In my younger days – the 1950’s that is – I was one of those thousands, or maybe millions, of British teenagers who latched on to the US ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performers. Elvis was my number one with Buddy Holly a close second. I can remember hearing – and then getting dad to buy – ‘Peggy Sue’ as Christmas got close in 1957. It reached number 6 in the charts – Harry Belafonte was at number 1 from 22nd November until Jerry Lee Lewis took the number one slot on 10th January1958! Buddy had 3 hits in 1958 – ‘Listen to me’ [2 weeks & peaking at 16]; ‘Rave On’ [14 weeks & peaking at 5] and ‘Early in the Morning’ [4 weeks & peaking at 4]. In January 1959 he had a brief – one week hit – ‘Heartbeat’. While I was enjoying ‘Heartbeat’ – and hoping that Buddy would be over here soon – Buddy was getting on a plane and moving on to another show.
He was in ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour that had begun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23rd January 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems. The distance between the venues had not been considered and, adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses broke down twice in the freezing weather. Added to this was Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized for frostbite to his toes which he had suffered while aboard the bus! As a result Buddy decided to organise other form of transportation so, before their next appearance – planned for 2nd February in Iowa – Buddy chartered a four-seat Beechcraft from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City with Jennings, Allsup, and himself. His idea was to depart after the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom show and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota. This would allow them time to rest and wash their clothes. It also meant that they could avoid a rigorous bus journey.
It was just before midnight when the Clear Lake show ended just before midnight. There were some discussions on who was joining Buddy in the flight. Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Ritchie Valens – he took out a brand new half-dollar and Ritchie called heads. Heads it was. Richie reportedly said “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.” Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called ‘Heads Up’. Waylon Jennings also voluntarily gave up his seat – this one to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.
Roger Peterson, the pilot, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only. Shortly after 1:00 am on Tuesday 3rd February 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after take-off. The bodies of the entertainers were all ejected from the plane on impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled in the wreckage. Buddy Holly had sustained fatal trauma to his head and chest and numerous lacerations and fractures of his arms and legs.
We will be attending the funeral in a few days time.