I suppose it’s just a microcosm of life itself, but pop music is filled with haunting stories and senseless tragedies. One of those occurred in 1959 at Clear Lake, Iowa, when a plane crash took the life of the pilot and his three passengers. It’s been immortalized as ‘The Day the Music Died’, but most of the attention has been focused on the loss of the iconic Buddy Holly or even Chicano rock legend Ritchie Valens. However, there was a third rock star aboard the plane, and even if his music is a little less memorable than that of the others, he should be acknowledged as a part of rock history.
The Big Bopper, whose real name was Jiles Perry Richardson, was born and raised in Texas (as was Holly) and worked his way up via the radio route. Calling himself Jape Richardson or J.P. Richardson, he built a following as a popular DJ and eventually became known as the Big Bopper.
But he knew he had more to offer. Along with practicing the guitar he was also writing a little music. And although he might have been under-appreciated as a songwriter, his “White Lightning” was later turned into a huge hit by George Jones, as was Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear.” (Although both hit it big after Richardson’s death.)
In 1957 the Big Bopper decided that his strong baritone voice and ability to play a little guitar would allow him to move into direct performing. He began to cut some records, and it wasn’t long before his super-hit “Chantilly Lace” came along.
For a while, everything was going his way, and his rising popularity even gave him an entry to the world of touring and appearing in a different rock and roll show every night. Unfortunately, that often meant hitching a ride on a small plane — and you know the rest of the story.