Elvis Tribute Artists Radio



In the early days of rock and roll, three young men were making a considerable impact on the music scene. Though they had really only just begun, their lives, their music, and their legacies are still remembered by each new generation of fans. Recently, I saw the fabulous Winter Dance Party Tribute to Buddy, Ritchie and the Bopper which, in turn, started me thinking about the original performers and their impact. So, this month, in the year of the 50th anniversary of rock and roll, not only am I writing about the terrific tribute show I saw, but I’ve also gone back in time to learn more about the final days of three of our unforgettable rock and roll legends, whose music and contributions will never fade away. Read on!

~ It was early l959.....and young Buddy Holly (born Charles Hardin Holley but changed to “Holly” after a mis-spelling on a contract), from Lubbock, Texas, had already had several hit records such as That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue. He was a singer and guitarist who’d been inspired by seeing Elvis Presley at a local concert in Texas. His band, the Crickets, had recently broken up and he’d begun to take his career in a new direction -- with his sights set on being a solo performer and a songwriter and moving to New York. Elvis was in the army, and many thought that Buddy Holly might take over as “king.” He had just booked a grueling tour of the Midwest (24 cities in 3 weeks) to make money after the band’s breakup. Just 5 months prior, Buddy had married Maria Elena Santiago (an aspiring singer, herself), and they were expecting their first child.

Teenager, Richard Valenzuela, from Pacoima, California was making a name for himself, first as “the Little Richard” of the San Fernando Valley, and then as "Ritchie Valens.” The first Latino to break into mainstream rock and roll music, he’d been discovered by record producer, Bob Keane, and he’d already put out several albums. His l958 hit song, Oh Donna, about a girlfriend, Donna Ludwig, had reached No. 2 on the charts, and the flip side of that record, a rock and roll version of a traditional Mexican song, La Bamba, had also gained him recognition. Ritchie had appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and was on his way to becoming the nation’s next “heartthrob” -- some were saying, “the next Elvis.” Not long before the upcoming three-week tour, he’d proudly bought his mother a new house and he’d spent two weeks in Hawaii. His star was rising.

Jiles P. Richardson, also known as “Jape” and “Big Bopper” was a well-known radio DJ from Beaumont, Texas, who had set a world record for continuous broadcasting -- on air for six days straight and spinning 1,821 records. Known on the airwaves as a bit of a “character,” he was also a songwriter (for example, he wrote Running Bear, which was recorded by Johnny Preston) and he was a singer, having had a hit record with his unforgettable song, Chantilly Lace. In l958, the Big Bopper had also produced what is considered to be the first music video. By all accounts, he was a dedicated family man, too. He and his wife, Adrian, had a little daughter and were happily expecting another child in a few months.

By late January, the trio of entertainers had embarked on their grueling tour which was to play in relatively remote locations during that harsh winter -- they’d dubbed it their “Winter Dance Party tour.” It was to run from January 23 - February l5, and they’d already made appearances in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Although not known to them at the time, their last performance would be at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on the evening of February 2.

As history has recorded, about 1 a.m. on February 3, 1959, a plane carrying Ritchie Valens (age l7), Buddy Holly (age 22), and J. P. Richardson, the Big Bopper (age 28), crashed in Iowa, cutting short the lives and careers of the three young rock and roll pioneers. They had made it through 11 straight shows without a day off, but had finally had enough of riding in broken down school buses with no heat. Due to bitter cold temperatures and engine problems with the bus they were riding, they’d decided to charter a plane to take them to their next venue in Moorehead, Minnesota,....but the plane went down in a snowstorm shortly after takeoff from Clear Lake, killing the three young performers and the 21-year-old pilot
. Immortalized in Don McLean’s song American Pie, this was considered by many to be “the day the music died.”

Others on the bill for this tour included Buddy’s bass player,
Waylon Jennings, and Dion and The Belmonts, who had continued on to Moorehead by bus. It was decided that they would finish up the tour the best they could, and a young l5-year-old from the local area was quickly hired to fill in for Buddy Holly as he knew all the words to the songs -- thus launching the career of Bobby Vee, who went on to become a teenage sensation in the ‘60's (and who is still performing today!).

Buddy Holly’s “widowed bride,” Maria Elena, later miscarried their child. J.P. Richardson’s wife gave birth to a baby boy 84 days after her husband’s death.

~ Keeping the music alive.......
Although Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Big Bopper remained in the nation’s collective consciousness, a couple of blockbuster movies produced in the late 70's (The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey) and in the ‘80's (La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips) brought their stories to new generations of fans, fueling even more interest in their music, their songs, and their contributions to the early days of rock and roll.

Then, in l989, the musical stage production,
“Buddy...The Buddy Holly Story” took theatre-goers in London, England by storm -- enjoying a run of well over 10 years, and spawning similar productions throughout North America -- bringing to the forefront, once again, the musical contributions of Buddy Holly and continuing the on-going fascination with the legendary threesome. In fact, as the century came to a close, there would be few people in North America, and beyond, who didn’t know at least the first few lines of songs such as That’ll Be The Day, Oh Donna, and Chantilly Lace.

~ And, in the winter of 1999, 40 years after that fateful plane crash, the highly acclaimed Winter Dance Party Tribute show made its debut -- now in its 6th year, with a huge fan following, it re-creates the original l959 tour and features world-class tributes to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper -- once again bringing their stories to new audiences and keeping their music alive.

Click here to read about the fabulous Winter Dance Party tribute show which recently took Branson, Missouri by storm .....starring John Mueller as Buddy Holly, Ray Anthony as Ritchie Valens, and JP Richardson Jr. as Big Bopper....see some great pics too! Rave on! Carol Hunter


Interesting websites:

Buddy Holly: www.buddyholly.com/home2.php
Big Bopper: www.officialbigbopper.com
Ritchie Valens: www.historyofrock.com/ritchie_valens.htm
Bobby Vee: www.bobbyvee.com
Waylon Jennings: www.waylon.com
Dion DiMucci and The Belmonts: www.diondimucci.com
Rockabilly Hall of Fame: www.rockabillyhall.com
Jody Aho’s Oldies Page: webpages.charter.net/jaho/oldies.htm
John Mueller /Winter Dance Party tribute show: www.yourbuddyjohn.com


Pic by Jody Aho