The day the Music died


"FILE No. 2-0001"



"ADOPTED: September 15, 1959"

"RELEASED: September 23, 1959"



FEBRUARY 3, 1959"


"A Beech Bonanza, N 3794N, crashed at night approximately 5 miles [8 km] northwest of the Mason City Municipal Airport, Mason City, Iowa, at approximately 0100 [01:00 h], February 3, 1959. The pilot and 3 passengers were killed and the aircraft was demolished."

"The aircraft was observed to take off toward the south in a normal manner, turn and climb to an estimated altitude of 800 feet [250 m], and then head in a northwesterly direction. When approximately 5 miles [8 km] have been traversed, the tail light of the plane was seen to descent gradually until it disappeared from sight. Following this, many unsuccessful attempts have been made to contact the plane by radio. The wreckage was found in a field later that morning."

"This accident, like so many before it, was caused by the pilot's decision to undertake a flight in which the likelihood of encountering instrument conditions existed, in the mistaken belief that he could cope with en route instrument weather conditions, without having the necessary familiarization with the instruments in the aircraft and without being properly certified to fly solely by instruments."

Those three passengers were Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.


Charles "Buddy" Hardin Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, on 7 September 1938. He was a violinist, guitarist, singer and song writer, and had a backup group called The Crickets, enlisting Niki Allison on guitar, Joe Mauldin on bass guitar and Jerry Allison on drums. Buddy Holly and The Crickets signed a contract with Decca, and under the label Brunswick, they released a hit titled "That'll be the day", which in 1957 sold over a million records. In 1958 Buddy Holly and the Crickets went to England, and their tour became one of the biggest successes in popular music in that country's history to that moment. The tour went around the World, being received in their live performances by screaming crowds of youngsters. Rock & Roll stars wannabes in England perceived that Buddy Holly had a particular and distinguished style of playing the guitar, and tried to imitate him. ("Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul", Irwin Stambler, St. Martin's Press, New York, St. James Press, London, Copyright© 1974, 1977 by Irwin Stambler, p. 246)

Buddy Holly's music sounded innocent and romantic but he has enough talent to make it strong and amusing when needed, a trademark that was developed further by a lot of future Rock & Roll stars. He was a great song writer, excellent singer, perfect leader of the band and with a lot of new ideas in the recording sessions. Thanks to that, his greatest hits does not appear outdated even today. (Dave Marsh, "The New Rolling Stone® Record Guide", edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, Rolling Stone®, a Random House / Rolling Stone Press Book, New York, first edition, copyright 1977, 1983 by Rolling Stone Press and Dave Marsh, p. 229)

Buddy Holly achieved the top of popular music just a couple of years after leaving adolescence, to the point he was rivaling the very Elvis Presley. He was so unprecedented that future legends such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were influenced by his particular way of extracting the most from a guitar. This influence was extended to many other famous musicians that the United Kingdom legated to the World. (Stambler, above, p. 246)

With fame came the incessant tours, from city to city non-stop. When distances grew, bus travel was not enough, so they began to fly. But with so many venues scattered here and there, even commercial airlines became insufficient to provide mobility. So in many instances they just hired light planes to take Buddy Holly to the remotest places were fans were waiting for him. And so, after an appearance in Iowa, he boarded that Beechcraft Bonanza 35 to North Dakota with two other rising stars who were traveling the same way, on that early morning of 3 February 1959. (Stambler, above, p. 247)

The Big Bopper's and Ritchie Valens' fame were unable to maintain momentum after their untimely deaths. Buddy Holly's death, however, came at the peak of his career, and like so many other people who had died a legend, he remained a legend. (Stambler, above, p. 435)


J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson home town was small Sabine Pass in Texas. Gifted with an early musical talent, he grasped opportunities to play locally and then regionally with several, almost-makeshift musical lineups. When a teenager he began to compose his own music. Success was elusive, but he found an outlet for his musical talent as a disc jokey in several Texas radio stations. Making a living became easier after paying attention to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley in the mid-1950s, and soon The Big Bopper's radio shows were recognized nationwide. As a performer, The Big Bopper's "Running Bear" and "Chantilly Lace" became big successful compositions in 1957 and 1958, followed by "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Big Bopper's Wedding". But it was "Chantilly Lace" that cemented The Big Bopper into stardom, when it reached Number One in the charts and therefore was heard well beyond the borders of the United States of America. The Big Bopper was called upon to perform to eager audiences all across U. S. territory. In many tours he had the companion of fellow Rock & Roll "numbers of the moment", and together joined forces in these music circuits. The Big Bopper was in the Midwest in early 1959 when his path crossed the path of an old friend from Texas, Buddy Holly, and a newcomer from California, Ritchie Valens. The four-place Beechcraft Bonanza 35 was supposed to take big shot Holly and at least one from his band. But The Big Bopper has the flu, so he asked the other musician for the faster seat to North Dakota in exchange for his on the bus. The request was granted. (Stambler, above, p. 435)

