Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll 1959 Part 1’ Category

by Robert Seoane

THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – DION & THE BELMONTS – THE CRESTS – THE BIRTH OF MOTOWN – BERRY GORDY – JACKIE WILSON – SMOKEY ROBINSON – BARRETT STRONG

THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

“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.” American Pie (1971) – Don McLean

Buddy was tired of taking the tour bus every single night since the Winter Tour Dance Party tour began on January 23rd, 1959. He had been on the road for two weeks of the three week trek through the Midwest and he and his Crickets, Tommy Allsup (guitar) and Waylon Jennings (bass) had been wearing the same clothes for a week. Their schedule included long bus trips where they slept on the luggage racks. To add more misery to a miserable set-up, their tour bus had already broken down more than once in the middle of nowhere and in the dead of winter. Members of the crew were catching each other’s flus and Cricket drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized with frostbitten feet. Having had no time or place to do their laundry in a week, Holly had had enough and decided to charter a plane to his next destination so he can have time to take care of his personal issues and get some much needed comfortable sleep.

 

THE EVENING OF FEBRUARY 2nd, 1959

On February 2nd, they played in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Manager of the ballroom Carroll Anderson called Jerry Dwyer’s Flight Service for Buddy that evening and chartered a three-passenger Beech Bonanza N 3794N plane to share with his remaining two Crickets, Waylon and Tommy, to take them to their next destination, Moorhead, Minnesota. Along with headliners Buddy Holly & The Crickets on the tour, there was seventeen year old Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, otherwise known as The Big Bopper, and Dion & The Belmonts. There is a dispute as to whether Dion was supposed to have been on that plane instead of Tommy Allsup, but as some witnesses remember it, both Tommy and Waylon were the ones who gave up their seats to Ritchie and The Big Bopper.

It seems that all four of them except for Dion were equally interested to get to their destination fast. Dion felt the plane fare was too expensive to merit the trip. As legend has it, Crickets manager Bob Hale was called upon to flip one of the ill-fated coins for Tommy and Ritchie. Ritchie called “heads” and won the toss. J.P. won his coin toss with Waylon.

Many, including Waylon Jennings himself, have confirmed that he did indeed utter a prophetic but bad joke to Buddy Holly. When Buddy found out that Waylon had given his seat on the plane to Richardson,. He jokingly tells Waylon “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up!”. Waylon jocularly responded “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes!” Jennings has been quoted as never having forgotten what he had said and living with the guilt of his words resting heavily on his conscience the rest of his life.

“Man, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t wish I could take back that comment. The next day when I got the news at Fargo, I went nuts. I cried. I yelled. And I began to drink. Drugs helped along the way. Of course, I realized years later I was killing myself, so I quit. I don’t know, maybe deep inside I was so damned guilty, I was trying to kill myself.” Reportedly what Waylon Jennings said to Tommy Allsup, according to Allsup.

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BUDDY’S FINAL RECORDINGS

Buddy had moved into the Brevoort Apartments at 111 Fifth Avenue in New York City, just north of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village with his bride of just a few months, Maria Elena. He had just undergone the break-up from his original Crickets’ band members, although he felt they would get back together after all the royalty issues are settled among them. Holly was looking forward to a productive 1959. He had just set up a recording and publishing company called Prism, in which he planned to discover and produce new talent. Along with his steady stream of his own songwriting, he planned to develop new artists from his home state in West Texas where he grew up. Currently based in New York, his future plans had him opening a recording studio and office complexes in his hometown of Lubbock.

Holly had purchased an Ampex tape recorder and microphone from Norman Petty towards the end of 1958 and he spent his time writing and recording new songs before his tour. From December 1958 through January 1959, Holly recorded demos of his songs and covers of other songs, specifically Mickey & Silvia’s “Love Is Strange”, Little Richard’s “Slippin’ & Slidin’” and The Coasters’ “Smokey Joe’s Café” as well as six of his own compositions. Two of his own compositions stand out as his last classics.

PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED/CRYIN’, WAITIN’, HOPIN’ – BUDDY HOLLY

Ever since Buddy had written “Peggy Sue” in 1957, a number of artists like Bobby Darin with “Splish Splash” and Frankie Avalon in his “DeDe Dinah”, adopted the young character Holly had created in song and included her in their own tunes, giving “Peggy Sue” legitimacy among the icons of the Fifties. Buddy must have figured by then that if anyone can write another song about Peggy Sue, he could, so he wrote one of the first sequels in Rock ‘n’ Roll music.

“You recall a girl that’s been in nearly every song, this is what I heard, of course the story could be wrong, she’s the one, I’ve been told, now she’s wearing a band of gold, Peggy Sue got married not long ago.” Peggy Sue Got Married – Buddy Holly

Maybe Holly thought that if he married her off, nobody would include her in their songs again. For the most part, he was right.

One other song he recorded in his apartment that was posthumously released as the B-Side to “Peggy Sue Got Married” is “Cryin’, Waitin’, Hopin’”. All six of the songs recorded in his apartment were handed over to Jerry Hansen after Holly’s death. Hansen hired additional musicians and the Ray Charles Singers as backup vocalists to augment the recordings. In “Cryin’, Waitin’, Hopin’”, Hansen added the guitar licks echoing each word of the title after Holly sings it. Besides the original, bare bones version of this song, there exists another version produced in 1964 by Norman Petty along with the other six songs. For unexplained reasons, even though these two songs were released as a single, neither of them entered the Billboard Pop or Country charts.


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THE MORNING OF FEBRUARY 3rd, 1959

Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Richard Valenzuela arrived at the Mason City Municipal Airport in Mason City, Iowa during the first hour of the new day on February 3, 1959. They were driven there by Surf Ballroom manager Caroll Anderson from Clear Lake where they had played earlier that evening. The three musicians were looking forward to getting to Fargo, North Dakota, the closest airport to their next gig in Moorehead, Minnesota, with enough time to take care of their personal hygiene and get some rest.

Twenty-one year old Roger Peterson was the contracted pilot through Dwyer Flying Service to fly the musicians to Fargo. Before the three had arrived, Peterson had gone to the Air Traffic Communications Station (ATCS) with Hubert Dwyer, owner of the flight service and a pilot himself, to view the current weather through the path Peterson would fly. The weather report indicated a ceiling of up to 5000 feet or better and visibilty of up to 10 miles. Knowing that weather patterns can change quickly, Peterson would contact ATCS in thirty minute intervals to inquire about the weather as he prepared for his flight. The next time he checked, at midnight, the ceiling had dropped to 4500 feet but visibility was still greater than 10 miles. Light snow had begun to fall in Minneapolis.

The aircraft Peterson was flying that morning was a Beech Bonanza, model 35, S/N-1019. This particular Bonanza aircraft contained a Sperry 53 Attitude Gyro, a device that offered a pictorial display of an artificial horizon. Peterson however, had learned to fly in aircraft carrying a more conventional type of artificial horizon that differed greatly in use from the Sperry Gyro in the Bonanza. Peterson also was certificated to fly during clear weather only, when he can clearly see the horizon without obstruction by cloudy or other inclement weather because he was not trained to read the plane’s instrument panel during conditions of zero visibility. Zero visibilty can confuse the untrained pilot as to which way is up or down because there is no visible horizon to use as reference. It can cause spatial disorientation which can lead to vertigo. Once the pilot attempts to correct the craft, trying to judge the horizon for themselves, the craft can stall and go into a tailspin. John Kennedy Jr. died similarly in 1998. He was also certified to only fly in clear weather.

Peterson radioed ATCS again to inquire about the current weather as he was taxiing the plane onto the end of Runway 17 for take-off. He was informed that the ceiling had lowered to 3000 feet and visibilty had gone from ten to six miles. At no time however, was he ever informed of two important flash warnings that had come up when he was at the ATCS office an hour before. The responsibility of the ATCS communicators is to give pilot all available weather information once they receive it themselves, but not to advise. Despite Pilot Peterson’s careful persistence in his need to be informed of weather conditions, none of the communicators recalled having given Peterson this important information. Dwyer, who had accompanied Peterson confirmed that they were never given information indicating instrument flying weather would be encountered en route. The first flash warning Peterson was not aware of was reporting an enormous weather system with a 100 mile wide band of snow rapidly entering Minnesota and South Dakota, limiting visibilty to below two miles. The second unread warning indicated ceilings below 1000 feet over the eastern half of Kansas. Not having received this vital information led Pilot Peterson to underestimate the adverse weather conditions and made the decision to proceed with the flight.

