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

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

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.

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  1. alicia pilotta
    July 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I think its wonderful Jay is carrying on The Big Boppers legend!!!!

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