"A long, long time ago, I can still remember..." February 3rd, 1959. Three of the brightest stars in the rock 'n roll galaxy - Buddy Holly, the bespectacled frontman of the Crickets; Ritchie Valens, the first crossover Latino artist in rock; and JP...
"A long, long time ago, I can still remember..." February 3rd, 1959. Three of the brightest stars in the rock 'n roll galaxy - Buddy Holly, the bespectacled frontman of the Crickets; Ritchie Valens, the first crossover Latino artist in rock; and JP "The Big Bopper" Richardson, a famous DJ making waves with his first hit records - boarded a small plane after the eleventh show on the Winter Dance Party tour to skip an arduous 400 mile journey between performance stops and escape the bitter Midwestern winter cold.
They would not reach their destination.
The day of the plane crash that killed some of rock's most promising players would come to be known as "The Day the Music Died", and would change music history for all time. This episode we dive into the careers of Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper, what got them on that airplane that fateful winter night, and the horrifying crash that snuffed out their lives forever...but would prove unable to eliminate their legacy, one that can be felt even today.
Thanks to the fabulous STATIC ERA RECORDS for sponsoring this episode - find them at www.staticerarecords.com!
Connect with us on social media:
Thank you to our sponsors:
BetterHelp - Special offer for Ain’t it Scary? listeners: Get 10% off your first month at www.betterhelp.com/aintitscary
Audible - Get a FREE audiobook and 30-Day Free Trial at www.audibletrial.com/aintitscary
BarkBox - Enjoy a FREE month of BarkBox on us when you sign up for a 6 or 12-month BarkBox subscription! Visit www.barkbox.com/aintitscary for more details
Hunt a Killer - Receive 20% off your first Hunt a Killer subscription box at www.huntakiller.com with the code SCARYSQUAD at checkout!
As our listeners probably know, I’m a huge rock music fan…and I love learning about rock music history. We’ve covered Is Elvis Alive and Paul is Dead, so now it’s time to go back a bit and investigate one of the first great tragedies in rock ‘n roll: The Day the Music Died.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX_TFkut1PM 0:00 - 1:02
You might recognize this bit of the song American Pie, by Don McLean. It’s a sprawling 8 and a half minute folk rock song that was inspired by the aforementioned Day the Music Died, which was the name for February 3rd, 1959, when rock stars Buddy Holly, JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens were killed in a plane accident between two stops on the Winter Dance Party concert tour near Clear Lake, Iowa. 1959 was a transitory period in music - it was the end of the 50s, pop was starting to edge toward rock ‘n roll and bands from the crooners and doo-wop of the 40s and 50s, the Newport Folk Festival began and was one of the first modern music festivals in America, and Elvis Presley was halfway through his US Army service in Germany. This death of some of the brightest names in music at the time would become the first of those “loss of innocence” moments the era would face into the 70s: the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the beginning of the Vietnam war, the violent end of the Summer of Love with the Manson Family Murders, and the tragic deaths at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Maybe the Day the Music Died was only a harbinger of things to come. One thing is for certain - it completely changed the trajectory of music history, and perhaps gave rock ‘n roll the touch of darkness that it’s still thought to have today.
Before we go any further, we want to let you know that this episode is sponsored by one of our favorite local record stores: Static Era Records. Static Era is an independent record label with a brick and mortar shop just steps from the Metro North platform in Milford, Connecticut that features new releases and used vinyl in all different genres of music and even purchases or trades for the vinyl YOU might have sitting around! Check ‘em out at staticerarecords.com and let them know Ain’t it Scary sent you.
For this episode, we’ll be using among our sources the book Take a Walk on the Dark Side by R Gary Patterson, who you may remember as the author of The Walrus was Paul from our Paul is Dead episode, as well as the VH1 Behind the Music episode on the Day the Music Died and other clippings and quotes from biographies on Buddy Holly, JP Big Bopper Richardson, and Ritchie Valens.
