In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, three performers—Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson—joined their pilot Roger Peterson for what was supposed to be a flight to their next tour stop. But the passengers and their pilot never made it to their destination. Instead the four were involved in a deadly crash that took the lives of all aboard. This tragedy has been remembered as “The Day the Music Died.”
Now we have the year the music died. It has been a tough year for the music industry.
Sunday’s startling death of pop singer George Michael caps 12 wretched months in which we’ve already said goodbye to David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Merle Haggard and Leonard Cohen, to name just a quintet of hugely popular and influential performers.
It might be the deadliest era for pop music legends since 1970-71, when we lost Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Louis Armstrong in a sorrowful span of 11 months.
In the case of the 1970 group they were replaced. Who is replacing the stars we lost this year? As the earth revolves so does the music. I actually find it difficult to listen to most of the music of today. I am reminded of time marches on. The industry will change its tune and oldies will die out with time.
Some interesting facts about the past. Most young people never heard of the three who died so long ago. And their music is really gone and forgotten. Not many remember it and it has rarely heard anymore. Note the airplane was not called American Pie. A little tidbit.
Surf Ballroom manager Anderson called Hubert Dwyer, owner of the Dwyer Flying Service, a company in Mason City, Iowa, to charter the plane to fly to Hector Airport in Fargo, the closest one to Moorhead. Flight arrangements were made with Roger Peterson, a 21-year-old local pilot described as a “young married man who built his life around flying”.
The flying service charged a fee of $36 per passenger for the flight on the 1947 single-engined, V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza (registration N3794N), which could seat three passengers plus the pilot. A popular misconception, originating from Don McLean‘s eponymous song about the crash, was that the plane was called American Pie. In fact, no record exists of any name ever having been given to N3794N.
Richardson had contracted flu during the tour and asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. When Holly learned that Jennings was not going to fly, he said in jest: “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings responded: “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes”, a humorous but ill-fated response that haunted him for the rest of his life.
Ritchie Valens, who had once had a fear of flying, asked Tommy Allsup for his seat on the plane. The two agreed to toss a coin to decide. Bob Hale, a DJ with KRIB-AM, was working the concert that night and flipped the coin in the ballroom’s side-stage room shortly before the musicians departed for the airport. Valens won the coin toss for the seat on the flight.
Dion had been approached to join the flight, although it is unclear exactly when he was asked. He decided that since the $36 fare (equivalent to US$292.7 in today’s money) equaled the monthly rent his parents paid for his childhood apartment, he could not justify the indulgence.