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President Obama and Iran

January 31, 2009 Leave a comment

During the presidential campaign of 2008, President Obama expressed a willingness to meet with Iran and hold talks with no preconditions. Now, while he still holds a willingness to talk, he hints of preconditions. Iran thinks his willingness to talk indicates a failure of American domination. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has even stated America should “apologize” to Iran for various actions before talks could become a reality.

This is a key moment for our president. If he still wants to talk to Iran, here’s a great precondition: Absolutely no talks with Iran until Iran recognizes Israel as an independent sovereign nation.

Currently, Iran does not and even rewards its athletes who will forfeit a chance at Olympic gold rather than compete against an Israeli.

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Network, the movie

January 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I watched it the other night. Funny to think of how this movie came out in 1976–years before the exploitive talk shows like Geraldo, Jerry Springer, et al.

Faye Dunaway was spectacular in this film. She played a one-dimensional character whose live revolves (too much) around her job in news journalism, and she played it very well.

The movie came across to me as a dark comedy. I had to chuckle at how flippantly they decided to kill off a person, simply because the ratings were bad and that killing them would be the best thing for them.

Yes, this is the same movie with that line, “I’m as mad as h**l, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

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Michael Steele, new RNC chairman

January 30, 2009 Leave a comment

A week after President Obama became the first black president, the Republican party elected its first black chairman for its national committee.

Michael Steele is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

I’m sorry to admit it, but until today I’d never heard of him.

Surprising? Perhaps.

They say Steele is an attorney and a conservative, and was considered the most moderate of the other candidates.

Time will tell if this is a good choice.

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The Day the Music Died, Feb. 3, 1959 Part 1 of 5: 50 years later

January 27, 2009 1 comment

By Richard Zowie

“We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin. Three young singers who soared to the heights of show business on the current rock and roll craze were killed today in the crash of a light plane in an Iowa snow flurry. The singers were identified as Ritchie Valens, 17, Buddy Holly, 22, and J.P. Richardson, 28-known professionally as the Big Bopper. The aircraft chartered from the Dwyer Flying Service crashed near Mason City…The pilot, Roger Peterson of Clear Lake, Iowa, was also killed. The three singers had appeared at the Surf Ballroom at Clear Lake, Iowa last night and were on their way to Fargo, North Dakota. Their small chartered plane crashed in a lonely farm yard about 15 miles northwest of Mason City. Cause of the crash was due to inclement weather conditions.” – News broadcast from February 3, 1959.

I was born 14 years and three days after this tragedy took place and only know about it from second-hand accounts such as from a friend and professional musician, Robert Maxwell Case, but I can imagine that when this broadcast aired, there were few dry eyes among music fans. Here we had three entertainers whose careers had nowhere to go but up. Between Holly, Valens and Richardson, only the Lord knows how many more number-one songs would’ve been written and how many platinum albums would’ve been recorded.

Fifty years later, news of that infamous plane crash still reverberates like a ripple in a pond that never seems to die out. How long has it been? Let’s put it into perspective: On February 3, 1959, my Dad (a Holly fan) was 22, in the Army and engaged to my Mom, who was 19. Today, Dad’s 72 and Mom’s 69. They are retired, the grandparents of 10 and just over three months away from their 50th wedding anniversary.

It seems hard to believe that if the three singers were all still alive, Valens would be 67, Holly 72 and the Bopper 78. Meanwhile, Valens (real name: Richard Steven Valenzuela), Holly (Charles Hardin Holley) and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) remain youthful and frozen in time. When I look at the Bopper, for example, I wonder if he would’ve eventually traded in his trademark flattop for long sideburns. Would Holly have grown a beard like his friend, Waylon Jennings? I almost imagine Valens donning a cowboy hat and growing a bushy mustache like another famous Hispanic musician, the late Freddy Fender.

While working at AM 630 KSLR in San Antonio, our computers contained the complete catalog of songs from our sister station, AM 930 KLUP (which, at the time, played oldies). One of those songs, of course, was the Bopper’s trademark song “Chantilly Lace”. I remember playing that song constantly, thinking of how, courtesy of the digital sound recording, Richardson sounds alive and well. It seemed hard to believe I was listening to a song that had been recorded five decades earlier.

