57 Years Since Buddy Holly’s Untimely Final Performance

57 Years Since Buddy Holly’s Untimely Final Performance

On the 2nd of February in 1959, a talented and renowned musician by the name of Buddy Holly would play what would be his final show. The show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa was a regular, high-spirited event the audience enjoying Holly’s performance and that of his fellow performers and friends Ritchie Valens, Dion and the Belmonts and J.P. Richardson also known as the Big Bopper.

The show wasn’t scheduled as part of the groups “Winter Dance Party” tour but the tour promoters offered the gig to the Surf Ballroom in the hopes of filling an open slot, an offer which was promptly accepted. By the time the tour bus arrived at Iowa, Holly had grown tired of these travel arrangements and opted to book a charter flight to the tours next stop at Fargo, North Dakota.

Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup were originally intended to join Holly on the flight, but Richardson asked Jennings for his seat as he had contracted a flu and Ritchie Valens flipped a coin with Allsup to secure his seat on the plane. After the show ended, the three men were driven to the airport where they met their pilot, 21 year old Roger Peterson.

The cause of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper as well as pilot Roger Peterson was determined to be a combination of faults. To begin with, the pilots briefings did not properly relay the severity of the snowy weather outside. Later investigationon also found that Peterson’s license shouldn’t have allowed him to fly with such low visibility and the incorrect instrument training for the type of aircraft he was flying. The plane impacted with terrain at high speed (270 kph) and banked hard to the right and nose-down. The right wing tip hit the ground first, sending the plane into a cartwheel for around 160m before coming to rest. All occupants of the plane had been killed instantly.

The wreckage was found the following morning when the owner of the charter plane company failed to contact the pilot and flew over the expected flight path, finding the crash site within 10km of the airport they had embarked from. The grisly task of identifying the bodies fell to ballroom manager Carroll Anderson. Holly’s widow suffered a miscarriage days later from emotional trauma and was unable to attend the funeral, while his mother reportedly screamed and collapsed upon hearing the news.

The group has been eulogised many times over the years, most famously in the 1971 Don McLean song “American Pie” in which he dubbed the incident “The Day the Music Died” which reportedly symbolised for McLean a loss of the early innocence of the rock ’n’ roll genre and his sadness over Buddy Holly’s death.

“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

Something touched me deep inside

The day the music died”

-Don McLean, American Pie, 1971