Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Day The Music Died

"A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

62 years ago, the music died.  The Winter Dance Party Tour had been touring the midwest since January 23.   By February 2, they were at Clear Lake, Iowa, their eleventh stop on the tour.  The pace was beginning to wear on the acts.  

For one, the travel required soon became a serious problem. The distances between venues had not been properly considered, and instead of systematically circling around the Midwest through a series of venues in close proximity to one another, the tour erratically meandered back and forth across the region.  With no off days, the bands had to travel most of each day, frequently for ten to twelve hours in freezing mid-winter temperatures.

One bus was being used to transport all musicians, though the individual buses selected were notoriously unreliable.  Because of the conditions of the buses and the weather, the tour had gone through five separate buses by they reached Clear Lake.    None were equipped for the harsh weather, and the only one that had heating equipment had malfunctioned shortly after the tour began.

The musicians were beginning to get sick from the weather and the travel.  Flu-like symptoms, frostbitten feet.  

Buddy finally had enough, and offered to charter a plane to their next venue in Moorehead, Minnesota.  The plane held three passengers and the pilot, at a rate of $36 per passenger.  The first passengers were to be Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings.  The last seat was left to a coin toss, between Tommy Allsup and Ritchie Valens.  Valens won the toss, securing the seat.  "The Big Bopper" J. P. Richardson had contracted the flu on the tour and asked Jennings to take his seat.  When Holly learned that Jennings was not going to fly, he said in jest, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes." The response would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.

Sometime, early in the morning of February 3, 1959, the plane crashed less than six miles away from the Mason County Municipal Airport where it took off.  The weather that night had been light snow, with an obscured sky, making the visual flight that the pilot was experience in near impossible.  The weather had also been quickly deteriorating, a point that had not been highlighted to the pilot in his briefing. 

The loss of these pioneers of rock-and-roll would be immortalized in Don McLean's classic American Pie, a tribute to the loss of innocence of that early rock-and-roll generation.   It's through the song that McLean would dub the day as The Day The Music Died, a nomenclature that would stick to this day.

It remains a pivotal moment in the history of rock.  A tragedy underscored by the fact that the oldest passenger, Richardon, was only 28 at the time.  Three musicians at the top of their games cut down in their prime, as well as a very young pilot leaving behind a young widow of his own.

So play a little rockabilly, a little Chicano rock, a little country rock.  Drink a little whiskey and rye, and sing "This'll be the day that I die..."

"I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The father, son, and the holy ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

They were singin'
'Bye-bye Miss American Pie'"
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n rye
Singin', "This'll be the day that I die...

1 comment:

  1. It actually gets worse than that. The pilot was only a PPL certified pilot which means he was not qualified to fly for pay. He was legally restricted to only fly friends and to split the cost evenly among everyone, himself included. Furthermore he was taking off under VFR (visual flight rules) into IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) which means he should have been under IFR (instrument flight rules) which he was not rated for. However even if he had been IR (instrument rated) and had a CPL (commercial pilot license: needed to fly for hire) the crash would have happened. You can speculate and say that a CPL IR rated pilot would not have taken off in those conditions in that plane but we can't be sure. They weather that day was almost guaranteed FIKI (flight into know icing) and therefore the plane would have needed to be FIKI certified (which it wasn't). As such ice buildup on the wings drastically changed (reduced) the flight characteristics of the plane which is why it crashed. A fine layer of ice on wings completely destroys airflow across the wing and all but completely removes lift which as you can imagine is not ideal in flight. So the reason they died is 100% the pilot's fault or moreover the charter company that hired him to complete the flight knowing he was woefully underqualified. Even experienced pilots who are properly rated in aircraft certified for FIKI still do everything they can to avoid flying in known icing conditions... it's that dangerous. Even with FIKI certified aircraft there is no guarantee you won't build ice on the flight surfaces and lose control of the aircraft at which the only result is death.