Footnote: February 3, 1959 – The Day The Music Died
Shortly after Buddy Holly parted ways with The Crickets in November of 1958, he assembled a brand new band and joined The Winter Dance Party tour, which kicked off on January 23rd, 1959. The tour also featured a then 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Dion and the Belmonts amongst others, and has gone down in history as one of rock and roll’s most infamous.
The tour itself, which included 24 scheduled dates across the American Midwest, was an organizational disaster. All the acts on the bill had to travel together on an old beat up bus, braving traitorous winter weather conditions to get to shows that were booked hundreds of miles apart and all over the map. By the time the tour made it’s way into Iowa on February 2nd, Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized with frostbitten feet.
Frustrated with the conditions, Holly decided that after performing at the Clear Lake, Surf Ballroom that evening, he would charter a private plane for himself, guitarist Waylon Jennings and bassist Tommy Allsup, to fly to the next tour stop in Moorhead, Minnesota. When it came time to board, Waylon Jenning’s gave up his seat to the Big Bopper who was sick with the flu, Tommy Allsup lost his place to Ritchie Valens on a coin toss, and Dion DiMucci opted not to fly on account of a $36 fee. Sadly, Holly, Richardson and Valens would never make it to their next show. Poor weather conditions and pilot error caused the plane to crash into a cornfield shortly after take off killing everyone onboard in what Don McLean later immortalized as “the day the music died.”
Although The Winter Dance Party continued for another two weeks with Jimmy Clanton and Fabian and Frankie Avalon subbing in as the tour’s headliners, the sudden and tragic loss of one of rock and roll’s earliest pioneers was felt with impact across the nation. For those who had finally begun to settle into life in post-war America, Holly’s death signaled the end of a period of innocence in rock and roll music history and the beginning of a tumultuous era in both American political and popular culture alike.