Today marks the anniversary of one of the saddest days in music history. On February 3rd, 1959 the plane carrying Buddy Holly, "The Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens crashed in a cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa, taking their lives and the life of Roger Peterson, the pilot. The three musicians were travelling and performing on "The Winter Dance Party" tour and frustrations with faulty buses, freezing cold weather and exhaustion caused Buddy Holly to charter a plane to get to the next tour stop more quickly. Originally the small plane was only supposed to carry Buddy Holly and his two bandmates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. In a strange twist of events, Ritchie Valens won the seat from Allsup over a coin flip and Jennings gave his seat to Richardson, who was suffering from the flu. The story is told that when Holly found out Jennings had given up his seat he jokingly told him, "I hope your old bus freezes up." To which Jennings joked back, "well I hope you're old plane crashes." The horrible weather made air travel conditions unfavorable and the inexperienced pilot wasn't familiar with having to fly using only the instrument panel. The accident report estimated that the plane was going over 170 miles per hour when it hit the ground and all four occupants died on impact. Not only did all three musical heavyweights leave behind a plethora of great music, but Valens was only 17 years old, Holly left behind a brand new pregnant wife he'd married just a few months prior and Richardson left behind a wife and young daughter.
In 1971, singer/songwriter Don McLean beautifully eulogized the three in his poetic song "American Pie" from the album of the same name. The lyrics include references to the three musicians, as well as many other songs and bands, and they have been dissected and analyzed many times over. However, McLean has famously never offered his own interpretation of the lyrics, letting the listener form their own opinion and leaving the mysteries intact."American Pie" - Don McLean (American Pie)