It’s the same feeling I get whenever I listen to Valens sing “Donna”, “Come On Let’s Go” or “La Bamba”, or whenever I hear Holly sing “Peggy Sue”, “Summertime Blues” or “That’ll Be the Day”. How is it that such gifted singers, performers and songwriters left this world far too soon? It seems so unfathomable, so unfair. Sadly, though, it reminds me of that saying that’s becoming truer as I get older: life is what happens when you’re making plans.

On that bitterly cold wintry night, I don’t think death crossed any of their minds. All they were probably thinking was that a plane ride beat a 10-hour bus ride with no heat and constant mechanical problems. With their ages ranging from 17-28, who could be thinking of death? Isn’t that something still decades away?

Besides, they were too busy and too young. Holly, I understand, wanted to get to their next scheduled performance in Moorehead, Minn., sooner so he could get laundry done. Richardson wasn’t feeling well and needed to visit the doctor. (It must’ve been extremely cold weather for the two Texans and the Californian). And, of course, we know Valens was on that plane because he won a coin toss with Tommy Allsup.

That being said, in retrospect, flying on that night wasn’t the best idea. A friend of mine, Len Hobbs, a licensed pilot and flight instructor, tells me about the NTSB report on the crash.

“The plane was being operated in completely unforgiving weather, wind, ice and snow,” Len said. “No light twin airplane should have ever been caught in that weather. They should have never taken off. It was foolish beyond any explanation.”

Furthermore, Len added, one engine wasn’t running when the plane crashed, indicating the high probability of carburetor icing.

The report also mentions the pilot, 21-year-old Roger Arthur Peters, as talented at aviation as he was, wasn’t properly certificated or qualified to fly solely on the instruments-which he would’ve had to do given the weather conditions and limited visibility.

The plane went down, and with it went the dreams of the men’s families, friends, associates and countless fans.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. He can be reached at richardzowie@gmail.com.

The Day the Music Died, Feb. 3, 1959 Part 2 of 5: Buddy Holly

January 27, 2009 Leave a comment

buddyholly

By Richard Zowie

Fifty years is a long time, and over those years the surviving family members and friends of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper have, no doubt, had plenty of time to reflect on their lost loved ones. No doubt, they’ve answered questions from reporters on the first-year anniversary, 10-year, 25-year and, now, 50-year anniversary. Some thoughts are very fond, some very sad and others are bittersweet.

For this series of columns, I’ve had the privilege of talking on the phone with some family members of two of the three in the crash: Jay Perry Richardson (the Big Bopper’s son), who was born two months after his father died; Connie Lemos (Valens’ younger sister) and Bob Morales (Valens’ older brother). Their stories, along with the stories of others I’ve corresponded with, are truly amazing.

As much as I would’ve liked to, I was unable to interview Larry Holley, Buddy’s older brother. (Buddy’s real surname is spelled Holley and was misspelled “Holly” on a recording contract, resulting in the different spelling). Sherry Holley, Buddy’s niece and Mr. Holley’s daughter, told me her father preferred to speak through a book he’s written entitled The Buddy I Knew. For Mr. Holley, it is no doubt a very emotional experience talking about his younger brother.

On his website, http://www.larryholley.com, Mr. Holley has a poem about his brother titled “The Buddy I Knew”. It’s a poem of sorrow and joy, acutely obviously that Mr. Holley longs for the day when he can be reunited with his brother someday in heaven. My guess is that when the two meet again, one of the first things they’ll do is play some music together.

While it’s disappointing not to get to talk to Buddy’s brother, it’s completely understandable. I imagine Mr. Holley still feels, after all these years, that it’s easier to put his thoughts down on paper and in poetic form than it is to talk to yet another reporter.

One person I was able to talk to about Buddy was Jonathan Faber, a professional musician, founder and CEO of Indiana-based Luminary Group and, for more than a decade, the manager of licensing and intellectual properties for Maria Elena Holly, Buddy’s widow. Since Mr. Faber knows Ms. Holly and is very familiar with Buddy’s work, I wanted to find out from him his thoughts on Buddy’s music:

Richard Zowie: What impact do you feel Buddy Holly’s music has had on the music world?

