Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bad Days in American History: February 3, 1959

Fifty-one years ago today, a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper crashed on route from Clear Lake, Iowa to Moorhead, Minnesota, during a brutal winter tour of the upper Midwest. The Day the Music Died turned out to be one of the worst days in rock and roll history.

One wonders what would have happened to these guys had they lived. How would they have adjusted over time? Of course, it's impossible to say. Of all the 50s rockers, only Jerry Lee Lewis really changed his art much over time. Little Richard struggled to remain relevant, Chuck Berry basically kept doing what he was doing (which was awesome so he had a good reason), Elvis became Vegas Elvis, and Bill Haley died in a ditch.

On the other hand, Holly was really ambitious and getting involved in the New York City music scene. If Holly had been in New York in 1961, how would he have responded to Dylan? Would he have been a kind of crazy Texas mentor to The Band and any number of other late 60s bands? Buddy Holly on acid? That sure sounds interesting! I feel that he would have evolved in interesting ways. But again, it's really hard to say. The early 60s were pretty bad for rock and roll, though obviously the British Invasion changed everything for the better.

Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper I'm less sure of. Valens might have explored Latin music more. Or he might have been taken up by the late 60s psychedelic movement. The Big Bopper always seemed like a minor act to me, though I could be wrong.

Another interesting point about the tragedy--Buddy Holly has assembled a new band for this tour. On bass was one Waylon Jennings. Had Waylon been on the plane (and the legend is that he gave up his seat for The Big Bopper), we never would have his wonderful country albums of the 1970s. The Outlaw movement would have looked far different. And my life would have been less complete.