Richie Valens / The Big Bopper

The Day the Music Died!

Gary: “I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing (February 3, 1959) when I first heard of the death’s of Buddy Holly, Ritchie and Jiles Perry Richardson (The Big Bopper).

I have already addressed one of my all-time favourite performers.

Charles Hardin Holly

Click on his name above to go to our Post on Buddy Holly.

I will now cover the other two artists. This is not easy, even for a hard nosed businessman like myself; I still get a little choked  up and sad, very sad.

Here we link the trio together…

The Day the Music Died!
February 3, 1959
Ritchie Valens
Ritchie Valens (Richard Steven Valenzuela)
May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959


Ooh My Head
La Bamba / Rare /

Come on Let’s Go

Come on let’s Go


The Real Peggy Sue and Donna (Peggy Sue Rackham and Donna Fox)

Ritchie’s Songs as listed by Toronto’s  Chum Chart:

1.   Come on Let’s Go/ Apex 76369/ November 1958/ #13

2.   Donna/ Apex 76402/ February 1959/ #15
3.   La Bamba/ B side/ #9

4.   That’s my Little Susie/ Apex 76472/ May 1959/ #5

Songs from his only Album:
1.   Ooh My Head

2.   Boney Maroney

3.   Framed

Songs by Los Lobos from the Film with Lou Diamond Phillips:
1.   Come on Let’s Go

2.   Donna

3.   La Bamba

4.   Charlena

5.   Ooh my Head

6.   We Belong Together

Rock Musician, Singer.

Born Richard Steven Valenzuela in a largely Hispanic community north of Los Angeles known as the San Fernando Valley, his father was a devotee of flamenco music and blues and instilled his love of music in Ritchie.

At the age of eleven Ritchie started playing guitar and took it with him everywhere. During lunchtime at school he would sit on the bleachers and practice or entertain his friends with his music. When he entered High School he was already an accomplished musician and played often at school assemblies and after school parties.

He was in a variety of bands and in his junior year he joined a local California Rock n Roll band called the “Silhouettes” and they quickly became local stars.

At a January 1958 ‘rent party’ held in an American Legion Hall, the band was taped by a part time talent scout who worked for Bob Keane, the owner of Keen Records. Keane was looking for talent for his new label Del Fi Records and after hearing the tape, Keane decided he wanted to hear more of Ritchie so he auditioned him in Los Angeles.

The audition went very well and shortly afterward Ritchie Valen’s first single ‘Come On Lets Go‘ was released in the summer of 1958.

The single did well and he released two more singles: ‘Donna‘ for his high school sweetheart and ‘La Bamba‘ which was reworking of a traditional Mexican folk song. Both singles became enormous hits and began moving towards the top ten and his record sold a half million copies.

In late January 1959 Ritchie Valens joined Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and “Dion and the Belmonts” for the ‘Winter Dance Party’ which was a tour of the upper Midwest.

On February 2, 1959 the ‘Winter Dance Party’ arrived in Clear Lake, Iowa to play a dance at the Surf Ball Room. Due to a broken heater on the bus that they had been traveling on Buddy Holly arranged to fly to North Dakota in a leased four seat Beechcraft Bonanza airplane for himself and the band members, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. Richardson and Ritchie Valens talked Jennings and Allsup out of their seats. The plane took off shortly after midnight in a light snow and crashed into a pasture about five miles from the airport. Valens, Holly, Richardson and the pilot Roger Peterson were all killed instantly.

Ritchie Valens was one of Rock n Roll’s first Latino superstars and has inspired countless musicians around the world.

In 1987 a biographical movie of his life and times entitled ‘La Bamba’ was released and was a worldwide smash hit. In 1990 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2001 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (bio by: Forbin01)

The Big Bopper



Jiles Perry “Jape” Richardson

(October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959)




Chantilly Lace /


1.   Chantilly Lace/ Mercury 71343/ August 1958/ #6

2.   Big Bopper’s Wedding/ Mercury 71375/ December 1958/ # 38

Richardson was born in Sabine Pass, Texas, the oldest son of Jiles Perry, Sr. and Elise (Stalsby) Richardson. His father was an oil field worker and driller. He had two younger brothers, Cecil and James. Within a short time the family moved to Beaumont, Texas. He graduated from Beaumont High School in 1947 and was a member of the “Royal Purple” football team, wearing number “85” as a defensive lineman.