Jonathan Faber: The impact Buddy Holly had on music is almost immeasurable. His sound, style, and look have been emulated to no end and he probably is the archetype of the singer-songwriter type that is so popular today. I always liked the fact that Buddy had his own niche and that he wrote his music when so many other artists just “performed” other people’s creations. With Buddy, you can almost get to know him through his music. His catalog is replete with songwriting gems, too. He was the polar-opposite of what one might call a one-hit wonder. His impact therefore was profound and we still today are hearing, seeing and feeling his influence.

RZ: What do you think would’ve happened to Buddy if he hadn’t died in that plane crash?

JF: Buddy in all likelihood would have continued his forward-looking, pioneering ways, and become a producer and created a record label to foster young artists. He of course would have continued writing music as well, and who knows how much music and art we will never hear as a result of his untimely passing. Let’s be glad for and celebrate what we do have, and that Buddy was so productive during his time here. His catalog of songs in the short time he had to write them in is more extensive and of higher quality than many other artists who had twice as long!

RZ: What do you feel are the biggest lessons that can be learned from Buddy’s untimely death?

JF: One lesson would be that it pays dividends to be prolific! But that kind of gift can’t be fabricated. One either has it or they don’t, and it is a rare gift indeed. Another lesson we can take from Buddy is to have your own style, be your own person, follow your own vision, and be true to yourself.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. He can be reached at richardzowie@gmail.com.

The Day the Music Died, Feb. 3, 1959 Part 3 of 5: The Big Bopper

January 27, 2009 1 comment

bigbopper

By Richard Zowie

Working at a KSLR and listening to “Chantilly Lace” on the sister station computer’s music database led me to a very amazing coincidence. One of my colleagues recalled meeting the The Big Bopper while he (the colleague) was an adolescent in the late fifties. This, of course, blew my socks off. Looking on the Bopper’s website, I saw that the Bopper was a songwriter, successful disk jockey who once spun records for five straight days and even in the last months of his life was working on a revolutionary musical concept.

I was particularly eager to talk with Jay Perry Richardson, The Big Bopper’s son. Jay is the only family member I was able to talk to since both his mother and older sister have, sadly, passed away.

Born two months after his father passed away, Jay says he’s been on a quest for the past few decades to educate himself about his famous father and pass that knowledge down to his own children. In 2007, he was able to see his father’s body in person when the coffin was exhumed to relocate his father to a different section of the cemetery where statues and monuments were allowed (his original section allowed only flat monuments).

When the grave was exhumed, Jay expected to see telltale signs of nearly a half-century of decay: nothing left of the body except for bone fragments and some soft tissue.

What he saw surprised him.

“[Dad] was totally preserved,” he recalled. “No moisture had gotten into the casket. His hair was standing straight up in a flattop, and his pants still had a crease in it. His tie was immaculate. It was like going to a viewing…One of most amazing times in my life.”

We know about The Big Bopper, the fun-loving, boisterous DJ whose song “Chantilly Lace” was one of the most popular sings of 1958, but what was J.P. Richardson Jr. like when he wasn’t performing? That’s a question Jay asked his family as he grew up.

“The Big Bopper was a crazy, zany character where Dad was a family man who wanted nothing more than to be home,” Jay said about his father. “He didn’t care for the road. When not performing, he wanted his privacy. When he was off stage, he was off stage.”

What’s sad about the Bopper’s death was that his participation in the Winter Dance Party seemed to be a means to an end. Jay said his father wanted to make enough money from performing to retire from the road, open a recording studio, produce young talent, stay home and write songs.

“Dad was waiting for my birth,” said Jay, his voice an unmistakable Texas drawl. “He’d love to sit in front of the television with my sister and watch Howdy Doody.”