So now, let’s take it back to the careers of Holly, Richardson, and Valens, and what landed them on that plane, during that tour, on that fateful February night 63 years ago.
Charles Hardin Holley, who came to be known as Buddy Holly, was born in Lubbock Texas on September 7th, 1936 to a musical family. Holly began learning guitar around the age of 11, and decided to pursue a full-time career in music by 1955, after graduating from high school, galvanized by seeing Elvis Presley perform live in Lubbock. Inspired by the King, he shifted his style from country and western to rock ‘n roll, and began to record music with later bandmates like Jerry Allison. By the next time Presley came around, Holly was opening for him, and in October of 1955, Holly and co were booked as the opening act for Bill Haley & His Comets, with Nashville talent scout Eddie Crandall in attendance. Crandall was impressed, and worked to get Holly signed to a label. Eventually, he landed at Decca Records in 1956, but after a year of recording with them, he was left unsatisfied and unfulfilled. In January 1957 Holly’s contract was not renewed, and he decided to form a band with Allison, bassist Joe B Mauldin, and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan to record demos and hopefully get picked up by another label. This demo, which included the song “That’ll Be the Day”, was received warmly by Brunswick Records, who required the band to release under a band name rather than Holly’s name since the song was originally recorded at Decca. So, The Crickets were officially formed.
“That’ll Be the Day” was released as a single in May 1957, and by the end of their stretch at the Apollo between August 16th and 22nd, the song was climbing the charts, and Holly appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on August 26th. “That’ll Be the Day” hit the top of the charts, and “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday” shortly followed. Though the latter was originally just a B-side, it’s one of my favorite Buddy Holly tunes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMezwtB1oCU 0:00 - 0:32
Yes, I do have the musical taste of both an emo kid from your high school in the early 2000s and your grandma.
Their first complete album, The Chirping Crickets, was released in November, and the Crickets performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in December. In January 1958 Holly recorded “Rave On”, and his debut solo album Buddy Holly was released in March. The Crickets joined disc jockey Alan Freed’s Big Beat Show concert tour for 41 dates soon after, and both Buddy Holly solo and the Crickets together continued recording new material.
During a visit to the offices of independent music publisher Peer-Southern, Holly met Maria Elena Santiago, their receptionist. In June 1958, Holly asked Maria on a date, and five hours into that first date, he handed a rose to Maria and asked her to marry him. Maria, for her part, did not run screaming, but was rather enchanted by the gesture. She did try to tell him that maybe he should get to know her a little better before marriage, but Buddy simply smiled and replied, “I haven’t got the time.” Maybe he knew what was to come.
Less than two months later on August 15th 1958, they were married in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas. Soon after this, Holly began to suspect that band manager Norman Petty was transferring money from the band’s royalties into his own account. Holly ended his association with Petty in December 1958, but his bandmates chose to keep Petty on as manager and split from Holly, instead. Maybe they were feeling like, well, the backup band to the big Buddy Holly machine. The split was amicable, and it seems everyone parted ways rather genially.
Singer Paul Anka, a friend of Holly’s, later said that Holly realized he had to go back on tour very soon after this for a couple of reasons: he needed money because of Petty’s apparent thievery, and he wanted to raise additional funds to move to New York City with Maria, who was now newly pregnant. Holly assembled the Winter Dance Party tour lineup for this money-making end, and included hit artists of the time like Big Bopper JP Richardson, Ritchie Valens, Dion and the Belmonts, and band members Waylon Jennings on bass, Tommy Allsup on guitar, and Carl Bunch on drums, as well as vocalist Frankie Sardo.
Now that we’re at the Winter Dance Party tour, let’s talk a little about the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, the other solo headliners.
