rest of his life.
Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsup tossed a coin with Ritchie Valens for the other seat. Valens “won” the toss, so to speak.
The plane went down soon after taking off at about half-past midnight, crashing into a cornfield some seven miles from the runway. All three performers were thrown from the wreckage; pilot Roger Peterson died inside it. The cause was said to be spatial disorientation. Valens was just 17 years old; the “Big Bopper” was 28. Holly was 22.
Of course the music did not actually die sixty-five years ago today, but the sadness felt by the deaths of the three singers still lingers to this day. No one knows how much more music they would have given us but for today, let’s look back on a few of the songs they did leave … with an ending from Don McLean you had to know was coming.
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The Day The Music Died