Jay points out that while some think of his father as a one-hit wonder, the Bopper was, in fact, a very talented song writer. While this may seem to be a very subjective opinion, it’s also one shared by professional musicians. Robert Maxwell Case, my friend who’s also a classic country music singer, tells me that the Bopper’s song writing “showed great promise.” Maybe you’ve heard of George Jones’ country music hit “White Lightning” or Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear.” Both were written by the Bopper. Jerry Lee Lewis also recorded “Chantilly Lace.”

How successful has the Bopper’s songwriting been? Fifty years later, Jay still receives royalties from it. In fact, his father was involved in the music publishing business during a time when many musicians weren’t.

“Dad was smart enough 50 years ago when other acts had no clue they were getting screwed out of their royalties,” Jay said.

Besides this, it looks like his Dad was onto something else in the late fifties that many may not have been familiar with.

According to a story recounted to Jay by his Mom, his Dad returned home once in the early morning hours. Trying to pretend he’d just gotten up, he picked up a newspaper and pretended to read it. Mrs. Richardson, however, noticed he was reading the paper upside down and wanted to know what was going on.

No, he wasn’t trying to sneak back into the house after a night of partying. Instead, he’d been in a club after closing hours to film something new and virtually unheard of.

A music video.

Several accounts report that the Bopper actually recorded three music videos in 1958 on the same day: “Chantilly Lace,” “Big Bopper’s Wedding” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. Rockin’ 50s music magazine editor also has said that the Bopper even coined the term “music video” in a 1959 article.

Jay believes his Dad may indeed have even recorded the first music video; convinced that video was the wave of the future, he was even working on a jukebox that would play videos.

Growing up, Jay realized his father had passed away and started asking his mother about his Dad as he got older. He learned a great deal from his paternal grandparents. As he learned more about his Dad, the doors opened up for Jay to start performing. And, of course, The Big Bopper Junior sings “Chantilly Lace”. Performing has allowed him to meet many people that were fans of his father or who had met him.

“People would come up to me at the shows and people would show me pictures of them and my dad backstage,” he said. “That’s been a blessing in that sense.”

He has also performed at Winter Dance Parties and in 1990, even opened up a club called The Little Bopper where they’d feature oldies acts.

What would’ve happened if his Dad hadn’t died on February 3, 1959? Jay prefers not to spend too much time thinking about it, even though his kids have at times asked him. Overall, he thinks the Bopper would’ve focused on songwriting and would’ve given up performing.

“Dad would’ve written music and done a lot of fishing, kind of like pulling a Garth Brooks,” he said.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. He can be reached at richardzowie@gmail.com.

The Day the Music Died, Feb. 3, 1959 Part 4 of 5: Ritchie Valens

January 27, 2009 2 comments

ritchie_valens

 By Richard Zowie

I remember watching La Bamba, the movie about Ritchie Valens’ life, while a freshman at A.C. Jones High School in Mrs. Moreno’s Spanish I class. I knew already what would happen at the end, but still, I’ve never felt sadder while watching a movie as I did when Ritchie died and the song Sleepwalkers played. The sadness I felt for Valens was the sadness I’d feel about seven years later when Tejano star Selena died from a fatal gunshot wound. Another young, talented star who left us far too soon.

For Valens, I had the privilege of talking to his younger sister, Connie Lemos, and to his older brother, Bob Morales. Connie is nine years younger than her brother while Bob is four years older.

Connie (named after her mother) recalls how when Ritchie wasn’t out performing, he was at home helping to take care of his younger siblings. Bob, at the time, was older and wasn’t living at home anymore, and their mother didn’t have babysitter money.

“He was famous for only a short time and the rest of the time he was our brother,” she said. “At home he didn’t act like a celebrity. He hung out and practiced and we listened to him. He’d ask what we wanted to hear.”

Musicians tend to be different in their private lives than they are on stage, and Ritchie was no exception. Connie described him as very funny, and a big kidder, but who was shy around people he didn’t know and quiet around unfamiliar places.

“Once you got to know him he’d open up and his true personality shined through,” she said. “Most who knew him said he was very shy, humble and polite and didn’t forget where he came from. He always said, ‘Yes sir’, ‘No sir’ and ‘Thank you.'”

