“The Day the Music Died” is a line in the 1972 Don McLean hit “American Pie.” He wrote it in the late 1960s and released in 1971 and was in part inspired by the tragic event which took the lives of these three great musicians and their pilot. Following are lyrics from the song “American Pie”,
But 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,
But something touched me deep inside,
The day the music died.
The Three Stars
Buddy Holly, whose real name was Charles Hardin Holly, was born on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. He learned various instruments from his older brothers and began performing at talent shows and clubs in high school. Soon, Holly combined rockabilly and rock into his bluegrass musical style after being influenced by Elvis Presley and Bill Hilly and His Comets. After few unsuccessful Decca record singles, Holly and his band ‘The Crickets’ had their first smash with 1957’s ‘That’ll Be The Day’. Despite the band’s eventual breakup, Holly continued recording profusely.
Ritchie Valens, was born Richard Stevens Valenzuela, on May 13, 1941, in Pacoima, California. He was exposed to Mexican and Spanish music early. After learning to play musical instruments, he played at numerous events by his mid-teens. Shortly, after signing to Del-Fi records in 1958, Valens began recording at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studios. Though no full-length albums rose during his lifetime, Valens did record several successful tracks. These included the No. 2 hit, ‘Donna’ and a rock and roll rendition of the Mexican folk song ‘La Bamba’. Valens soon dropped out of high school to play shows across the country, make numerous television appearances and to continue recording.
Jiles Perry ‘J.P’ Richardson Jr., was born on October 24, 1930, in Sabine Pass, Texas. He occasionally played with this college band, but really pursued his love of music when he quitted pre-law studies to become a full-time employee at Beaumont, Texas radio station. Following time in the U.S. Army, Richardson had his own show and became known as ‘The Big Bopper’. In 1957, the DJ made history after broadcasting for over 120 hours. He soon began writing songs and even penned number 1 hits for George Jones and Johnny Preston. In addition, ‘Chantilly Lace‘ was the Big Bopper’s biggest song as a recording artist.
…and the Day That Made Rock and Roll Music Cry Happened
The fates of these three musicians connected the night of Feb 3, 1959. They were on their way to Moorhead, Minnesota as part of the three-week long ’24-city Winter Dance Party Tour’. However, the distance between stops made the heating system of their tour bus broke down due to extremely cold temperatures. As a result, they asked 21-year old Roger Peterson, to fly some of the musicians to their next destination in a small Beechcraft 35 Bonanza plane. In an ironic twist, many of those aboard the plane were not meant to be there. As the Big Bopper had a cold, Holly’s bass player Waylon Jennings gave him his spot. Valens won his seat in a coin toss with Holly’s guitar player, Tommy Allsup.
Despite the light snow, the single-engine aircraft took off at close to 1 AM local time but quickly disappeared from sight. Due to the weather and an inability to establish radio contact, plane owner, Hubert Dwyer, only discovered the crash site the next morning. He found debris miles from Mason City municipal airport, near Clear Lake Iowa. They named poor visibility and pilot error as likely causes of the accident. The coroner reported the impact of the crash had caused brain trauma and resulted in the unfortunate deaths of all those aboard.
Even after their unfortunate deaths, the legacies of these musicians lived on. As always, we will remember them as architects of rock and roll with an influence that reaches far and wide.
Here’s a video of Don McLean’s American Pie’ song featuring the memory of the three stars: