Holly, Valens and J.P. Richardson

Holly, Valens and J.P. Richardson

Well, today we took quite a bit of time and bent a ton of musical format rules and commemorated a major day in American music history, the day of the passings of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the “Big Bopper”.  They were killed 50 years ago in a small plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa following a gig at the Surf Ballroom.  The plane went down in terrible weather and all three musicians and the pilot were killed on impact.

U.P. Rock n' Roll hiostorian and expert, Steve Seymour.

U.P. Rock n' Roll historian and expert, Steve Seymour.

Interestingly enough, there was an Upper Michigan connection to the whole incident that is outlined by Steve Seymour on his “Rock & Roll Graffiti” website and blog.  You can click HERE to go to the blog, or read an excerpt from the story below.  You can also pick up copies of his book and hear some of the stories for yourself if you stop in at his store, The Record Rack, in downtown Escanaba.

Take time to enjoy the music today, and we’ll catch you tomorrow!


The scene of the crash.

The scene of the crash.

Holly’s drummer stranded in U. P.


When rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly was performing for what turned out to be the final time, drummer Carl Bunch was missing from the stage in Clear Lake, Iowa. But, Bunch had a good excuse. He was hospitalized in the Upper Peninsula, hundreds of miles away.

Bunch had drummed in Holly’s band during nine stops in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin during January, 1959 in what was billed as the Winter Dance Party.

Thousands of teenagers showed up during the upper mid-west tour to see Holly perform such hits as “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue” and “Oh, Boy,” all top ten hits for the 22-year-old sensation from Lubbock, Texas. But the tour had other attractions as well. Concert goers also saw future legends Dion and the Belmonts, The Big Bopper (aka J. P. Richardson) and Ritchie Valens.

Still, everything wasn’t perfect. The schedule for the shows was haphazardly organized causing their rickety tour bus to criss-cross the three states seemingly at random. For the performers, the adoration of the crowds soon turned to the harsh realities of the road. The heater on the old bus didn’t work and the weather was bitterly cold. They huddled under blankets to keep warm, but then things got even worse. The bus broke down about 15 miles south of Hurley, Wis. Without winter jackets, hats or gloves, the crew of rock ‘n’ roll stars was in serious trouble that frigid night. In the middle of nowhere, there was no traffic and 19-year-old drummer Carl Bunch was suffering from frostbite to his feet.

Eventually, a trucker who passed the disabled vehicle contacted the sheriff’s department which sent deputies to the rescue.

Bunch was taken to Grand View Hospital in Ironwood, just across the state border in Michigan.

The bus was towed into Ironwood so repairs could be made as the driver waited at a local garage. But the performers didn’t have time to waste. Although the promoter cancelled the Appleton show, an evening concert at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay remained on the schedule. During Holly’s show, Ritchie Valens, familiar to teenagers for his hits, “Donna” and “Come On, Let’s Go,” filled in on drums for Bunch, who was to spend several more days recovering in Michigan’s western-most city.

When the driver arrived in Green Bay with the repaired bus, the tour pressed on to Clear Lake, Iowa, almost 360 miles away, where a performance was scheduled for Monday, Feb 2. En route, the bus broke down again, to everyone’s chagrin.

With a distant Minnesota gig set for Tuesday, Feb 3, Holly decided to end his travel aggravation by chartering a plane to Moorhead.