Buddy Holly

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Buddy Holly
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

On 3rd Feb 1959, 22-year-old Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, aged 17, died in a plane crash shortly after takeoff from Clear Lake, Iowa. The pilot of the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza was also killed. Holly hired the plane after heating problems developed on his tour bus. All three were traveling to Fargo, North Dakota, for the next show on their Winter Dance Party Tour which Holly had planned to make money after the break-up of his band, The Crickets, in the previous year.

The Winter Dance Party Tour was planned to cover 24 cities in just three weeks and Holly would be the biggest headliner. Waylon Jennings, a friend from Lubbock, Texas, and Tommy Allsup joined the tour as backup musicians. Ritchie Valens, probably the hottest of the artists at the time, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts made up the list of other performers.

The grueling tour schedule had taken the acts to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa the previous night. Due to mechanical difficulty with their chartered bus, the group arrived at Surf Ballroom less than two hours before the performance. The ballroom was packed with over 1500 fans, many of whom had driven hundreds of miles on snow-covered roads to see the stars perform.

Buddy was fed up with the chartered bus with its faulty heater, so before the performance, he asked the Surf manager Carroll Anderson about renting a chartered plane to fly him to his next destination in Moorhead, Minnesota. Anderson knew the owner of Dwyer Flying Service in nearby Mason City whom he contacted to arrange the flight. Anderson was not able to get hold of the owner so he called one of the pilots, Roger Peterson, who agreed to take Buddy plus two others to Moorhead.

After the performance, the group got ready to travel to their next show on the tour bus. Holly boarded the 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft to Fargo, North Dakota, the nearest airport to Moorhead. Two other members of the group had the option to fly with him at $36 per person. Dion didn’t want to pay, but Waylon Jennings was keen to fly with Buddy, but exchanged his seat with J.P. Richardson because he had a cold. Tommy Allsup was included in the group, but Ritchie Valens offered to flip him for the seat since he was ill. The local host of the Winter Dance Party, Bob Hale, flipped the coin. Ritchie called heads and won the toss. Years later, Tommy Alsup would open a dance club named the Heads Up Saloon to commemorate this life-saving coin toss.

In his 1996 autobiography, Waylon Jennings stated that he was disappointed that he had to ride in the freezing bus, so his parting remark to Buddy was, “I hope your damn plane crashes!” Jennings said this remark has haunted him ever since then.

The plane took off around 1:00 AM from Mason City Airport into a blinding snowstorm and crashed only minutes later in a cornfield, killing all three musicians and the pilot. Because the plane didn’t catch fire when it crashed, no one noticed the wreckage until the next day, about a quarter mile from the nearest country road.

Early reports from the scene suggest the aircraft spun out of control during a light snowstorm. Only the pilot’s body was found inside the wreckage as the performers were thrown clear on impact.

The Civil Aeronautics Board concluded that the primary cause of the crash was pilot error due to the 21-year-old Peterson’s inability to accurately interpret the newly installed Sperry F3 attitude indicator, which he was forced to rely upon in the poor weather conditions. The theory was that Peterson may have read the gyroscope backwards as a result of vertigo and thought that the plane was gaining altitude when it was actually descending.

Peggy Sue

Buddy Holly’s body was buried a few days later on 7 February. Services were held in Lubbock, Texas, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church where over a thousand mourners attended the service.

In 1988, Buddy fan Ken Paquette built a monument to the singers, from stainless steel, and placed it at the crash site where the current owners of the land also planted four trees in memory of the victims.

Holly is often described as the most influential of the early rock and roll musicians, and has been cited as such by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly’s catalog of songs). The death of Holly is now commonly referred to as “the day the music died” after Don McLean immortalised the tragedy with his 1972 hit “American Pie.” McLean has stated that he first learned about Buddy Holly’s death while delivering newspapers on the morning of February 3, 1959, and in his song uses the line, “February made me shiver/with every paper I’d deliver.”



  1. Rod Bebenek

    February 3, 2020 at 5:57 am

    Buddy Hollys music was a highlight in my life as well as music. when I got older I began to learn about the other two passengers that Buddy Holly flew with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens . Bopper was a radio personality and Ritchie Valens just started his short career playing gigs then became just a footnote . It’s great to see that their life’s continued long after they were perished , apparently if that didn’t happen none of us would know these people . I’m only 50 years old and Buddy Holly died in 1959 in February . I’m glad that I’ve looked in to these great artists , and know if it wasn’t for Buddy Holly there wouldn’t be a lot of other artists !

  2. Laurie Flexhaug

    February 3, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    And because of this horrible crash Bobbie Vee got his start. I b believe he was 15 and sang in Fargo that night

  3. Chuck Jeffrey

    February 3, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    I remember it as a kid in high school. Devistated. February 3 is always a sad day. Buddy would be 83 years old today. I always wonder how far he would have gone in the music world and how popular he would have become. Probably a giant liken Bob Dylan and the Beatles became as they were not far behind him in age.

  4. Tim Paul

    February 3, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    I always stop and listen when I hear a Holly Song. When I traveled with bands in the 70s I was the back up giving the lead singers in the band a break in the night. I filled in with Buddy Holly Songs. Without a doubt he influenced rock n roll from the early days and all of this music created before the age of 22. The best was yet to be.

  5. Richard Lindstedt

    February 10, 2020 at 8:40 pm

    I will never forget that night. On my way home from a date I was listening on my car radio to Cousin Brucie a NY City DJ. All of a sudden he stopped the music and announced that a plane crash in Clear Lake Iowa crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. I had to stop along side the road and catch my breath, and shed a few tears. I was 19 years old and WILL NEVER FORGET.

  6. Paul Bradley, Melbourne, Australia

    February 13, 2020 at 3:51 am

    I was at boarding School in Dhekalia, Cyprus aged just shy of 13. News was broken mid morning by senior student “Chalky” White (AKA ‘Wypit’) who remerged on my Sister-in-Law, Glenys’ radar as a RAF Air Traffic Controller in Germany in the 1980’s. Glenys was also at King Richard’s Boarding School in Dhekalia. Contrary to earlier opinion The Big Bopper (e.g. “Chantilly Lace”) and Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”) were quite well known in their own right. The Big Bopper for his trade-mark (then unique) ‘gravelly’ voice which is easy to imitate and La Bamba is largely accepted as the ‘blueprint’ for the Beatles “Twist and Shout” (which some even considered to be a blatant rip-off, actually).

  7. Patsy Peters

    February 3, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    Sorry 2 c great performers die so young due to an accident. Glad Waylon wasn’t on the plane.

  8. Eugene F Rzeznik

    May 27, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    I was five years old at the time, was in a car full of guys. We were driving to get fitted for tuxedos for an upcoming wedding. I was the ring bearer. The news about Buddy Holly came blaring over the radio. Te rest of the trip was silent, all were shocked. My brother and cousin Bernie bought Buddy’s albums and played them almost daily after that.

  9. Dave Malcolm

    July 16, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    Initial reports listed Waylon as one of those who died as he had given his wallet to JP to collect something from the Postal Service the following morning. Waylon was mentored by Holly and paid for his first Studio single release “Jolie Blon”

    Waylon was haunted about his last conversation with Buddy prior to the flight and he lived with unnecessary grief until his own death in 2002

    Many years after the crash, he wrote the Song “”A long time ago” which describes his own feelings about Holly, their last conversation and Buddy’s legacy.

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