Buddy Holly's presence on stage was an essential component of the history of Rock & Roll. The Big Bopper's and Ritchie Valens' were not so clear in comparison, but anyway there was little doubt that both would endure as songwriters. (Stambler, above, p. 435)


A few minutes after 11:00 h on 31 January 1957, teacher John Buchanan (the father of future pop-rock-country musician Russ Buchanan) began recording the graduation ceremony being held for 800 students gathered in the Pacoima Junior High School auditorium. The two-minute recording opens with the graduation speaker's speech in progress:

"We must decide now which road, which way. We can take the easy road and just get by, accomplishing nothing and merely occupying space. Or, we can choose a more difficult path, and say at the end: 'This was a journey worthy of being taken, this was a job well done'. It is up to us now. No one will point and take us by the hand to say: 'This way'. We all had have been guided for the past in Junior Pacoima. We had teachers interested in our welfare and in our future. As far as we are concerned, their job is done. They can only hope that we will take their words of advice and put them to good use in the next three years. They will look at us with expectation, and we hope, with pride. We have only one life to live, and when it is over..."

At this moment, one minute into the recording and right after the girl says: “We have only one life to live…”, the faint-but-unmistakable shrill of a rapidly descending propeller aircraft crescendoes into a roar of crashing airliner, immediately followed by the sounds of confusion and fear in the auditorium. The exterior doors can be heard slamming open from the hard blow of the crash. A school official tries to calm the students by announcing, “It was just loud; that’s all there is to it. It’s all over,” implying that the deafening sound they had just heard was a sonic boom (it was actually the huge plane’s wing exploding just above the ground, spraying hot oil and shrapnel in all directions). As the grumbling of 800 frightened students increases in the auditorium, the school’s fire bell can be heard in the distance. Finally, an unintelligible announcement is made as the school’s power goes out and the recording winds to a stop. ("The Pacoima Crash Audio Tape"©, actual recording and other associated information to this recording courtesy of Russ Buchanan, available at


"File No. -20020"



"Adopted: November 22, 1957"

"Released: November 26, 1957"



JANUARY 31, 1957"


"At approximately 1118 (All times herein are Pacific standard and based on the 24-hour clock), January 31, 1957, a Douglas owned and operated DC-7B, N 8210H, and a U.S.A.F. owned and Northrop operated F-89J, 52-1870A, collided at 25 000 ft [7500 m] (Altitudes herein are mean sea level {m. s. l.}) over the San Gabriel Mountains about three miles [5 km] northwest of Sunland, California. The DC-7B crashed on the playground of the Pacoima Junior High School, Pacoima, California, killing tree students and and injuring 70 others. The four crew members, sole occupants of the aircraft, were killed. The F-89 crashed in the Verdugo Mountains southeast of the collision position, killing the pilot. The radar operator of the F-89, though severely burned, parachuted to safety. Both aircraft were destroyed."



"On the basis of all available evidence the Board finds that:"

"1. The aircraft and the crews were properly certified according to the status of the aircraft and nature of operations."

"2. Preparations for the flights were complete and routine."

"3. The flights were operated in clear weather conditions and in accordance with the provisions of local VFR [Visual Flight Rules] flight plans."

"4. Under VFR weather conditions and VFR flight plans collision avoidance rested in visual separation, a pilot responsibility."

"5. The DC-7 and F-89 collided in flight on approximately west and east headings, respectively. They were at 25 000 feet [7500 m] over a noncongested area between one and two miles [~1,6 to ~3,2 km] northeast of the Hansen Dam Spillway."

"6. At impact the F-89 was rolled about 30 degrees left, both aircraft were about level in the pitch plane, and the convergence angle was about five degrees from head-on."

"7. Both aircraft fell out of control and the DC-7 crashed in a populated area."

"8. From visual range, estimated at 3,5 miles [~5,6 km], the closure rate between the two aircraft was 700 knots [1300 km/h] and over the probable flight paths the time to collision from visual range was about 15 seconds."

"9. The nature and purpose of the flight did not prevent all pilots from maintaining a lookout for other aircraft."

"10. There was no evidence found to indicate that any malfunction or failure of the aircraft or their components was a factor in the accident."


"The Board determines that the probable cause of this midair collision was the high rate of near head-on closure at high altitude which, together with physiological limitations [of the human eye under those conditions, almost the most adverse], resulted in a minimum avoidance opportunity during which the pilots did not see the other's aircraft."

