It was 50 years ago today that rock'n'roll suffered its first horrible tragedy, as Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were all killed in a plane crash shortly after takeoff in a cornfield in Iowa.
The musicians were on a rock'n'roll tour of the Midwest, which was plagued with problems. On February 2, Buddy Holly was tired of the cold, having travelled with the other musicians by bus, which had breakdowns. He needed to do his laundry, and wanted to get to the next venue ahead of time, which was Moorhead, Minnesota, so he chartered a light plane in the area. The local laundromat in Clear Lake, Iowa was shut that day.
Holly was originally going to fly to Minnesota with two of his bandmates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) was suffering from the flu and asked Jennings if he'd give up his seat. He reluctantly agreed, and when Holly kidded him later about it, Jennings said, "I hope your ol' plane crashes." That joke would haunt Jennings the rest of life.
Ritchie Valens asked Allsup for his seat, and during the final show they flipped a coin for it, with Valens winning the flip.
The plane was flown by an inexperienced pilot named Roger Peterson, and the plane crashed five minutes after takeoff. The plane was found eight hours later, with all four men on board likely killed on impact. Officials reports put the crash on bad weather and pilot error.
Buddy Holly was 22, The Big Bopper 28 and Ritchie Valens just 17. Their influence is still felt in popular music today, and Holly was a man so far ahead of his time in the music business. We will never know the great things we would have gone on to accomplish. Buddy's widow, Maria Elena, recently talked about her relationship with him in this recent interview.
Don McLean immortalized the 1959 crash in his epic 1971 song, "The Day The Music Died." It's made appreciate their music all the more so, and the 1959 tragedy is one of many reasons I've never flown in any type of light plane.
All three great rock'n'rollers will never be forgotten. They may have passed, but the music never, ever dies. May God rest their souls.