Next Tuesday, February 3, marks the 50th Anniversary of the first tragic deaths to occur in the burgeoning rock and roll genre. A small plane took off from a Fargo, North Dakota airport. Aboard it where three of rock and roll’s fastest rising stars- Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens. Anxious to get to the next stop on their tour, the three elected to fly instead of take their tour bus, which was having heater problems. Shortly after take off at 1:00 am, the plane lost control and crashed into a nearby cornfield, killing all three performers and their pilot. The tragedy would serve as the basis of Don McLean’s hit song “American Pie.”
Of the three, only Valens would ever make an appearance in film. Alan Freed, the popular disc jockey credited with popularizing the phrase “rock and roll,” was starring in a number of low-budget rock and roll movies that featured skeletal-thin plots on which to hang performances by a number of rock’s emerging stars. Just prior to embarking on the “Winter Dance Party” tour with Holly and Richardson, Valens filmed a performance in the last of the movies that Freed would appear in, Go Johnny Go. Here is Valens singing “Oh My Head,” interrupted slightly during the guitar solo by the need for the film’s threadbare plot to move forward.
Of course, Valens’s short, spectacular and ultimately tragic life would be the subject of the 1987 hit film La Bamba with Lou Diamond Phillips as in the starring role. Note that the morbidly ironic line “No more Peggy Sue,” a reference to the hit song by Valens’ fellow ill-fated passenger Buddy Holly, was cut. (The below clip carries through the rest of the scene in which the song appeared, so there is some NSFW language.)
And here’s the trailer for the film. (And yes, that is Stray Cat Brian Setzer in one quick shot as rockabilly pioneer Eddie Cochran. )