The plane took off at 12:55AM. It made a 180 degree turn to the left and rose to 800 feet, heading in a northwesterly direction. Five minutes later and five miles away from the airport. Hubert Dwyer, owner of the the plane Peterson was flying, witnessed the taillights of the plane begin to descend and then disappear. Pilot Peterson had not radioed his flight plan as he had said he would and there was no response when Dwyer attempted to radio the plane. He decided to board his Cessna once the day dawned and weather improved to search the area where he saw the plane descend.

Peterson had piloted the Beech Bonanza into an area of complete darkness due to an absence of ground lights over the long swath of empty land under them and with no visible horizon. The following scenario was pieced together by members of the Civil Aeronautics Board who investigated the accident. High wind gusts and sudden snow must have taken Peterson by surprise as the small plane was getting buffeted back and forth. The instrument indicators fluctuate wildly due to turbulence, making it impossible to maintain control of the plane by trying to make sense of them, so Peterson attempted to read the Sperry Attitude Gyro and due to his unfamiliarity with it, caused the plane to fly in the opposite direction he intended. His spatial disorientation contributed in causing him to descend when he thought he was flying the plane upwards.

An examination of the wreckage allowed authorities to come to the following conclusion: Peterson was flying at a high rate of speed when he went into a steep turn with the nose of the craft in a low attitude. Moments later, the right wing tip of the craft clipped the ground, causing the plane to tumble and demolish. All three passengers were hurled from the plane. Holly, Richardson, Valens and Peterson, who was trapped inside the cockpit, were all killed instantly. All three passengers suffered similar trauma that caused their death. They all suffered multiple fractures in their limbs and gross trauma to the brain. According to Ritchie Valens’ death certificate, his head became “badly crushed and deformed” due to the crash. Jiles P. Richardson’s certificate described the Big Bopper’s head “badly mangled and misshapen”. Buddy Holly ‘s death certificate was equally graphic in its description of his violent death.

“The skull was split medially in the forehead and this extended into the vertex region. Approximately half the brain tissue was absent. There was bleeding from both ears, and the face showed multiple lacerations. The consistency of the chest was soft due to extensive crushing injury to the bony structure. The left forearm was fractured 1/3 the way up from the wrist and the right elbow was fractured. Both thighs and legs showed multiple factures. There was a small laceration of the scrotum.” – Buddy Holly’s death certificate

Dwyer discovered the wreckage of the Bonanza after he took his Cessna 180 out once the sun rose on February 3rd, 1959. He spotted the demolished aircraft six miles northwest of the originating airport in a cornfield. He immediately contacted authorities. Deputy Bill McGill was dispatched to the site.

“Parts were scattered over a distance of 540 feet, at the end of which the main wreckage was found lying against a barbed wire fence. The three passengers were thrown clear of the wreckage, the pilot was found in the cockpit. The two front seat safety belts and the middle ones of the rear seat were torn free from their attach points.” -The Civil Aeronautics Board’s accident report of the event.

Carroll Anderson was informed of what had happened and immediately went to the scene where he identified the bodies. Ritchie Valens was still in his dark overcoat and suit, Richardson was wearing the same red checked flannel shirt and light blue cotton pants that Anderson had last seen him in. Buddy Holly was still wearing his yellow jacket but it was torn completely up the back seam. Their bodies were mangled and buried in the snow, where they had been there for eight hours.

February 3, 1959 is memorialized as “The Day The Music Died” due to a song called “American Pie”, written by Don McLean and released in late 1971. The song is an eight minute depiction of the history of rock ‘n’ roll from the day Buddy, J.P. and Ritchie died to then present day. The song will forever be identified with the first rock ‘n’ roll casualty.