JP Richardson, known as the Big Bopper, was a musician, songwriter, and disc jockey who rose to fame initially on the Texas radio station KTRM. Richardson got his nickname “The Big Bopper” from the dance craze The Bop, and made a name for himself as KTRM’s main attraction. He was known for his zany radio antics, and undertook a sleepless Disc-a-Thon in 1957. A Disc-a-Thon was a popular radio gimmick at the time where the DJ had to stay awake playing record after record, continuously, on air for as many days as possible before passing out. The Bopper undertook his own Disc-a-Thon in May, hoping to break the record for continuous on-air broadcasting. Three days in he wearily asked radio announcer Jerry Boynton “Jer, do you think I’m going to die?” to which Boynton replied “JP, I think you are.” With the help of cold towels, coffee mixed with adrenaline, and an iron will, the Bopper continued for two more days, setting the world record of 122 hours and eight minutes continuously on air. During the marathon he had begun to hallucinate, and told of foreseeing his own death in one of the visions, reporting later that “the other side wasn’t that bad”.
The Bopper, who also played guitar, began his musical career as a songwriter, writing the hit song “White Lightning” for country star George Jones. As a DJ he noted the popularity of novelty songs at the time, including “Purple People Eater” and “Witch Doctor”, and decided to capitalize on the trend as only an Ain’t it Kitschy king could with a song called “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor”. The B-side to this single would be the song “Chantilly Lace”, and both were released in June of 1958. “Chantilly Lace” was the one that really caught on, despite its B-side status, and it began picking up airplay through July and August, and eventually reached number 6 on the pop charts and spent 22 weeks in the national Top 40.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGXFVOc5I8Q 0:00 - 0:49
Before he left for the Winter Dance Party tour, he scored a second hit with the novelty song “The Big Bopper’s Wedding”. He had also married, to Adrienne Wenner, had a 4 year old daughter, Debra, and was expecting a son to be born soon after the tour was completed. He decided to go on the tour to promote his new hits, and help secure the financial security his family so desperately wanted.
Singer Ritchie Valens was only 17 years old when he embarked on the Winter Dance Party tour. Valens was born Richard Valenzuela in Pacoima, Los Angeles, California, to Mexican immigrants. He was brought up listening to traditional Mexican mariachi music along with flamenco guitar, R&B, and up-tempo jump blues. He began his musical journey at the young age of five, taking up guitar and trumpet and later teaching himself the drums. At the age of 15, a horrible tragedy occurred in the young Valenzuela’s life that would form some of his greatest fears and act as a horrible premonition of things to come.
On January 31st, 1957, Ritchie was absent from school, attending the funeral of his beloved grandfather. Shortly after the family returned home from the service, a deafening explosion was heard from outside. Ritchie and his older brother Bob ran outside and saw basically one of my greatest fears - a plane plummeting to earth, engulfed in flames. Quickly, the family jumped into a car and drove in the general direction of the plane’s downward trajectory. They would find the wreckage of the aircraft on, ironically, Ritchie’s school playground. 3 students were tragically killed in the crash due to the location, the pilot also being killed, and 90 others were injured. One of the students killed was, incidentally, Ritchie’s best friend. Every day Ritchie would sit on the same playground playing guitar for his fellow students - and he was convinced that, had he not been at his grandfather’s funeral, he would’ve been among the fatalities that day. Recurring nightmares of the disaster would lead to Valens’ fear of flying, which he was only starting to overcome after launching his music career.
When he was 16, Ritchie was invited to join a local band, making his performing debut in October 1957. At one of these performances he was spotted by Bob Keane, owner of Hollywood label Del-Fi Records, who had been given a tip about a performer known as “the Little Richard of San Fernando”. Impressed by Valens’ musicianship, Keane invited the teenager to audition at his home recording studio, and he was signed to Del-Fi in May 1958. At this point he took the nickname Ritchie, since there were several Richards around at the time, and shortened his surname to Valens to widen his appeal beyond any obvious ethnic group. He entered the studio in July 1958 with a backing band, and the recordings out of these sessions would include “Come On, Let’s Go”, “Donna”, and the now massively famous “La Bamba”, which eventually would sell over a million copies and reach gold status, along with being a pop chart hit sung entirely in Spanish.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BycLmWI97Nc 0:00 - 0:28
You simply can’t listen to that song without smiling and grooving a little bit; it’s infectious. Lou Diamond Philips, who played Valens in the film La Bamba, told Behind the Music that “You’ve gotta realize that his career was 8 months long…from the time he was discovered and recorded the first album until February 3rd ‘59. He packed a lot of living into 8 months, you know?”