The younger kids did have to keep quiet, when Ritchie would record songs into his reel-to-reel machine.

And, of course, Ritchie’s mom also helped him promote himself and did many other things to help him get his music career started. Connie recalls this amusing anecdote of her mother: “Bob Keane (who discovered him) would have him sign promotional shots. When Ritchie would get tired, Mom would also sign some. We’d sell them for a nickel each.”

Fifty years later, Bob and Connie both remember that fateful day when they heard the news of their brother’s plane crash.

Bob was working on a 1950 Oldsmobile when a next-door neighbor told him what they’d heard on the radio and asked if his Mom was home. A man who finds it very difficult to talk about his brother without getting choked up, Bob described the scene, which mirrored the movie:

“It blew my mind,” he said. “I remember jumping in a car and going home to see Mom to see if it was true. My car died on the way there and I ran the rest of the way. Mom said we’d lost him. Even now, I can’t watch the movie all the way through.”

Connie was walking home when she and her sister were approached by a girl from school. The girl asked if she was Ritchie’s sister and then told her she’d heard on the radio that her brother was dead. Of course, abrupt news like that couldn’t possibly be true, but when Connie got home, what she saw told her it was.

“Back in those days, there were no laws that the first of kin had to be alerted before they could broadcast a death,” she recalled. “When I got home, Mom was inside surrounded by Ritchie’s friends. I saw a look on her face I’d never seen before and I knew it was true. Even as child you know the look of total hurt. From that moment on it was like she enveloped in a cloud. She wasn’t there, like she was in shock.”

Connie added: “At first you don’t believe it. It can’t be true. It must be someone else. He’s fine. But when he didn’t come home and you’re then in the middle of a funeral it becomes real…Ritchie was a father figure. He wasn’t just a brother, but also a caregiver. He was our guide.”

Movies tend to exaggerate for artistic differences, but both Connie and Bob are overall satisfied by the job La Bamba did in portraying their brother. Connie enjoyed both Lou Diamond Phillips’ and Esai Morales’ performances. Yes, Ritchie’s Mom did put up her rent money to rent out a place for her son to perform. Yes, Ritchie did indeed buy a house for his mother when he signed a recording contract.

Bob is also upfront about the movie and the way he was 50 years ago. In the movie, he’s played by Morales and depicted as a talented artist who struggles with alcohol and with being a responsible adult. The movie ends with Bob screaming Ritchie’s name at a bridge.

“They made me look good in the movie,” Bob said. “I have regrets but can’t go back and undo them. [Ritchie] inspired me to take a better path for myself. It made me what I am today.”

Even 50 years later, Bob’s view of Ritchie is very similar to Larry Holley’s view of his brother Buddy. “I’m proud of him and still miss him every day,” Bob said. “He knew what he wanted to do at 17…I don’t know why I was left behind.”

If he were alive today, Connie believes her brother would’ve settled into producing and recording. By the time of his death at 17, he’d recorded more than 30 songs-about two-thirds were ones he’d written. What’s more, Connie has spoken to Maria Elena Holly and learned of how close Ritchie and Buddy had grown together. Buddy apparently was so impressed with Ritchie that they discussed writing and producing music together when their Winter Dance Party tour was done.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ritchie, Buddy and the Bopper’s death, there were performances in Clear Lake, Iowa from January 28 to February 2, featuring musicians of various genres. Among the many artists scheduled to perform were The Big Bopper Junior, The Crickets, Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos. Connie said she’d spoken with Carlos Santana about the event also.

February 3, 1959 is commonly called “The Day the Music Died”, a name used by Don McLean to describe that fateful day in his song “American Pie”. While the three died and left behind careers that were just beginning, Connie said the music is very much alive.

“We watched a PBS documentary, and they talked about Ritchie and all the musical acts that came out of the Los Angeles area,” she said. “Fifty years later he still inspires musicians. Kids are still writing and recording about Ritchie, and they’re still picking up guitars because of Ritchie.”

And he’s no doubt an inspiration to his younger brother, Mario Ramirez, who performs lead vocals and harmonica for The Backyard Blues Band.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. He can be reached at richardzowie@gmail.com.