It's been a few years since we saluted the date forever immortalized as "The Day The Music Died" ... and, quite honestly, I wasn't sure I'd do much to spotlight it today either. In a way, it almost seemed to be overkill ... I'm sure radio stations across the country will be playing the music of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper all day long today ... along with (unfortunately!) repeated plays of "American Pie", too ... so I figured most of you would have already had your fill without me adding to the deluge!
But a few of our readers sent in memorial pieces or articles ... and I didn't want to slight anybody ... so I've run a few of these new pieces along with a link to our 50th Anniversary Forgotten Hits coverage from a few years back, too.
With the anniversary date of February 3 coming up, and you probably have done this in the past, why not see how many tribute records your readers can come up with concerning the three artists who passed away.
We've run special features on the 3rd of February a couple of times in the past ... scroll back to February 3rd and 4th of 2009 to see our 50th Anniversary salute (or simply click the link above for the recap.) Back when Forgotten Hits was still an emailed newsletter, we typically saluted February 3rd every year, sharing comments and memories from our readers. (Of course if you ever really do decide to scroll through all of the archives we've got posted on this site, it'll take you damn near a lifetime to read it all!!! lol) But I would be interested in seeing your list of tributes! (kk)
Interestingly enough, we got THIS audio tribute from another FH reader ... spotlighting a couple of the tributes you're most likely speaking of!
I've been enjoying Forgotten Hits for a few years now; thanks for your good work.
I think I might have already sent this, but since we're approaching the anniversary, and since mentions have been made to "American Pie," I thought you might like to share this little piece of work that I did - well, 40 years ago (and then digitally remixed it a few years back).
Keep up the good work!
Robert in Tulsa
Nicely done. (I think I have heard this before ... but it's nice to be able to feature it again for those on the list who may not be familiar with it.) Thanks again for sending! (kk)
Donna talks about Ritchie:
Here is a very nice YouTube Tribute, remembering The Day The Music Died ... with "Three Stars" by Tommy Dee:
And check out this picture of Dion, after Winter Dance Party Tour.
Check the guitar strap ... it says Big Bopper.
Check the guitar strap ... it says Big Bopper.
USA TODAY Pays Tribute To The Surf Ballroom (1/31/12)
-- submitted by Tom Cuddy
Iowa’s Surf Ballroom ‘temple of rock ’n’ roll’
Fans gather every February to honor three ’50s rockers killed in their prime and to remember the music that lives on.
By Judy Keen USA TODAY
CLEAR LAKE, Iowa -- At 1 a.m. Friday, a handful of people will gather under a waxing moon on a gravel road about 5 miles north of here.
As they listen to Don McLean lament “the day the music died” in his 1971 song American Pie, they’ll walk, as they do every year, to the site of the plane crash where singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died a few minutes after 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1959.
“We give thanks for the lives of these people that brought us all together and thanks for the music,” says Paul King, 66, a retired businessman from Northampton, England. He is a member of the British Buddy Holly Society and has made 24 pilgrimages to Clear Lake.
The after-midnight procession is the culmination of an annual celebration of the three young rock ’n’ roll singers and the Surf Ballroom, the venue in this town of 7,777 where they performed their final show.
The Surf, built in 1948 — after its first incarnation across the street on the shores of Clear Lake burned down a year earlier — is a shrine to the 1950s. It has its original ticket window, wooden dance floor and booths and a meticulously restored seashore-and-palm-trees motif. Faux clouds still roll across the black ceiling.
The ballroom will be packed this week during the annual four-day commemoration of the Winter Dance Party that brought the three young stars to town 53 years ago. It has been designated a historic landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
It is, says Jay P. Richardson, The Big Bopper’s son, “a temple of rock ’n’ roll. If you want to pay your respects to Elvis, you go to Graceland. If you want to pay your respects to Dad, Buddy and Ritchie, you go to the Surf Ballroom.”
Once a hot spot
The original ballroom, built in 1934, hosted all the famous acts of an earlier era: the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Count Basie, Lawrence Welk. By 1959, the new Surf was rocking.
Karen Spratt, 69, grew up on a farm near Clear Lake. “We milked cows twice a day and had a radio in the barn,” she says. “We learned all the words and sang along. My idols were Buddy and James Dean.” She was barely 16 when the Winter Dance Party came to the Surf, but her mom said she could go. Admission was $1.25.
Holly, the headliner, Valens and The Big Bopper had been touring the Midwest by bus with Dion and the Belmonts and Frankie Sardo. Holly was not accompanied by the Crickets, his original backup band. Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup shared the stage with him.
The lineup included some of the hottest performers of the day, Allsup says. “Elvis was in the Army in Germany, Little Richard had retired . . . and Jerry Lee Lewis was at the bottom of his career,” he says. “There weren’t that many rock ’n’ roll stars running around.”