The demands of his recording career would force him to drop out of high school, and the Winter Dance Party tour was one of his first major concert tours after this point.
Now, with all that backstory behind us, we’ll get into the Winter Dance Party tour and the Day the Music Died…after the break.
[BREAK - STATIC ERA]
It’s time to take a walk on the dark side, as one of our sources would say, and dive into the events leading up to the tragic Day the Music Died, February 3rd 1959.
The Hollys had some strange premonitions before Buddy left on the tour. Maria and Buddy both had had terrible prophetic dreams. Maria recounted a nightmare in which she was standing in a vast open area, much like a farm: “All of a sudden I could hear noises, like shouting, and it got closer and closer.” She saw a ball of fire falling from the heavens, and was convinced it would hit her, but it passed by and exploded in the field. As she approached the site of the crash, all she could see was a giant burning hole in the ground. When Maria awakened, she told Buddy the story, and he related that at the same time Maria was suffering through this nightmare, he was having a dream that he was flying in a small plane with her and his brother, Larry. For some reason in the dream Larry convinced Buddy to leave Maria behind on the top of a building, reassuring him that they’d return to pick her up. The dream created so much guilt within Holly that he broke into tears when recounting it to Maria, saying he couldn’t understand why he left her and she wasn’t with him. Maria would often come on tour with Holly to assist and keep him company, and she had her bags packed to go with him for this one, but on the day they were to leave he insisted she stay behind due to her morning sickness, for the health of her and her baby.
Another strange story relating to Holly and premonitions of his death comes from legendary British recording engineer and producer Joe Meek, known for his work on space age and experimental pop music. In 1958, Meek had become fascinated with the occult and began using Ouija boards and tarot card. During one tarot session Meek, a friend of his named Faud, and Jimmy Miller of the band Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues experienced a frightening connection to the unknown when Faud delivered to them the results of some of his automatic writing during the sessions: letters spelling out “February the third”, “Buddy Holly”, and “Dies”. Meek, terrified of the implications, began contacting record companies, publishers, and anyone else he could think of to try and get in touch with the singer to deliver this prophecy of doom. Finally, during a tour in England in 1958, Meek was able to deliver the message to Holly, who politely thanked the producer for his concern and assured him he’d always be careful on February the 3rd. Happily, February 3rd 1958 came and went without incident, and Meek felt relieved. Unfortunately, he hadn’t accounted that it could be a future year that had been prophesied - which he would find out in 1959. Meek, for his part, met his own tragic end, killing his landlady and then himself with a single-barrelled shotgun on February 3rd, 1967. Perhaps this was the date of his doom, as well.
Valens also had some strange premonitions before the tour. Just before he left for the tour he visited Guardian Angels Church with friend Gail Smith, praying for a safe journey. He told his friend that he was afraid of flying, but had been getting used to it and might even do so during the tour. Gail warned him that it was snowy and storming in the North where they’d be touring, and perhaps insensitively, asked “What’ll you do in you crash?” Valens responded, “I’ll land on my guitar.” Valens’ mother also had a premonition concerning Ritchie’s death before the tour, but didn’t tell him, as she didn’t want to interfere with his career.
For the Winter Dance Party tour, Buddy Holly had hired the aforementioned Tommy Allsup, Charlie Bunch, and Waylon Jennings to be his backing band, replacing the Crickets. Jennings was one of Holly’s best friends and a DJ at the time - Holly bought him a bass and told him he had 2 weeks to learn how to play it. Though Jennings really had no clue what he was doing, he was able to memorize his finger positions for each song by the time the tour kicked off.
