The ‘Winter Party Dance Tour’ was planned out to be a 24 date grand tour across the Northern Midwest of the United States headlined by Buddy Holly. Holly had recently parted ways with ‘The Crickets’ and formed himself a backing band of Waylon Jennings (bass), Tommy Allsup (guitar), Carl Bunch (drums), and supporting vocals by Frankie Sardo for the purpose of the tour. These shows were supported by Ritchie Valens, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Dion DiMucci with his band The Belmonts.
The tour began on the 23rd of January, 1959 in Milwaukee. The musicians travelled by bus from city to city, barely arriving in time for their shows. The harsh winter conditions were no match for the bus, causing it’s heating to fail and leaving everyone onboard sick, cold and even reportedly one drummer frostbitten.
The tour bus arrived in Clear Lake, Iowa on Monday February 2nd. This detour was not part of the original itinerary, but the tour promoter wanted to fill a free date on their calendar and contacted the manager of a local venue. Carroll Anderson, the manager of the Surf Ballroom, accepted and booked the show for the night.
Holly was fed up with the conditions on the tour bus and decided to get a charter flight to Fargo, North Dakota, after the Surf Ballroom show. The flight was on a 1947 single-engined, V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, which could seat three passengers plus the pilot at a cost of $36 per person. Roger Peterson – a 21-year-old local with 711 flying hours experience – was the pilot.
Obviously not everyone on board the tour bus could fit on the charter flight. Originally Holly invited Waylon Jennings & Tommy Allsup. Waylon gave his seat up to ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson, who was unwell and running a fever. Allsup and Ritchie Valens tossed a coin for the remaining seat. Valens won.
When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said, “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up.” Jennings responded, “Well, I hope your plane crashes.” This friendly banter of friends would end up haunting Jennings for years.
The plane took off at 12:55am on February 3rd, 1959 and was only airborne for a few minutes before hitting the ground wing first and rolling at high speed. All on board were killed.
While families and friends were grieving and burying their loved ones, the ‘Winter Dance Party Tour’ continued; Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup continued playing for the next two weeks. Jennings took Holly’s place as lead singer.
Since 1979, fans of Holly, Valens, and Richardson have been gathering for annual concerts at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, in the memory of the talented musicians and the day the music died.
Tune into Vintage FM this morning at 11am for a special tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens & J.P Richardson.