Richardson later studied law at Lamar College, and was a member of the band and chorus. During this time he worked part time at KTRM radio, where in 1949 he was hired full-time and left school. On April 18, 1952, Richardson married Adrianne Joy Fryou from Montegut, Louisiana; in December 1953 their daughter, Debra Joy, was born. Earlier that year Richardson was promoted to Supervisor of Announcers at KTRM. In March 1955 he was drafted into the United States Army. His basic training was at Fort Ord, California after which Richardson spent two years as a radar instructor at Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon his discharge at the rank of Corporal in March 1957, Richardson returned to KTRM radio, where he held down the “Dishwashers’ Serenade” shift from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

One of the station’s sponsors wanted Richardson for a new time slot and suggested a gimmick for the show. Richardson noticed all the college kids doing a dance called The Bop, so he decided to become known as “The Big Bopper”. He kicked off a new radio show from 3 to 6 p.m., and soon The Big Bopper became the station’s program director.

In May of 1957, he broke the record for continuous on-the-air broadcasting by eight minutes. He went a total of five days, two hours and eight minutes, playing 1,821 records and taking showers during five-minute newscasts. During the marathon, he lost 35 pounds (16 kg). KTRM paid Richardson $746.50 for his overtime and he quickly hit the sack for 20 hours.

According to the Internet Accuracy Project website, Richardson is credited with coining the term “rock video”.[1]

Around this time, Richardson — who played guitar — started writing more songs. George Jones later recorded Richardson’s “White Lightning”, which became Jones’ first #1 country hit in 1959 (#73 on the pop charts). Richardson also wrote “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston, his friend from Port Arthur, Texas. Inspiration for the song came from Richardson’s childhood memory of the Sabine river, where he heard stories about Indian tribes. Jape sang background on “Running Bear”, but it wasn’t released until September 1959, after his death. Within several months it went to #1.

The man who launched Richardson as a recording artist was Harold “Pappy” Dailey from Houston. Dailey was promotion director for Mercury and Starday records and signed Richardson to Mercury. Richardson’s first single, “Beggar To A King”, had a country flavor, but failed to gain any chart action. He soon cut “Chantilly Lace” as “The Big Bopper” for Pappy Dailey’s D label. Mercury bought the recording and released it during the summer of 1958. It reached #6 on the pop charts and spent 22 weeks on the national Top 40. It also inspired an answer record by Jayne Mansfield titled “That Makes It”. In “Chantilly Lace”, Richardson pretends to have a flirting phone call with his girlfriend; the Mansfield record suggests what his girlfriend might have been saying at the other end of the line.

With the success of “Chantilly Lace,” Richardson took some time off from KTRM radio and joined Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Ritchie Valens and Dion & the Belmonts for a “Winter Dance Party” tour. On February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new Crickets band (Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota. Richardson came down with the flu and didn’t feel comfortable on the bus, so Jennings gave his plane seat to Richardson. Valens had never flown on a small plane and requested Allsup’s seat. They flipped a coin, and Valens called heads and won the toss.

In the early morning of February 3, after a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the small four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off from the Mason City airport during a blinding snow storm and crashed into Albert Juhl’s corn field several miles after takeoff at 1:05 a.m. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. This event would become known as “The Day the Music Died”.

Richardson, 28 when he died, left behind his wife, Adrianne, and 4-year-old daughter Debra Joy; a son, Jay Perry Richardson, was born in April of 1959. At the time of his death, Richardson had been building a recording studio in his home in Beaumont, Texas, and was also planning to invest in the ownership of a radio station. In addition, he had written 20 new songs with plans to record by himself and with other artists. Richardson was a well-loved figure who was known to care deeply about his family.

Son Jay P. Richardson took up a musical career inspired by his late father and is known professionally as “The Big Bopper, Jr.” He has performed at venues around the world. Notably, he has toured on the “Winter Dance Party” tour with Buddy Holly impersonator John Mueller on some of the very same stages as his father.

In film, The Big Bopper has been portrayed by Gailard Sartain in The Buddy Holly Story and Stephen Lee in La Bamba.

Monument at Crash Site, September 16, 2003In 1988, Ken Paquette, a Wisconsin fan of the ’50s era, erected a stainless steel monument depicting a steel guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of each of the three performers. It is located on private farmland, about one quarter mile west of the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, approximately eight miles north of Clear Lake, this is where the plane crash was situated. He also created a similar stainless steel monument to the three musicians near the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.

J.P. Richardson’s pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

The Big Bopper is fondly remembered not only for his distinctive singing and songwriting, but also as a humorist who combined the best elements of country, R&B and rock’n’roll

The man who wrote the tribute to that terrible day

Don McLean

American Pie/ December 1971

I never knew them personally, but I still miss their music, today.

22 responses to “Richie Valens / The Big Bopper

  1. Pingback: Buddy Holly! | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  2. Well Gary, here I am again with tears in my eyes. I still miss their music too and really am thankful that “records” had been invented so we can at least still listen.