None of the group wanted to go during the brutal Midwestern winter, but they all needed the money. Unfortunately, the booking company seemed to have total disregard for the conditions they forced the musicians to endure. There was a performance scheduled every single day from January 23rd 1959 to February 15th, and instead of systematically circling around the Midwest through a series of venues in close proximity to each other, the distances between venues were not taken into consideration at all, with distances between some stops exceeding 400 miles. The bands also had to travel continuously, for up to 10 to 12 hours in freezing temperatures, as there were no off days - and since most of the Interstate Highway System hadn’t yet been built, that meant most of the driving time was on rural 2-lane highways rather than modern expressways. Buddy Holly historian later stated, “It was like they drew darts at a map…it was the tour from hell.” Griggs also noted that the buses used on the tour were “reconditioned school buses not good enough for school kids”, and while the musicians traveled on a single bus together, the tour had gone through 5 in the first eleven days of the tour due to each breaking down, one after another. They had no roadies, so the musicians themselves had to load and unload the equipment at every stop, and the buses were absolutely NOT equipped for the harsh weather, which could drop to as low as negative 36 degrees fahrenheit, or negative 38 degrees celsius.
Tommy Allsup, Holly’s guitarist, would relate that during one evening traveling in Wisconsin, as the school bus drove up an incline, it began moving slower and slower in the snow until eventually it stopped, and the driver told the group that the bus had literally frozen. The musicians were forced to huddle together under blankets, burn newspapers in the aisle of the bus, and drink shots to try and keep warm. They told stories to pass the time. Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, was unable to fight off the cold, and contracted frostbite in his feet, missing the next tour date - February 2nd, the last show before the accident.
It was these hellish conditions that pushed Holly to take the initiative and charter a small plane after the February 2nd show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. He simply couldn’t take it anymore. Morale was diminishing, people were getting sick, and they still had half the tour to go. There wasn’t even supposed to have been a February 2nd show, but the performance at the Surf Ballroom had been scheduled when an open date was found on the tour. Taking a plane the 400 miles to the next stop would allow Holly to catch some precious shut-eye, launder his clothes, and get out of the terrible cold. Manager of the Surf Ballroom Caroll Anderson called Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City to charter the plane to Fargo, North Dakota’s Hector Airport.
It seems Holly originally intended for his bandmates Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to come with him, but fate would intervene on that account. As Jennings and Allsup would later recall, the Big Bopper first approached Jennings about possibly taking his seat on the flight instead. He had been suffering from a terrible flu since almost the beginning of the tour, and time to rest and be out of the cold must have sounded like heaven to him, too. With the extra time, he would also be able to go see a doctor before the next performance. Jennings enjoyed spending time with the other musicians and it was no great sacrifice for him to switch with the Bopper, especially after Richardson offered Jennings his new sleeping bag to use. When Holly found out that Jennings had given up his seat on the flight to Richardson, joking to him “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings responded, humorously, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes” - a rejoinder that Jennings would say haunted him for the rest of his life.
More surprisingly than the Bopper requesting to go on the plane was Ritchie Valens, who asked Allsup for his seat, as well, despite his previous fear of flying. Perhaps the conditions of the tour were too much for the young Texan to bear any longer, and he was probably becoming ill as well. He asked Allsup, “Are you gonna let me fly, guy?” Allsup replied, “No, let’s flip a coin for it.” He later elaborated, “I don’t know why I said we should flip for it, because I’d been telling him no all evening. But I pulled a half dollar out of my pocket, I’ve never understood what made me…it just happened. I flipped the 50 cent piece and said, call it. Ritchie said heads, and it came down heads.” At this, Valens is said to have remarked, “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life!”
