As Don McLean’s popular 1971 ballad American Pie so aptly describes, today is the day the music died.
Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. There was a snowstorm, and the pilot, Roger Peterson, was not qualified to fly by instruments only. Bandmate Waylon Jennings had given up his seat on the plane, causing Holly to jokingly tell Jennings, “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up!” Jennings shot back facetiously, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes!” It was a statement that would haunt Jennings for decades.
Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P.“Big Bopper” Richardson and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, when their plane crashed soon after taking off from nearby Mason City in the early morning hours of February 3. Although the plane came down only five miles northwest of the airport, no one saw or heard the crash. The bodies lay in the blowing snow through the night… February indeed made us shiver, but it was more than the cold of February that third day of the month in 1959. It was the shiver of a greater, sometimes senseless, reality invading the sheltered, partying, teenaged life of the 1950′s.
I was born in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1956, the year his career began to heat up. My mom and dad went to high school with Buddy. My mom even went out on a date with Buddy in the early 1950′s and said he was a real nice boy. Buddy lived on the wrong side of town and was considered a bit of a loner even then. Always more interested in his music than the usual teenage distractions. Lubbock never really cared for Buddy. Rock and Roll music was considered the Devil’s work back then and Lubbock didn’t really embrace Holly until decades after his death and long after he became an international sensation.
Lubbock in the 1950′s was an era straight out of American Graffiti. The happening place on weekend nights was the Hi-D-Ho drive-in where you could get a good hamburger, fries and shake delivered to your vehicle by the carhops wearing roller skates.
If you were really adventurous you could head out of Lubbock city limits and catch some of the R&B acts playing at the notorious Cotton Club in the sticks. But don’t let anybody from church see you or there would be hell to pay come Sunday!
Buddy Holly has had a huge influence on me as a person and a musician. A true innovator he pioneered the basic instrumentation for all rock groups to come. Bass, a couple of guitars and drums. He recorded prolifically and albums of new material were released yearly for at least ten years after his death in 1959 at the age of 22.
~ Long Live Buddy Holly!