Holly’s hits Peggy Sue and Rave On were radio staples. Valens’ La Bamba was a Top 40 hit in 1958 and the Bopper’s Chantilly Lace was released that summer.
In his 2011 book Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth, Dion Dimucci described what happened. Holly, he wrote, decided to charter a plane to fly to Moorhead, Minn., for the next stop on the tour.
The small plane had room for the pilot, Roger Peterson, and three more. In the dressing room, Dimucci wrote, a coin was flipped to see who would fly with Holly and who would ride the bus. DiMucci and The Big Bopper won, but DiMucci opted out after he was told the flight would cost $36 each. “I said to Ritchie, ‘You go,’ ” he wrote.
The plane crashed minutes after takeoff; all four men were killed. Light snow was falling as the plane took off. Investigators concluded the crash was caused by poor weather conditions and pilot error.
‘Not a sad place’
Bill Wobbeking was at the Surf that night. He had just turned 18 and was attending college in nearby Mason City. After the show, he and a friend talked about Holly’s performance. “We kept saying over and over, he’s better than Elvis,” says Wobbeking, 71, who lives in Urbandale, Iowa.
He says the Surf is a joyful place. “My last memory of being in there that night was a happy time,” he says. But Wobbeking can’t bring himself to visit the crash site.
Bob Hale, who was a radio DJ here in 1959 and emceed the Winter Dance Party, has tried to walk into the field to the crash memorial, but he had to turn back. At the Surf that night, he says, he and Holly talked about Iowa’s tough winters, and Holly promised he’d come back in the spring to perform and go water-skiing and swimming.
“As he was getting into the car to go to the airport,” Hale, 78, who lives in Park Ridge, Ill., recalls, “he said, ‘I’ll see you in the spring.’ ”
Richardson, who was born a few weeks after his father’s death, first visited the Surf in 1988 and met Maria Elena Holly, Buddy’s widow, and Valens’ siblings. “I never realized my father had the impact he had until I went to the Surf,” he says. He will host some his week’s events.
“It’s not a sad place to me,” Richardson says. “The Surf is the last place I know my father was having a good time.”
Restored to glory
The Surf went through difficult times after the events of 1959. A succession of owners and managers neglected it, and some skipped town, leaving unpaid bills, says Jeff Nicholas, president of the North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum, the nonprofit group that has managed the ballroom since 2008.
Over the years, the iconic pineapple murals in the lobby — a symbol of hospitality — were covered by wood paneling and carpet. When it rained, trash cans were arrayed on the dance floor to catch leaking water.
In 1994, the Dean Snyder family, owners of a Clear Lake construction company, bought the ballroom and began restorations.
The Surf hosted 40 concerts and events in 2011, including shows by 16 nationally known artists, and the annual February commemoration brings about $2 million to the area, says Nicholas, who owns the farm where the plane crashed.
“There just seems to be a mystery and a magic” about the Surf and its place in music history, Nicholas says.
He says he gets goosebumps every time he walks into the Surf, and Executive Director Laurie Lietz says, “I come in every morning and I say, ‘Good morning, boys.’ Every morning.”
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top felt the history of the Surf when his band performed here for the first time in October 2011.
“To see it and walk through it was really a treat,” he says. “There’s something beyond nostalgic about it. There’s something quaint that is a standing reminder of the way things were.”
This year’s Winter Dance Party begins Wednesday and will feature concerts, dance lessons, memorabilia shows and a bus trip to the memorial site. Pat Boone is the headliner. King and other Surf fans who created a music scholarship fund in 1999 plan fundraising events.
“I can’t wait,” says Jack Dreznes, 63, a Chicago record store owner who serves on the scholarship board. “It’s fun music; it’s innocent music; it reminds us old-timers of our youth.”
Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, says everyone should visit the Surf. “It is living history,” he says. “The music didn’t die.”
Allsup, who stood beside Holly onstage that fateful night, agrees. “The guys died,” he says, “but their music lives on and on.”
Rock visionary: A giant pair of horn-rimmed glasses stands as a salute
to Buddy Holly and marks the entrance to the plane crash site.
Hits: That’ll Be the Day, Rave On, Peggy Sue
The Beatles’ name was inspired in part by Holly’s band, the Crickets.
J.P. Richardson Jr., The Big Bopper
Hits: Chantilly Lace; wrote White Lightning, Running Bear
Coining the term “music video,” he recorded videos for his songs.
Age: 17 Hits: Donna, La Bamba, Come On Let’s Go
The Beach Boys, Carlos Santana and Los Lobos cite
Valens as an influence in their own musical careers