Ramblin Rhodes: 'The music died' almost 50 years ago

It's hard to believe that Tuesday will mark the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of rock pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson.


Don McLean recalled that day in his classic 1971 song American Pie , noting:

"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."

The "widowed bride" refers to Maria Elena Holly, whom Holly had married in Lubbock, Texas, on Aug. 15, 1958. She was pregnant at the time of the crash but miscarried shortly after her husband's death.

Compounding the tragedy was how young all four of the victims were. Jiles Perry Richardson Jr. was the oldest at 29. Holly was 21, Valens was 17 and the pilot was only 21.

The Chronicle's sister newspaper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal , has a great tribute Web site at buddyhollyarchives.com.

Over the years, I've met three people close to the tragedy: Waylon Jennings, who was part of Holly's band, The Crickets; Sonny Curtis, an early member of The Crickets; and rocker Bobby Vee, whose band The Shadows was hired for that winter tour for one date immediately after the crash.

Jennings really did give up his seat on the plane to Richardson, because The Big Bopper had the flu and needed some rest.

I met Mr. Curtis backstage at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville in late 1978.

He's better known as a songwriter. He wrote or co-wrote: Walk Right Back , recorded by The Everly Brothers; The Straight Life , by Bobby Goldsboro; A Fool Never Learns , by Andy Williams,; I Fought the Law (And the Law Won), by the Bobby Fuller Four; and the 1987 Country Song of the Year, I'm No Stranger to the Rain , recorded by Keith Whitley.

He also wrote Love Is All Around , better known as the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show . That's Mr. Curtis you hear singing in the reruns of the show.

Mr. Curtis said he played with Holly before the formation of The Crickets.

"I was with Buddy on his first records with Decca," Mr. Curtis said.

"I guess I made about six or eight with him. We knew each other in high school and formed a group with another guy (Don Guess) called Buddy Holly and The Two Tones. I was with Buddy's group on and off from 1954 to 1957. I left just before the band made it big because I grew up and had to make a living."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 38 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.