February 3: The Day The Music Died

Buddy HollyFor many, February 3, 1959 marked the end of the early rock and roll era when a plane crash claimed the lives of Buddy Holly (right), Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

The three rockers were engaged in a ‘”Winter Dance Party” tour of 24 Midwestern cities over three weeks. Unfortunately, as it was the Midwest in midwinter, the weather conditions were affecting the performers’ health and mood. The primitive tour buses were not equipped to deal with the elements. In fact, Holly’s drummer had come down with frostbite and had been temporarily hospitalized.

So, for the trip from Clear Lake, Iowa to Moorhead, Minnesota, Holly chartered a private plane. Contrary to popular belief, the flight was not intended as a headliners only flight. Waylon Jennings, a member of Holly’s band at the time, was originally going to fly on the plane, but gave his seat up to Richardson, as Richardson had come down with the flu. As for Valens, he won a coin flip against Holly’s guitarist, Tommy Allsup, for a seat on the plane. Allegedly, when Holly learned that Jennings would be riding the tour bus rather than take the plane, he jokingly said “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up,” to which Jennings replied “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

The plane crash was seen by many at the time as rock and roll’s “loss of innocence,” as the deaths of the established star Holly and the two up and coming artists were the first major rock fatalities. Additionally, this was the latest of several events that led to the decline of rock and roll in the late 50s and early 60s: In 1957, Little Richard retired and became a preacher. In ’58, Elvis Presley had left to join the Army and Jerry Lee Lewis had brought scandal upon his career by marrying his 13 year old cousin. Later in ’59, rock pioneer Chuck Berry was arrested and Alan Freed, one of the first DJs to promote rock and roll, was found guilty on payola charges. However, rock and roll survived thanks to the rise of girl groups and soul singers, and eventually a wave of British acts picked up the rock torch, led by The Beatles who in fact intended their name to be a tribute to Holly’s band, The Crickets.

In his 1971 song “American Pie”, a song that told an allegorical version of the major moments in rock history that happened after the 1959 crash, Don McLean referred to the the death of Holly, Valens and Richardson as “The Day The Music Died,” a name that has stuck with the event. So, to mark this anniversary, it’s only fitting that we drink an American Pie. It’s a tangy cocktail that contains apple and berry notes, just like a good pie.

American Pie

  • 1 1/2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce Apple Schnapps
  • 1/2 ounce Crème de Myrtille
  • 3/4 ounces cranberry juice
  • 1/2 ounce apple juice
  • 1/4 ounce lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an apple wedge.

Tomorrow: The birth of a liquor company.

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