Stop Six On The Rockabilly Roadtrip

The Day The Music Died

the day the music died

If you’ve been reading the articles in this series so far you might have got the picture that rockabilly is all mayhem slap bass and reverb fun, but today’s instalment is here to show off one of the darker days in rockabilly history; The Day The Music Died.

On February the third 1959 a dark pall fell over the music industry and over the hearts of music fans worldwide as a chartered plane fell from the sky and killed all of its passengers. Now, this is a tragically sad event in any case, but in this particular instance the salt in the wound was the fact that the plane’s passengers just happened to be the illustrious Buddy Holly and the two rising rockabilly stars Ritchie Valens and J.P Richards a.k.a The Big Bopper.

Before we go into any more detail about this terrible day, I though it prudent to play a small selection of tracks to show the work of those three notable artists:


That’ll Be The Day – Buddy Holly


Donna – Ritchie Valens


Chantilly Lace – The Big Bopper


Here is how the whole awful event transpired:

Buddy Holly had recently split from his backing band The Crickets and also from his manager Norman Petty after doing a reunion show in his hometown Lubbock, Texas in November of 1958. However, Holly was still booked to begin a tour in January of 1959 and so he had to assemble a new band which consisted of Waylon Jennings on bass, Tommy Allsup on Guitar and Carl Bunch on drums. This new group was booked to tour through the Midwest of America performing in 24 different cities in about the same amount of days and they were quickly joined by the up and coming Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens (also by Dion DiMucci) who were then promoting their records and hoping to make a little extra money.

This all sounds like a great plan; great music all around the nation performed by some of the hottest and most interesting artists out there, but the problem was that the performance schedule was packed so tight that it gave the artists little time to get between the different cities. So after beginning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January the 23rd the tour was already running into difficulties with their tour bus not being fast enough to travel between the cities in time and also not being properly equipped to deal with the wintry conditions faced out on the road.

The peak of the bus’s inability to cope with the demands of the touring schedule probably came shortly after the journey began in Appleton, Wisconsin where the heating system suffered a complete failure in the middle of freezing weather. This led to the swift contagion of flu throughout the tour group and even to drummer Carl Bunch being hospitalized for frostbite of the feet by the time the bus finally made it to Ironwood, Michigan. Obviously things were not going well.

To make matters even worse Holly’s band were supposed to be working as the backing for all of the other performers as well, and with Bunch in hospital Holly himself, Valens, and DiMucci all had to take turns playing drums during each other’s sets. This put an amazing amount of pressure on all of the musicians involved; having to play incredibly long sets night after night while enduring sickness and cold and then being packed back onto a cramped bus to drive for hours before doing it all again. This is why when the bus arrived in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2nd (an unscheduled stop added by the tour’s promoters for some extra business) Buddy Holly decided that he was fed up with the whole tour bus business and decided to charter a plane to take him to the next stop (Moorhead, Minnesota).

Perhaps one of the saddest things about this tragic event is that these two of these three great musicians were not originally supposed to be on the plane on the day it went down. That’s right, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens WERE NOT MEANT TO BE ON THE PLANE WHEN IT CRASHED!

It all happened like this: originally Waylon Jennings had a spot on the plane due to his being a member of Holly’s band, but he altruistically decided to trade his place with The Big Bopper who was suffering very badly from the flu at that point. Tommy Allsup was also originally seated on the plane for the same reason, but Valens, who also wanted the seat, won it from him in a coin toss. I suppose, however, that it is some small blessing that Dion DiMucci, who had a seat reserved for him on the plane, decided not to pay the thirty-six dollar fare to board.

The rest, as they say, is history.


In the aftermath that followed it came to pass that Waylon Jennings took over from Holly as lead singer for the rest of the tour, Holly’s widow miscarried her child, and the memory of three amazing singers was forever ingrained in the memories of a music loving public.

And, just to show the impact this black day had on the contemporary musicians here is a little tribute track penned by the illustrious Eddie Cochran in memory of those much missed performers.


Three Stars – Eddie Cochran



And in the same vein here is the tribute track American Pie by Don McLean, from which the immortal term ‘The Day The Music Died’ is taken.


American Pie – Don McLean


Well, that’s all there is for this sad edition of The Rockabilly Roadtrip, but I shall return again next week with a much more upbeat edition concerning what happened in the rockabilly world after this tragic event.

So stay tuned for Stop Seven On The Rockabilly Roadtrip: The Music Died, So What Now?


5 thoughts on “Stop Six On The Rockabilly Roadtrip

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