  3. Laila: It’s Gary, I hope you enjoy the posting of the three people who died on February 3, 1959. I have a DVD by Dion, recorded in 2007, and he talks about that night, because he was offered at seat for $36. As his story goes, that was what the monthly rent was and it was a figure in his head that his parents had cautioned him about and so he turned down the seat. He talks about all three, great interview. He is still performing and has matured really well. He also talked about travelling in that little bus with all three and the great music that happened all of the time while travelling.
    Yes, Laila, as tough as I am, I really do miss Buddy.
    Take a look at the Charlie Gracie posting, he is still performing at 74.
    I thank you for reading the blog, we only do it because of people like you who take the time to read it, because it is a lot of work.

  4. Wow, this brings back some powerful memories: watching the couples on “American Bandstand” slow-dance to “Donna” — which, come to think of it, was one of the better pop ballads of the year (all the more impressive because Valens wrote it himself). Also impressive that “La Bamba” and “Donna” were a double-sided hit. Hearing “Donna” still chokes me up. I was traumatized when I got the news about the plane crash. Holly was my idol (I liked Valens too) and at the age of 12 it was the first time somebody “close to me” had died. Imagine if Holly and Valens had enjoyed long careers?

    BTW, did you get “American Bandstand” in Canada?

  5. Hi John
    Yes, we used to rush home from school to see American Bandstand. I used to love watching Justine dance. TV signal came from Buffalo NY. We also remember Howdy Doody! LOL

  6. Hey Russ, do you ever catch the NBC series “American Dreams” from 2002 to 2005? It was a family drama set in Philadelphia in the mid 60s in which one of the stars was a dancer on “American Bandstand.” It touched on a lot of issues of the day (e.g. racial intolerance, opposition to Vietnam, etc.) but the most interesting part of the show (for me anyway) was its “American Bandstand” scenes where a modern singer would play the part of a 60s’ singer. I especially loved catching the anachronisms, like seeing the Beach Boys’ debut “Don’t Worry Baby” on “American Bandstand” in the wrong year. But I loved the show!

  7. Hi John
    No, we did not catch any episodes of “American Dreams”. Seems I missed some very entertaining stuff.

  8. You can order the DVD (through Amazon for $20) of the first year of the show. I just ordered it, after your blog jogged my memory. For American Bandstand nostalgists the show was great. And as a fan of mid-60s pop & rock I just ate it up.

  9. There must be one HUGE following for that piece of American pop culture.

  10. It was certainly an incredible time for music, Russ. After I finish my current book project (Business Lessons From Rock) – due out this millennium – I may take a very focused look at the year 1965 which featured some of the best pop/rock music ever (especially from a “song craft” standpoint) and was such a cultural turning point. I still can’t believe that in one 8-month period (May to December) we had major hit songs of such high caliber:
    Mr. Tambourine Man (Byrds)
    Tracks of My Tears (Miracles)
    Satisfaction (Rolling Stones)
    Like a Rolling Stone (Dylan)
    Help (Beatles)
    California Girls (Beach Boys)
    Unchained Melody (Righteous Brothers)
    Yesterday (Beatles)
    Turn Turn Turn (Byrds)
    I Got You (James Brown)
    You Didn’t Have to be So Nice (Lovin Spoonful)
    California Dreaming (Mama & Papas)
    We Can Work It Out (Beatles)
    Sounds of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)
    And this doesn’t include the great ALBUMS that came out in that window — like Highway 61 Revisited, Rubber Soul, December’s Children, etc. So many of the great songwriters were in the ZONE then.

  11. Pingback: Looking Back 1959 | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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  13. I recently discovered your website and it brings back so many memories. I too, remember exactly what I was doing on Feb 3, 1959. As a nine year old boy, i got up that morning and was about to walk out the door to go to school and happened to glance at the front page headlines and there it was, the worst news that I had ever seen or heard. I loved listening to the songs of the three , actually better than I liked listening to Elvis and Chuck Berry back then. I’ve have always stayed close to the 50’s and early 60’s music and the memories of that tragic day have stayed with me to this day. What a sad day , and it is still very depressing to me but at least we will always have their great music. We’re very lucky to have the music of the three still available.

  14. Pingback: Looking Back 1969 & 1970 | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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  17. Pingback: Dion | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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  20. YES, Love Ritchie Valens and I have this worlds greatest collection with
    also his aoutograph on a Sheet Music. Love Big Bopper to.

  21. Pingback: Bobby Vee! | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  22. Pingback: Richard Wagstaff “Dick Clark” | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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