Home > Uncategorized > The Day the Music Died, Part 5 of 5: What if the Plane Hadn’t Crashed?

The Day the Music Died, Part 5 of 5: What if the Plane Hadn’t Crashed?

By Richard Zowie

One of my favorite genres of fiction is alternate history. This genre has explored the great “What if” questions of history: What if the Texas soldiers had defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of the Alamo? What if the South hadn’t lost the Civil War? What if the Titanic hadn’t sunk? What if Germany had won World War II? What if John F. Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated?

And, of course, what if the plane carrying Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper hadn’t crashed?

Here’s my speculation:

Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper to perform at 2009 Winter Dance Party

By C.F. Twob

Associated Press

CLEAR LAKE, IOWA – All three of them have done extremely well for themselves in the music business, and on February 2, 2009 they returned to Clear Lake as special guests at the Winter Dance Party.

For 72-year-old Buddy Holly, 67-year-old Ritchie Valens and 78-year-old The Big Bopper, it was a return to the place filled with memories and to reflect on how their careers nearly came to a premature end.

After performing at the 50 years ago in 1959, their next performance was scheduled for the next day in Moorehead, Minn.-almost 370 miles away by bus. Initially, Holly had chartered a plane to get them to Fargo so they could get their early and do laundry while the Bopper, who had the flu, could visit a doctor.

The three actually boarded the plane and were on the runway when the pilot, Roger Peterson, stopped the plane and faced the three.

“The look on his face told me we were going to have to spend another cold night on the bus,” Holly recalled. “Roger told us that the weather conditions out there were getting worse and, in fact, were worse than he’d been led to believe.”

When Valens heard this, he asked Peterson if he’d have a problem flying at night with limited visibility. The pilot admitted he’d failed a test six months before of flying by the instruments. Furthermore, nighttime flying would require him to fly using the instruments.

That’s when the Bopper asked a question that likely saved the lives of everybody on board. A married man with a daughter along with a son to be born two months later, he asked Peterson: “Would you fly your family in this weather?”

When Peterson didn’t answer yes right away, and finally responded with “No,” that was all the three needed to hear. They left the plane and returned back to the frigid bus.

“Our decision wasn’t personal,” Valens recalled. “Roger seemed to be a good guy, but I had a family to take care of and couldn’t justify losing my life over a dangerous flight.”

The decision turned out to be the right one for the three. Holly would go on to sell more than 100 million copies of his rock and roll, country music and Gospel albums. Thirty of his 34 albums were certified platinum. Nearly 60 of the songs he’s written have gone gold or platinum as singles. He also went on to be a very successful record producer and even an occasional actor.

Coming from a music family, Holly also had a recording studio built near his home in Lubbock, Texas so that his family and friends could record sings there. He and his wife, Maria Elena, have three children and seven grandchildren.

Valens, likewise, had a very successful career with dozens of number-one hits and 20 albums that would be certified platinum. He also would become a successful songwriter and a record producer who paved the way for Hispanics to get into rock-and-roll. Even today, Valens has a very strong following in Latin America and in Spain. He has worked extensively with Holly, Freddie Fender, Johnny Rodriguez, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos and is even now working on some new material with Los Lonely Boys.

“It really is humbling to meet with Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys and Carlos Santana and for them to tell me how much of an influence I’ve been on them,” Valens said. “It produces a joy that’s indescribable.”

These days, Valens spends a lot of time with his family, which includes his wife and four kids along with his brothers Bob and Mario and his sisters Connie and Irma.

As for the Bopper, he returned home to Texas to open a recording studio and record a few more songs he’d written. Before long, he found his songwriting in such strong demand that he ended up buying a second home-this one in Nashville. More than 85 songs written by him have become number-one hits with a staggering list of artists who’ve performed them. Among them: George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, Roy Clark, Hank Williams Junior, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks and George Strait. Besides songwriting, the Bopper also started recording and later producing music videos in the mid-sixties.

“It’s been a great career,” he said. “I really hated having the flu and getting back on that cold bus, but I figure it’s better to get there later than not at all.”

The Bopper also jokes that the cold bus ride is the reason he lives primarily in Texas and only lives in Nashville during the warm summer months. “After that bus ride and those temperatures, anything colder than 40 is too cold for me,” he chuckled.

When not producing or writing new songs or fishing, the Bopper likes to spend time with his wife, three children and 10 grandchildren.

Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville and works as a writer in Michigan. He can be reached at richardzowie@gmail.com. His blog is at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com.

  1. January 29, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Love your blog.
    It is so hard to find great info like this. I have always been a big Buddy Holly fan. If you got time, be sure to check out my music production blog http://www.producertoday.com

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