The Day the Music Died
February 3, 1959: A plane crashes in a cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa, United States. Buddy Holly was a rock star who had broken up his original band, the Crickets, and fired his manager back on November 3, 1958. He had a tour scheduled for the beginning of the next year – “The Winter Dance Party” – and assembled a new band. Waylon Jennings (bass), Tommy Allsup (guitar), and Carl Bunch (drums) with vocals by Frankie Sardo. They were to cover 24 Midwestern cities in 24 days. Ritchie Valens, JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Dion DiMucci joined the tour to promote their own recordings and to make a little extra cash. The tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 23.
The amount of travel time wasn’t considered when booking the venues and the tour bus was inadequate to the task. The heating system broke down soon after the tour started. Several of the tour members caught the flu and Carl Bunch was hospitalized in Ironwood, Michigan for severely frostbitten feet. The tour bus was replaced with an old school bus and the group kept traveling. Since the drummer was out, Holly, Valens, and DiMucci took turns playing the drums for each others’ acts. On February 2, they arrived at Clear Lake to play at the Surf Ballroom. It was not a scheduled stop, but the promoters were filling an open date. After all this travel and discomfort, Holly decided he was done with the bus and opted to charter a plane to get to Fargo, North Dakota, the next stop on the tour.
Dwyer Flying Service was contacted and a plane was chartered to fly the musicians. Roger Peterson was the pilot. He was 21 years old. The fee for flying was $36 per passenger. The plane was a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza and sat three passengers and the pilot. Holly was aboard. Jennings opted to stay with the bus. Valens who had only recently overcome a fear of flying asked Allsup for a seat on the plane and they tossed a coin to see who got the seat. Valens won. DiMucci decided not to fly because he didn’t want to pay the $36 (about $290 in today’s currency) since it equaled a month’s rent. Richardson was also aboard the plane at takeoff.
The plane taxied down Runway 17 around 12.55 AM local time. The weather indicated light snow with a ceiling of 3,000 feet and winds from 20 to 30 mph. Weather was deteriorating but updates the young pilot had received didn’t mention this. Soon after takeoff, Peterson became disoriented due to the unfamiliar instrumentation of the plane. Visibility was poor and the pilot was unable to make visual reference. He lost control of the plane and it crashed into a field owned by Albert Juhl. When they were not at their destination the next morning, a search went out. The wreckage (and four bodies) were discovered less than six miles northwest of the airport.
Death is very often referred to as a good career move. – Buddy Holly
If anyone asks you what kind of music you play, tell him ‘pop.’ Don’t tell him ‘rock’n’roll’ or they won’t even let you in the hotel. – Buddy Holly
You’re mine / Your lips belong to me / Yes, they belong to only me / For eternity – Richie Valens
But February made me shiver / With every paper I’d deliver / Bad news on the doorstep / I couldn’t take one more step – Don McLean (American Pie)
Also on this day: Constitutionally Taxing – In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment passes, creating the US income tax.
Show Me the Money – In 1690, the Massachusetts Colony issued a new currency, America’s first paper money.
Say “Cheese” – In 1815, the first industrial cheese plant opened in Switzerland.
Atrocity of War – In 1377, the Cesena Bloodbath took place.
You Go Girl! – In 1995, STS-63 went into space with Eileen Collins as pilot.