On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, killed three American rock and roll musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson. The day was later called The Day the Music Died by Don McLean, in his song “American Pie”.
The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was never intended to be a stop on the tour, but promoters, hoping to fill an open date, called Carroll Anderson, who was the manager of the Surf Ballroom, and offered him the show. He accepted and the date of the show was set for Monday, February 2.
By the time Buddy Holly arrived at the ballroom that evening, he was frustrated with the tour bus and told his bandmates that, once the show was over, they should try to charter a plane to get to the next stop on the tour, which was Moorhead, Minnesota. Holly was also upset that he had run out of clean undershirts, socks, and underwear. He needed to do some laundry before the next performance, and the local laundromat in Clear Lake was closed that day.
Flight arrangements were made with Roger Peterson, a 21-year-old local pilot who worked for Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa. A fee of $36 per passenger was charged for the single-engined 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza B35 (V-tail). The Bonanza could seat three in addition to the pilot.
Richardson had developed a case of flu during the tour and asked Waylon Jennings, one of Holly’s bandmates, for his seat on the plane and Jennings agreed to give up his seat. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up” and Jennings responded, also in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” This exchange of words would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.
Ritchie Valens had never flown in a small plane before, and asked Holly’s remaining bandmate on the plane, Tommy Allsup, for his seat. Tommy said “I’ll flip ya for the remaining seat” and Valens won the coin toss, and with it a seat on the flight.
Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts was approached to join the flight, although it is unclear exactly when he was asked. Dion decided that, since the $36 cost of the flight was the same as the monthly rent his parents paid for his childhood apartment, he couldn’t justify the indulgence.
A sad day for music-lovers indeed.
Photo taken Houston, Texas Nov 5, 2010. This title was the first thing that came to mind when I saw this piano in the sky. PS work applied,