Many more tragedies will follow over the years, but this first initial, tragic loss was a shock to the happy, innocent life of the insulated American teenager of the 1950s. They were growing up during a time when the draft was not yet reality. America was not at war, so death was a distant, alien concept to a high school teen. But the infamous plane crash reminded them all in a clear way of mortality. Not just of their heroes’ but of their own as well. The events of February 3rd, 1959 was a chilling precursor to the assassinations and war casualties to come once the Sixties dawned. But in the still fairly innocent days of 1959, teenagers in America mourned not just for their heroes, but unwittingly for the end of rock ‘n’ roll. No other artists in early 1959 came close to the promise that was Buddy Holly. He was pointing the future and when he died, it felt like rock ‘n’ roll itself had gone with him.
Meanwhile, a rock ‘n’ roll resurgence was in its infancy and simmering across the pond. At that time of great loss, nobody yet considered the influence Holly’s music would have on the young adolescents who would come of age during the Sixties and cement rock ‘n roll as a permanent and lasting fixture of American culture.

 

DION & THE BELMONTS

Some controversy surrounds Dion DiMucci’s explanation of the events of February 2nd, 1959 in that he suggests in his autobiography that he tossed a coin for one of the seats in the doomed plane. There is a consensus however, that Dion was indeed offered a seat but declined it because he felt that the $36 cost of the ticket (equivalent to $291 in 2014 dollars) was a little too much, comparing it to the fact that the amount was the same his parents paid in rent for their apartment when Dion was a child.

Dion and his Belmonts wound up in the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour because of their recent spate of hit singles. Originally from the Bronx, Dion recruited his old pals from the neighborhood, Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano and Angelo D’Aleo. They used to gather together on Crotona Avenue and 187th Street to sing the nights away. Inevitably, they decided to formally become a group and named themselves after a local thoroughfare, Belmont Avenue. Once they put together a set of songs they felt good about, Dion & The Belmonts would then spend their time rehearsing them under the Sixth Avenue subway D station before they finally took the train into Manhattan to pitch their music to the recording studios there.

“We`d grab a couple of seats and start banging out time on the floor. Trains had the greatest bass sound in the world. So did the back seats of Checker cabs, underneath the El, or on the roof of a building, next to the pigeon coops.” -Dion DiMucci

Their first single. “I Wonder Why”, made it up to Number 22 on the U.S. charts. Soon, they were being asked by Dick Clark to appear on his “American Bandstand”. Their act consisted of snapping their fingers to the time of the music and literally were the first to introduce the finger snap to rock ‘n’ roll choreography.

I WONDER WHY – DION & THE BELMONTS

“I Wonder Why” is hardcore doo-wop. Released in early 1958, it represented the direction rock ‘n’ roll was veering towards after being left rudderless by Elvis’ drafting into the Army. The song is essentially a montage of vocal doo-wop phrasings invented by the group among themselves.

“I’d give ’em sounds. I’d give ’em parts and stuff. That’s what ‘I Wonder Why’ was about. We kind of invented this percussive rhythmic sound. If you listen to that song, everybody was doing something different. There’s four guys, one guy was doing bass, I was singing lead, one guy’s going ‘ooh wah ooh’, and another guy’s doing tenor. It was totally amazing. When I listen to it today, often times I think, ‘Man, those kids are talented.” – Dion DiMucci

After the release of two more singles that made it into the Top Forty that same year, the mediocre “No One Knows” and the maudlin “Don’t Pity Me”, they were offered the Winter Dance Party Tour in February. The tragedy of his co-stars did not stop the tour. The Crickets went on through the tour with Waylon Jennings taking over Holly’s vocals. Additional acts were added to fill the vacuum, including Bobby Vee, an up and coming teen idol who would enjoy a handful of Top Ten hits in the early years of the Sixties. According to Dion, Bob Dylan was the then-unknown keyboard player.

“Vee’s keyboard player was a young kid named Zimmerman from Hibbing, just across the state line in Minnesota.” –Dion DiMucci

This is very plausible because Dylan was from that region of the United States and had actually seen Buddy Holly play as a teen. Dylan recalled the moment during his 1998 acceptance speech at the Grammys for winning the Album of the Year trophy for “Time Out Of Mind”.