As a possible contradiction to some of these events, singer Dion Dimucci from tour band Dion and the Belmonts and later such hits as “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue” stated in a 2009 interview that Dion had been offered a seat on the plane and it was him and Valens that flipped for the seat. Dion stated that he won the toss, but the $36 fare Holly was requiring to get on the flight was equal to the monthly rent his parents paid for their apartment, and he couldn’t justify the indulgence - which would come out to about $320 today. I’m not sure how much stock I put into this version of events, especially since Jennings and Allsup have always agreed on their version - maybe Dion wanted to be a part of the history. Whatever the reality, that’s one other version of the story. Either way, it ended up that Buddy Holly, JP Big Bopper Richardson, and Ritchie Valens were the ones getting on the plane that evening. Holly was 22, Richardson was 28, and Valens was only 17. Their pilot, Roger Peterson, was only 21, and described as “a young married man who built his life around flying”.
A popular misconception, due to the McLean song, was that the plane they boarded that day was named the American Pie, but there are no records of it ever being named. It was simply a 1947 single-engined, v-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, registration number N3794N, which could fit 3 passengers plus a pilot.
After the Surf Ballroom performance ended, Carroll Anderson drove Holly, Valens, and Richardson to Mason City Municipal Airport for their flight. It was lightly snowing at the time, and though there was deteriorating weather reported along the planned route, the weather briefings pilot Peterson received failed to relay the information - to deadly results.
The plane took off from runway 17 at 12:55 am local time February 3rd. Company owner Dwyer witnessed the takeoff from a platform outside the control tower. He was able to see the aircraft’s tail light for most of the brief flight, which started with a 180 degree left turn to pass east of the airport, climbing to about 800 feet above ground level before an additional left turn toward a northwesterly direction. Then, the tail light was observed gradually descending until it disappeared. Around 1 AM, the pilot failed to make radio contact or respond to repeated attempts at communication. Later that morning, after hearing no word from the pilot since departure, Dwyer took off in another airplane to retrace the planned route. Just minutes later, around 9:35 am, he spotted the wreckage less than 6 miles northwest of the airport. Dwyer called the sheriff’s office, and Deputy Bill McGill was dispatched to the crash site, a cornfield belonging to farmer Albert Juhl.
It was a horrific scene. The next several minutes will be describing the results of a plane crash as well as autopsy reports, so if you are sensitive to these things, please skip ahead a few. And trust me, I’m sympathetic to that feeling, because as someone with a deep fear of flying this is truly terrible stuff.
The Bonanza plain had hit the ground at high speed, estimated to have been around 170 miles per hour. It was banked steeply to the right and faced nose-down. The right wing tip had struck the ground first, sending the plane cartwheeling across the frozen field for 540 feet before coming to a rest at a wire fence cordoning off the Juhl property. Holly and Valens had been ejected from the fuselage and lay near the plane’s wreckage. Richardson’s body had been thrown over Juhl’s fence into the cornfield of neighbor Oscar Moffett. Peterson’s body was entangled with the wreckage.
After the bodies were identified by Surf Ballroom manager Carroll Anderson, they were inspected by county coroner Ralph Smiley. There wasn’t a full autopsy performed, but the external examination gives enough detail, to be honest. Here’s what the reports state, and here’s where it gets especially graphic:
-Buddy Holly was partially clothed in a yellow leather jacket, which was split down the back. His skull was split down the center through the forehead, and half of the brain tissue was missing and unable to be recovered. There were multiple gashes on his face and bleeding from both ears due to gross brain trauma. His chest cavity suffered major crushing injuries, and his arms, thighs, and legs had numerous fractures and breaks. The gross brain trauma was what killed Holly, and it occurred on impact.
-Ritchie Valens was unrecognizable. He had breaks and fractures to his arms and legs, and numerous gashes and lacerations to his body. The entirety of his head was badly crushed, with a large gaping wound across his entire temple region. The right side of his face was near completely flattened, and his right eye socket was mangled, with his eyeball missing. He almost certainly died upon impact, with his brain eviscerated before his nerves could transport pain signals to the rest of his body.
