Just in case we’ve forgotten….
I haven’t seen anybody else mention this, so I will very briefly. Quite simply, today marks the 52nd anniversary of one of music’s greatest tragedies. Three artists with limitless potential died suddenly in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The date has been known ever since as “the day the music died,” and, in many ways, it was- at least until the British Invasion.
Elvis was in the Army. Jerry Lee was blacklisted. Chuck Berry was in prison. Little Richard was in the midst of one of his many retirements from music. Carl Perkins and Bill Haley weren’t exactly topping the charts and Eddie Cochran would be dead a year later. While Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, and few others provided just enough spark to keep the flame alive through those years, the big stars of the day were “teen idols” such as Fabian, Bobby Vee, and Frankie Avalon.
The victims of the crash went on to immortality.
Buddy Holly, age 22, began his career as a country singer in Lubbock, Texas before eventually combining that style with rock and roll and creating a distinct sound that took him to the top of the charts. Holly was profoundly influential as both a performer and a songwriter and has been called the stepping stone between Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Ritchie Valens, age 17, was one of the very first, if not the first, Latin rock artist. His entire output consists of just two albums, but his influence is still being felt to this day with acts such as Los Lobos, who provided the soundtrack for La Bamba, the 1987 film dealing with Valens’ life.
J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, age 28, was a Texas-disc jockey turned singer. While best known for his novelty hit “Chantilly Lace,” Richardson was a much more complex artist than that song would lead you to believe. He was also a great songwriter, penning, among others, “White Lightning,” which became the first number one hit for George Jones.
But at least one good thing did come out of that day. J.P. Richardson, who would have otherwise been riding on the bus, had the flu and asked Holly’s bass player for his seat on the plane. The rest is history.