Understandably, at least one of the students had recurrent nightmares after this, even though he wasn't at the Pacoima Junior High School on that date because he was attending his grandfather's funeral. This particular student was Richard Valenzuela. ("La Bamba", by Luis Valdez, with Lou Diamond Phillips, Rosanna de Soto, Esai Morales and Danielle von Zerneck, Columbia Pictures, 1987).


Richard "Ritchie" Valenzuela was born in Pacoima, at the end of the San Fernando Valley, California, on 13 May 1941. His voice drew attention since childhood, and when a guitar came to his hands the combination was an easy pass to elementary-school shows first, and then in the late 1950s to parties and dances, which he animated with compositions of his own inclusive. (Stambler, above, p. 530)

The innocence of his singing, his enlivening guitar and the general joy of his experience made him a Rock & Roll star at such a precocious age that it happened when he had not yet graduated from "junior" high school. His ethnic heritage came to play with "La Bamba", perhaps his biggest hit, but earlier that had brought him a crude personal set-back because his Anglo-Saxon girlfriend was prevented by her family to mingle with a Chicano. (Marsh, Rolling Stone®, above, p. 525)

By then Ritchie Valenzuela had already signed with Del-Fi Records as "Valens". The partnership had released "Come on, let's go" that was spreading out of Los Angeles to other 17-year-olds like him in many corners of the United States of America. His sweetheart was in no way left behind when Ritchie Valens became a Top Ten artist in 1958 and won his first Gold Record, as her name "Donna" was made known as far as England. In his very first year as a recording musician Ritchie Valens embarked in a nationwide tour to perform in huge venues. On into 1959, his professional calendar was tied to those of "veterans" The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly. (Stambler, above, p. 530)

Unfortunately, his name was only historically tied to those of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper for being the younger of the three who had died in the plane crash of 3 February 1959. But he alone, was en route to become the first Hispanic-American rock star. (Marsh, Rolling Stone®, above, p. 525)

His star fell almost before it had a chance to truly rise. (Stambler, above, p. 530)


The Beatles took Rock & Roll as their umbrella, but enlarged it so much, explored so thoroughly every corner of it, and took it so high, that after them an impression permeated that there was nothing else to do in Rock-&-Roll-land. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" came as a definitive divide between the '50s and the '60s. Sounds never heard before in a recording studio set it completely off mainstream, ready for the counterculture "Summer of Love" of 1967. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "When I am sixty-four" were only the prelude to what came after: "Hello Goodbye", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane", and "All you need is Love". But the same psychedelic experimentation of the musical tracks were mirrored in lifestyles changes of The Beatles themselves, which came faster than beard or hair can grow. (Swenson, Rolling Stone®, above, p. 32-33)

In the end, The Beatles' music, the music of the most popular music group of all times, was becoming so misaligned with society that the iconic "Abbey Road" photograph was one of the final images of the four men traveling in the same direction. But not before having traveled together the path they wanted to travel. By then, freedom of ideas implied no bonds with what came before. (Swenson, Rolling Stone®, above, p. 32-33)

The end of an era was announced to the streets crying "Get back" from the roof of a recording studio. "Thank you very much", said John Lennon as they were pulling the plugs from the guitars. "I hope we passed the audition". (Swenson, Rolling Stone®, above, p. 34)


Don McLean was born on 20 October 1945. His love to learn how to play a guitar, when he entered his teenage, came from his idol, Buddy Holly. He learned music and dreamed to become a Rock & Roll star himself while attending school in his native, East-Coast suburban community of New Rochelle, New York. An all-American, whose family had deep traditional roots dating back from before the Declaration of Independence, Don McLean became a professional musician the traditional, hard-working way. Only in 1970 he was able to sign a contract with United Artists for his first release, "Tapestry". It fell way too short from the charts, despite some positive reviews. (Stambler, above, p. 340)

McLean seemed to say goodbye to his teenage dreams. And indeed he intended to do it, trying to go back to the age of the innocence. But in his way back home, to the 1950s, he denounced all those who changed the World, all those who stripped him of his "American Pie". (Marsh, Rolling Stone®, above, p. 327)

On the air in late 1971, it struck a deep cord in the audience, a sign that he was not alone: in February 1972 everybody wanted to listen to it, from coast to coast, that Number One anti-manifesto, in Gold-Record quantities. A generation was affected by that plane crash on 3 February 1959. And a decade later, they were still mourning. (Stambler, above, p. 340)

"That'll be the day". That was the day. The day the Music died.

Aldo Loup.

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Illustration: "The secret of happiness is in the house", reproduced by Lucia Lykidis on 25 September 2012 in "Marie Claire", Greece.