-JP Richardson’s skull was completely split, almost down to the eye socket, and the majority of his brain tissue was exposed through the wound. His head was badly misshapen, with the right side flattened and crushed. Both arms were severely deformed and nearly crushed, and his legs suffered gashes and fractures. His chest was severely crushed. He died on impact. In January 2007, Jay Richardson requested that his father's body be exhumed and an autopsy be performed in response to an internet rumor about guns being fired aboard the aircraft and Richardson initially surviving the crash. However, the independent autopsy on Richardson confirmed that his catastrophic brain injury meant it didn’t have time to process any sensations, including pain, from the actual crash, and was also the cause of his death. No signs of foul play, including gunfire, was discover.
-Pilot Roger Peterson had suffered numerous traumatic lacerations, fractures, and a rupture of the interventricular septum of the heart and a severing of the thoracic aorta. There was also a laceration with almost complete severance of the brain stem.
Alright, the gory details are done. So, yeah, absolutely horrific. Cause of death was cited as gross trauma to the brain for the 3 musicians and brain damage for the pilot. Tragically, the families of the musicians learned of their deaths not from a direct call from the police or the tour managers, but rather, the news. Maria Elena Holly learned of Buddy’s death via a television news report, and the trauma caused her to have a miscarriage shortly after. Holly’s mother, on hearing the news on the radio at home in Lubbock Texas, screamed and collapsed. Tommy Allsup’s family was informed that he’d been in the crash as well, when it was thought that there were 5 victims in the accident, but thankfully, he had called them just prior to let them know he was alright. The Valenzuelas would not be so lucky. They too found out through the news, either through reports or Valens’ schoolmates approaching the family after hearing the news themselves.
Holly’s former bandmates, the Crickets, also found out through the news. Strangely, the pair had tried to contact Holly on the night of the crash in the hopes of getting the band back together. Sadly, they weren’t able to reach him, and it was simply not meant to be.
This traumatic revelation of their loved ones deaths prompted official regulations surrounding the notification of deaths to be changed across the board. Since then, a policy has been adopted by authorities not to disclose victims' names until after their families have been informed.
The official report on the crash by the Civil Aeronautics Board determined that Pilot Roger Peterson was too inexperienced to be flying during a snowstorm, and despite 4 years of flying experience, he was not yet qualified to operate in weather that required flying solely be reference to instruments, as in snow where the horizon is often not visible. Further, Peterson had failed an instrument checkride, or practical test, 9 months before the accident, and had received his instrument training on planes equipped with a conventional artificial horizon. Conversely, the Bonanza was equipped with an older type of gyroscope, which displays aircraft pitch attitude in a completely opposite way than the instrumentation Peterson was familiar with. That meant Peterson could have been headed straight for the ground while thinking he was actually moving upward. Crucially, the weather briefing provided to Peterson was determined to be seriously inadequate, failing to even mention the adverse flying conditions that should have been highlighted and would have likely factored in to Peterson’s decision making. There were no malfunctions found in the engine or other equipment, and the landing gear was still up. It was concluded that the probable cause of the accident was "the pilot's unwise decision" to attempt a flight that required skills he did not have, and possibly didn’t know he needed for the particular flight.
Somehow, wildly, the Winter Dance Party went on, with 15 year old Bobby Vee - who later scored hits like “Take Good Care of My Baby” - filling in for Holly the next performances, and eventually Jennings finishing the tour in Holly’s spot. Funerals for Holly, Richardson, and Valens were held individually. Maria Elena Holly did not attend her husband’s funeral, later saying in an interview that "In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn't with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane." Annual memorial concerts have been held at the Surf Ballroom since 1979, and various monuments have been erected for the victims, including outside of the Surf Ballroom, the crash site, and in honor of each of the victims at their resting places. Eventually, Don McLean released his song American Pie which officially dubbed the day of the accident “The Day the Music Died”, a name it’s come to be known by ever since, symbolizing the loss of innocence of the early rock ‘n roll generation.
