Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 3, 1959 – Winter Dance Party Tour Nearly Crashes

As it progressed, the Winter Dance Party Tour became worse and worse of an event. Although it seemed greatly promising with numerous stops around the Midwest in three weeks and brought together some of the greatest talent in the music industry, logistics plagued all involved. The heating on the tour bus broke, which caused Buddy Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch to be hospitalized with frostbite. Sick of discomfort and reportedly needing laundry done, Holly and his band chartered a plane to take them to their next destination of Moorhead, MN.

The night went on to shift the passengers on the plane. "J. P." Richardson, the “Big Bopper”, was coming down with the flu and asked if he could have a seat on the plane, to which Waylon Jennings agreed. Eighteen-year-old Ritchie Valens, who had never ridden in a small plane before, asked for a seat as well. He and Tommy Allsup flipped a coin for it, and Valens won. Holly joshed his bandmates for giving up their seats, and the plane piloted by twenty-one-year-old Roger Peterson took off shortly before 1 AM. As he was preparing to leave, his boss Hubert Dwyer mentioned to Peterson that the weather ahead was looking very foul. Peterson, who had not yet passed his instrument tests, became nervous but did not wish to give up the job.

Holly noticed Peterson seemed off, but the pilot assured him things were fine, despite repeatedly checking his instruments. Shortly after takeoff, Peterson realized the Sperry Attitude Gyro was registering his pitch attitude in reverse of the artificial horizon indicator he had trained on. He decided to make an emergency landing and gather his senses, but the stormy weather upset the plane, and Peterson was forced to make a water landing, skidding across nearby Rice Lake, just short of the Lake Mills Municipal Airport. All four occupants survived though were hospitalized with bumps and bruises, and Buddy Holly had broken his left hand. Rumor holds that he broke it punching Peterson’s face, but it is more likely that it was catching himself on the dashboard.

Despite losing three of its headliners, the tour went on, giving local talent Bobby Vee a chance to perform. The Big Bopper’s flu knocked him out of the rest of the tour, as did Holly’s hand, and so Ritchie Valens became the sensation of the Midwest as spring came in 1959. Valens, who would in 1964 release an album over his actual name Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes, would be instrumental in launching the Chicano Rock craze of the mid-1960s, eclipsing the “British Storm” and giving a major addition to the growing Latino voice in the United States. He would later leave music to pursue a career in politics on the behalf of the Hispanic populace and be elected a congressman from California in 1976 and Senator in 1991.

With his position as a disc jockey before his rise to rock fame, J.P. Richardson became part of the proceedings of the Payola scandal in the Supreme Court. He reportedly denounced big business and the studios who would deprive genuine artists of playtime by stuffing “factory hack down the ears of listeners.” Richardson enjoyed a successful musical career and then returned to deejaying, guiding new voices and setting up his own brand of label that would reportedly listen to any submitted record. The wide diversity of music caused numerous new crazes throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, giving every new kind of genre a chance and the audience to reply with critiques. He is credited with coining the term “music video,” which he would use to expanding his radio work onto television.

Holly, meanwhile, bemoaned that he would never play as well again, though he still sold numerous records and served as one of the most creative artists of the twentieth century. Many suggest that he alone kept “pure rock” alive and often mentioned what he could do with full use of his left hand, a topic observed in folk singer Don McLean’s “The Day the Music Cried.” Holly would eventually accept Elvis Presley’s invitation to Hollywood, where he would star in a series of films before disastrously experimenting with Surf music. He would come back to stardom as a blues and old rock singer, seeming to personify the aging of rock as it became eclipsed by more energetic disco.

Notably, none of them ever flew again.

In reality, Peterson’s plane crashed almost immediately after takeoff, ending the lives and careers of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in what is known as “The Day the Music Died.”


  1. Very interesting speculation. A friend of mine had a similar thought. She felt if Buddy Holly had not died, Elvis would never had made a comeback after his Army service.

  2. This was eerily true-feeling. Well done.


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