This Day in Rock Music History: Feb. 3, 1959 – The Day the Music Died

February 3rd, 1959, was a day that broke the hearts of teenage rock fans across the country, as three of the most talented musicians of that era died in one fateful, music-shattering plane crash, one that eventually earned the nickname …

The Day the Music Died

It was at Clear Lake, Iowa, and on the night of February 2nd, 1959, the town hosted a concert at the Sun Ballroom. This stop was a last-minute addition to the Winter Dance Party tour that Buddy Holly had put together, a show that featured Buddy and his band, Frankie Sardo, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), and Dion and the Belmonts.

The tour had been a miserable affair up to this point, with the cold making their travel unbearable. Everyone traveled on one tour bus, and none of them were in tip-top condition, as they had to change buses several times due to malfunctions, including the much-needed heater system. Additionally, there was no road crew, so the musicians did their own load-in/load-out work in the cold. These factors created a breeding ground for germs, creating several sick musicians. The shows themselves were what legends are made of, but they would also serve as the final curtain fall for a view unlucky young man.

So, What Happened?

What happened is very simple, the plane crashed, and people died. Among the dead was the young phenom, Ritchie Valens, who was only about 17. Ritchie released the hit song La Bamba, which helped launch what could have been a long career. Sadly, fate and destiny had other plans for young Ritchie.

Another of the musicians on board was Buddy Holly, a favorite of the early rock and roll movement and possibly the only early star to dress in what we might call “geek chic” nowadays. The band Weezer wrote a song about him in the ’90s, one of the most popular songs on their debut album, which helped show that Buddy Holly was still influencing music decades after his untimely death.

The Big Bopper was another of the decreased musicians, and just as his star was beginning to rise, he and Valens were early in their careers. To be honest, I don’t know much about him, except that people loved his music and were devastated by his loss.

You may be wondering why they were even on a plane; they were all traveling on a bus, so what led to the plane?

As it turns out, Buddy had become highly frustrated with the bus and all the issues that went along with it. So he decided that a few of them would fly to the next stop and chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza light aircraft.

There was the pilot (Roger Peterson), Buddy, The Big Bopper (who was on the plane due to having the flu), and Ritchie, who won the seat in a coin toss with one of Buddy’s band members, Tommy Allsup.

The night was stormy, with the low visibility from being a late-night flight, and then the snow added to that. The pilot lost control shortly after takeoff, and they crash-landed in a cornfield not far from where they took off, killing all on board.

Long Lasting Impact

The crash’s obvious effects were the pilot’s deaths, the talented musicians, the loss of such young lives, and the long-lasting sorrow from friends, family, and fans.

Part of that long-lasting effect became the unofficial nickname of the crash, The Day the Music Died. This was due to the 1971 Don McLean song, “American Pie,” whose lyrics pay homage to the deaths and plane crash.

“A long, long time ago

I can still remember

How that music used to make me smile

And I knew if I had my chance

That I could make those people dance

And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But February made me shiver

With every paper I’d deliver

Bad news on the doorstep

I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried

When I read about his widowed bride

But something touched me deep inside,

The day the music died”

So, on this anniversary of their deaths, I urge you to listen to any or all of the artists that died that day. They deserve their place in rock history and, in my opinion, should never be forgotten.

This article was written by Tom Hanno, who has been writing reviews for the last 7 years but has been sharing his love of music for the majority of his life. Originally starting out at the now defunct Chimera Magazine, he is currently contributing to Doomed and Stoned, The Sleeping Shaman, The Doom Charts, Tom’s Reviews, and The Third Eye. Read more of Tom’s reviews by checking out his Linktree.

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