There’s something known as the Buddy Holly curse that still lingers to this day, begun by the Day the Music Died and carried through assorted tragedies suffered by those who had associated with him - the murder/suicide of Joe Meek, the terrible car accident death of fellow rocker and friend Eddie Cochran, Holly’s Crickets replacement David Box, who also died in a small plane crash, and more. However, you could as easily chalk up the tragedies to the live fast, die hard lifestyle that was rock ‘n roll in the 60s, but the coincidences are worth noting.
The legacies of the 3 stars killed on the Day the Music Died still shine on to this day.
The Big Bopper has popped up in a ton of places, from Stephen King’s short story “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”, The Simpsons, The X-Files, and references in songs like “Good Enough” by Van Halen, where Sammy Hagar begins by calling out “Hello Baby!” as Richardson did so memorably in “Chantilly Lace”.
Buddy Holly was hugely influential to the up and coming rockers of the 60s, with two huge fans being John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who were inspired by Holly’s insect-themed band name The Crickets and chose to name their band The Beatles. McCartney now owns the publishing rights to Holly’s song catalog. Two nights before Holly’s death, a 17 year old Bob Dylan attended the Winter Dance Party performance in Duluth, Minnesota, and later said during his Grammy acceptance speech in 1998 that “I was three feet away from him ... and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was ... with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way". Others heavily influenced by the bespectacled rocker were The Rolling Stones, Elton John - who wore glasses to imitate Holly, despite not needing them - The Clash, Eric Claptno, and so many others. Famously, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo was also inspired by the singer, and helped carry on his memory with the song “Buddy Holly”.
Ritchie Valens is widely considered the first Latino to successfully cross over into mainstream rock, and his influence has spurred on generations of artists, from Los Lobos to Carlos Santana to Selena. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
He’s even found a bit of a renaissance recently on TikTok, of all places, with clips from his song “We Belong Together” - one of my favorites - becoming a popular audio on the platform.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EONn2gj1ngA 0:00 - 0:27
So Sean, what are your thoughts on the tragic Day the Music Died?
It’s True Crime Time.
UPI reports that the father of Susan Cox Powell, a Utah resident who disappeared in 2009, now feels “confident” that her remains have been uncovered after renewed efforts to find her body.
Powell was last seen in December 2009 and, possibly until now, her body or whereabouts were never found. She is suspected to have been killed by her husband, piece of shit Josh Powell, who was a person of interest in her case but never charged - and later killed himself and their two children.
Susan Cox’s remains and clothing may have been found in a desert mine by a team including reality TV star David Sparks of the series Diesel Brothers, who were operating on a tip that her body may have been disposed of in one of the many defunct and closed mines in the area. The mine is located near where Josh Powell claimed to have gone camping the night his wife had disappeared. Though it had been investigated years before, nothing had been found.
Bones and clothing were discovered this week during the renewed efforts, and they will be sent to a forensics lab and analyzed for DNA to see if this is actually what remains of Susan.
For the Cox family’s sake, I hope they have finally gotten the closure they so desperately have needed.
That’s it for this episode of Ain’t It Scary with Sean and Carrie! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @aintitscary, and check out our website at aintitscary.com. You can support the show by supporting our sponsors, and becoming a patron at www.patreon.com/aintitscary. And please, subscribe to the show and throw us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts and also now on Spotify...we’ll be forever grateful.
Special thanks to our beloved top-tier patrons: Nate Curtiss, Sean O’Donnell, Jared Chamberlin, Maria Ferrante, Robin McCabe, ComfyMike, Aleks Nakutis, Ryan Regan, and Kristi Atchison!
See you next Thursday!
This has been a production of Longboi Media.