Eulogised in Don McLean’s iconic song ‘American Pie’ 12 years later, ‘The Day The Music Died’ was a terrible night for the founding fathers of rock and roll. The only 22-year-old Buddy Holly, the promising 17-year-old Ritchie Valens (who won his seat on a coin toss), and 28-year-old J P “The Big Bopper” Richardson Jr, as well as the pilot, 21-year-old Roger Peterson, all lost their lives in the plane crash which happened shortly after the group of friends took off.
The saddest part of a very sad story comes via Holly’s bassist Waylon Jennings. Holly and Jennings, having grown tired of the tour bus they were on never having a suitable heater, decided to hire a private jet to make the next 400-mile leg of the tour which saw Valens and The Big Bopper also perform. In the end, Jennings would give up his seat on the plane so that The Big Bopper, who was at the time suffering from the flu, could ride in comfort. “I hope your damned bus freezes up again,” joked Holly to Jennings. The bassist’s reply would haunt him for the rest of his life… “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”
It is almost impossible to quantify the loss of musical influencers we suffered on this day. The Big Bopper was riding high after his incredible ‘Chantilly Lace’ had wowed audiences and shot him up the chart. Ritchie Valens, whom was breaking down barriers as an American-Mexican, offered a breath of fresh air into a sometimes stale genre. But no greater loss was felt than with the loss of Buddy Holly’s genius.
A far cry from any rock star at the time, Holly could do it all. Not only was he the bespectacled frontman with a smile but he also wrote his own songs, arranged them, and created the instrumentals, all the while delivering an impeccable falsetto tenor vocal.
The loss of Buddy Holly at such a young age means we will never truly know the extent of the man’s musical genius.
But however sad the loss might be, we can be sure that his influence lives on. Be it through John Lennon and Paul McCartney mimicking his band The Crickets when naming The Beatles or Elton John reportedly wearing glasses because of Holly despite 20-20 vision, or even Bob Dylan paying homage to Holly in his 2016 Nobel Lecture “Something about him seemed permanent and he filled me with conviction, then out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened. He looked at me right straight there in the eye and he transmitted something, something I didn’t know what. It gave me the chills.”
What we can all be certain of is, that this was a sad day for rock and roll and for the families and loved ones of those involved, but it could never stop the music. It may be in the name but the music will never die.