Visit the Places from the "Day The Music Died"

Visit The Places from "The Day The Music Died"

(From left to right: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson)

February 3rd, 1959 will forever be known as “The Day The Music Died” thanks to Don McLean’s iconic 1971 song, “American Pie”. It was on this day that rock & rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (and pilot Richard Peterson) were killed in a plane crash just five miles north of Clear Lake, Iowa. It was perhaps the first real rock & roll tragedy of its kind and has left a proverbial scar on pop culture and music history for years to come. Images of mangled wreckage and lifeless bodies in the snow (when such a practice was allowed) were splashed on every front page across the country...

The opening of "American Pie" references these headlines...

"But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died..."

A photo of the wreckage north of Clear Lake, Iowa

At the time, Holly and his band (Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch) were playing on the "Winter Dance Party" tour across the United States Midwest. Rising artists Valens and Richardson had joined the tour, as well. The long journeys between venues on board the often cold and uncomfortable tour buses adversely affected the performers, with cases of flu and even frostbite. After stopping at Clear Lake to perform at the Surf Ballroom (what would be the band's final performance) and frustrated by such conditions, Holly chose to charter a plane to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota, 300 miles away.

Richardson, who had the flu, swapped places with Jennings, taking his seat on the plane, while Allsup lost his seat to Valens in a coin toss. Soon after takeoff, just after 1:00 AM, and in poor, wintry conditions, the pilot lost control of the light aircraft, a Beechcraft Bonanza, which subsequently lost altitude and crashed into a cornfield just north of Clear Lake.

Everyone on board was killed.

- from Wikipedia

That Weezer Song...

Most Gen Xers and Millennials are probably only passively, if at all, familiar with Buddy Holly. One connection that might cause a lightbulb to go off for them might be a 1994 tribute song, “Buddy Holly”, from Weezer’s debut self-titled album. The song was released as a single on what would have been Buddy Holly’s 58th Birthday…

"Buddy Holly" Single by Weezer

Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” music video was directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are, Her) and was filmed at Charlie Chaplin studios in Hollywood. The video portrayed the band as performing in the original diner Arnold’s Drive-In from the popular 1970s show “Happy Days”. The innovative video scored awards at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards including prizes for Best Alternative Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction and Best Editing. It was also nominated for Video of the Year, but was beat by TLC for "Waterfalls".

- from Wikipedia


Music video for Buddy Holly by Weezer

"La Bamba"

Some might also remember the 1987 bio-film, “La Bamba” starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens.

The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. And it was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1988 for Best Motion Picture - Drama.

The Bob Dylan Connection...

It was on the “Winter Dance Party Tour” that a young Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan's birth name) saw Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper play at the Duluth National Guard Armory in Duluth, Minnesota on January 31st, 1959, just a few days before the rock trio died. Dylan already had a reputation for being a rock & roller. It was noted in his high school yearbook that Zimmerman would most be remembered "... to join "Little Richard".

Bob Dylan (known then as Robert Zimmerman before changing his name) from his Senior Class Yearbook Photo - Hibbing High School, Class of 1959

Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) playing on stage with the Golden Chords (also with Monte Edwardson and Leroy Hoikkala), a rock band he fronted in high school, in February of 1958, at the Little Theatre, Memorial Building in Hibbing Minnesota almost a year before he would see Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper in concert. 

Poster for the Winter Dance Party in Duluth, MN. 

Holly performing at the Duluth Armory on January 31st, 1959 inspiring a young Bob Dylan

"A new and lasting musical model emerged -- Buddy Holly. Dylan began to imitate Holly's sweet, naive, almost childlike voice, and the vocal quality of many of Dylan's early recordings shows his debt to Buddy Holly...."

"Dylan and his mates could identify easily with Holly -- another small-town boy, young, slight, vulnerable. Imagine the excitement when Holly and musician Link Wray appeared at the Duluth Armory. (Dylan visited Wray in 1975, and told him: "Link, I was sitting in the front row when you and Buddy Holly were at Duluth, and you're as great now as you were then.")... Only three days after Dylan had seen him, Buddy Holly was dead...."

- Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, London, 1987, pp. 53-54

Bob Dylan even mentioned Holly in his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech...

The Surf Ballroom
460 N Shore Dr, Clear Lake, IA 50428

from our visit in May 2016

Accessing the Crash Site...  
22728 Gull Ave, Clear Lake, Iowa 50428 USA
A large plasma-cut steel set of Wayfarer-style glasses, constructed by Michael Connor of Clear Lake, similar to those Holly wore, sits at the access point to the crash site. The monument is on private farmland, about 1⁄4 mi (0.40 km) west of the intersection of 315th St. and Gull Ave, 5 mi (8.0 km) north of Clear Lake.
The crash site is about 6.6 miles north of town...
DIRECTIONS from the Surf Ballroom:

Take Buddy Holly Drive north for 4 miles.

Turn right on 300th Street. Turn left after half a mile at the next intersection at Grouse Avenue.

A mile down Grouse, turn right at the V intersection on 310th Avenue, and after a quarter of a mile take an immediate left on Gull Avenue. Drive a half mile north to 315th Avenue.

Arrive at the T-intersection of Gull Avenue and 315th St. The Buddy Holly “Glasses” will be on your left and they’re pretty hard to miss. Park on the roadside. Take the walking path behind the glasses about a half mile down to the actual crash site with memorial markers on the fence.
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