The Day the Music Died

Steve Kline Ages of Rock

February 3, 1959Crash site

Glasses Sign

Signpost near the crash site. (“GlassesSign” by Dsapery at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

It comes to be known as the Day the Music Died. Buddy Holly, J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, 17-year-old Ritchie Valens and their pilot Roger Peterson are killed in the crash of their small plane after a tour stop in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Holly has ended his partnership with The Crickets, and he assembles a new band consisting of Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch to play on the three-week 24-city Winter Dance Party tour. The tour also features rising artists Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, who are promoting their own recordings.

The distance between venues and conditions aboard poorly equipped tour buses take a toll. Flu spreads among the band members, and Bunch is hospitalized with frostbite. Frustrated by the conditions, Holly decides to charter a plane after their February 2 performance in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota. Carroll Anderson, owner of the Surf charters the plane from the Dwyer Flying Service. Richardson, who is affected by the flu, swaps places with Waylon Jennings, taking the latter’s place on the plane, while Tommy Allsup loses his place to Ritchie Valens on a coin toss. Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts fame) decides not to board the plane for the $36 fee (equivalent to $291 in 2015). Jennings is haunted by the tragedy for years.

The investigation of the accident determines that soon after take off, a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error caused spatial disorientation that makes the pilot lose control of the plane. Hubert Dwyer, owner of the flight service company, is unable to establish radio contact and reports the aircraft missing the next morning. He takes off in his own Cessna 180 and spots the wreckage in a cornfield, less than six miles northwest of the originating Mason City, Iowa, airport.