The Day the Music Died, 50 years on
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step."
... Don McLean, "American Pie"
The story of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson is one of those rock ‘n’ roll legends that it seems like I’ve always known about: At about 1:00 a.m., on Feb. 3, 1959, a single-engine, four-seat Beechnut aircraft took off in a snow storm from the Mason City Airport in Iowa. Within minutes the plane went down, killing all three passengers and pilot Roger Peterson.
As the fiftieth anniversary of the crash has approached, there naturally have been a lot of stories about that tragic day. “The Day the Music Died” has, for me, gone from being an abstract idea to something more real, more concrete. It’s been sad this past week to read about the crash and the events leading up to it. Even more tragic is the fact that these musicians were taken at their prime.
U.K. music critic Philip Norman, in an article originally posted online last week, called Buddy Holly “the father of rock.” Norman acknowledges Elvis’ contribution, but says of Holly that he was “a pioneer and a revolutionary.”
“Unlike Presley and other guitar-toting idols of the mid-Fifties, Holly was a gifted instrumentalist who had grown up playing country music in his native West Texas,” Norman writes. “As a songwriter, performer and musician, Holly is the progenitor of virtually every world-class talent to emerge in the Sixties and Seventies.”
There are literally pages and pages of information about Buddy Holly and about the plane crash. As jumping off points, I can recommend Holly’s Wiki page, as well as The Day the Music Died Wikipedia page. Both of those sites have links to more information and suggestions for further reading.
In memoriam of Buddy Holly (but with no slight to the Big Bopper or Richie Valens), I’ve got a few songs that come from a Purple Chick collection titled The Complete Buddy Holly – Volume One. Like all Purple Chick releases, there are tons of alternates, demos, home recordings, and live performances that were left off the commercial releases. Volume one of this 10-disk set reaches back to a 1949 home recording and goes through the April 1956 sessions at the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis, NM., just before Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded their debut album. The notes came along with the file, so I can’t necessarily vouch for their accuracy. I just plays 'em like they deals 'em.
My Two Timin’ Woman.mp3 ~ c.1949: Home Recording, 3315 36th St., Lubbock, Texas. Buddy Holly: vocal, acoustic guitar
I’ll Just Pretend.mp3 ~ c. 1952: Home Recording, 3315 36th St., Lubbock, Texas. Bob Montgomery (poss. Jack Neal): lead vocal, guitar; Buddy Holly: second vocal, mandolin
I Gambled My Heart.mp3 ~ c. late 1954/April 1955: Nesman Recording Studio - Wichita Falls, Texas. Bob Montgomery: lead vocal, acoustic guitar; Buddy Holly: duet vocal, electric lead guitar; Sonny Curtis: fiddle; Don Guess: bass
Baby Let’s Play House.mp3 ~ mid-1955: Nesman Recording Studio - Wichita Falls, Texas. Buddy Holly: lead vocal, acoustic guitar; Sonny Curtis: lead guitar; Larry Welborn: bass; Jerry Allison: drums
Midnight Shift.mp3 ~ Jan. 26, 1956: Bradley's Barn Studio - Music Row, Nashville, Tenn. (Owen Bradley: producer) Buddy Holly: vocal; Sonny Curtis: lead guitar; Grady Martin: rhythm guitar; Don Guess: bass; Doug Kirkham: percussion
I’m Gonna Set My Foot Down.mp3 ~ February-April, 1956: Norman Petty Studios - 1313 W. 7th St. Clovis, NM. Buddy Holly: vocal, guitar; Sonny Curtis: guitar, lead guitar; Don Guess: bass; Jerry Allison: drums