“When I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play in the Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him, and he looked at me… and uh, I just have some kind of feeling that he was uh, I don’t know how or why but he was with us all the time when we were making this record in some kind of way.” –Bob Dylan

A TEENAGER IN LOVE – DION & THE BELMONTS

Despite the catastrophic events that made the Winter Dance Tour Party of 1959 a macabre memory in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll, the tour actually proved beneficial to Dion & The Belmonts. Right after the tour and one month after the deaths of Holly and his co-stars, Dion & The Belmonts landed their first Top Ten hit with “A Teenager In Love”.

It was back to thinking about the really important things in the life of a teenager with the release of this song and a good way to forget about the tragedy of that cold February day.

“If you want to make me cry, that won’t be so hard to do. If you should say goodbye, I could go on loving you, each night I ask the stars up above, why must I be a teenager in love?” – A Teenager In Love – Dion & The Belmonts

“A Teenager In Love” is written by Doc Pomus, the rock ‘n’ roll songwriter who got his start when he sent Lieber & Stoller his composition and they turned it into a hit for the Coasters called “Youngblood”. “ATIL” is a doo-wop song filled with teenage angst, accompanied by a great melody and sung sweetly by Dion DiMucci. It rose to Number Five on the Billboard Pop chart in May of 1959 and placed Dion & The Belmonts inside the teenage radar, quickly making the doo-wop group the next new heartthrobs. They were reaching the heights they had been hoping for, but events had already taken place that would lead to their ultimate break-up.

Dion DiMucci had gotten himself hooked on heroin at 14 years of age. Living on the streets of the Bronx much of the time as a teenager, he made it a habit to hang out on the corner and work on his swagger. Soon, he joined a tough gang, the Fordham Baldies.

“They weren’t too impressed by my singing. If you could wipe the street with five guys, that impressed them.” –Dion DiMucci on the Fordham Baldies

His introduction into hard drugs began with alcohol, mostly wine spritzers and a syrupy gin and Bosco mixture. By 13 he was smoking marijuana. The following year he jumped from weed to snorting heroin, then skin-popping and finally mainlining. “Instant courage”, he called it. At the rate he was going, it’s no surprise that he almost died of an overdose at age 16.

“We were on a roof, shooting up, and I OD’d. Everybody else split but this one junkie, who carried me down and took me to some girl’s house, where they filled my drawers with ice cubes—to wake me up. Then they shot me up with salt to counteract the heroin, and he walked me around the park for a couple of hours. I don’t know why. With junkies, one guy passes out, it’s ‘Let’s get outta here before we get caught.’ But this guy, who I stay in touch with, saved my life.” – Dion DiMucci

His rise to fame only exacerbated his addiction and soon, just as they were finding success in the Top Ten, Dion was at odds with the members of the Belmonts.

WHERE OR WHEN – DION & THE BELMONTS

Dion’s no-shows and not being able to function at times caused a strain on the group. By the time their follow up single to “ATIL” was released, he was in the hospital detoxifying.

Released in late 1959, “Where Or When” was a remake of an old 1937 composition written by Rodgers and Hart for the musical “Babes In Arms”. Despite it really being just another mundane tune, it reached Number Three in the Billboard Pop chart in January of 1960 and is the group’s biggest charted hit, albeit not a very memorable one. By then however, Dion had made up his mind to split up with the Belmonts.

This wasn’t so much due to his heroin addiction as it was to the fact that he was tired of singing doo-wop. Dion wanted to pursue a more rock ‘n’ roll sound, but the Belmonts wanted to remain a doo-wop group.

“They wanted to get into their harmony thing, and I wanted to rock and roll. The label wanted me doing standards. I got bored with it quickly. I said, I can’t do this. I gotta play my guitar. So we split up…” Dion DiMucci

By October of 1960, Dion broke from his old neighborhood group and embarked on an unsure solo career, still beset by the monkey on his back. But the early Sixties would prove fruitful for Dion DiMucci, releasing a few rock ‘n’ roll classics in 1961, “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”.


He made a comeback again in 1968 with “Abraham, Martin and John”, a song mourning the recent assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

By the Seventies, Dion DiMucci was finally able to kick his drug habit. As of the writing of this in January 2015, Dion is alive and well, having released his last album in 2012 called “Tank Full Of Blues”. He also pursues prison ministry and reaches out to men who are recovering from addiction. He is 75 years old.

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