Monday, February 2, 2009

A Drink to the Big Bopper

Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddly Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson. Enough has already been written about the crash to fill several libraries, especially in regards to the death of Holly. (And, God help me if I hear "American Pie" again.) Biopics have been made on Holly and Valens. Much has been made about what would have happened if Holly and Valens had lived longer. But, the Big Bopper has not received nearly as much play out of his early demise and that's too bad because his future contributions to American music may have been as a songwriter instead of a performer.

Shortly after the Big Bopper's death, George Jones took the Bopper's "White Lightnin'" to number one on the country charts. In the early 70's, Jerry Lee Lewis did the same with a cover of the Bopper's biggest hit, "Chantilly Lace". Legend has it, Jones was so wasted at the "White Lightnin'" session, it took him 80 takes to get a suitable recording and I can't imagine Jerry Lee was in much better shape when he recorded "Chantilly Lace".

As with many musical performers who have become "legends" after their premature deaths, there is a Big Bopper tribute act (aka impersonator) out there. It's his son, who performs as the Big Bopper, Jr. Supposedly, he tours with a Buddy Holly impersonator and they often play the same venues the Bopper, Holly and Valens did on that ill fated Winter Dance Party tour in 1959. There is no word if Lou Diamond Phillips' career has sunk low that he joins them in the role of Ritchie Valens.

And, as if having an impersonator son isn't indignity enough, the Bopper's son had the Bopper's body exhumed in 2007 and an autopsy performed to determine if the Big Bopper had orginally survived the impact of the 1959 plane crash and to determine if the Bopper had been shot. For some reason the Bopper's son believed foul play had been involved. No such evidence was found. The Bopper's son told the AP after viewing the autopsy "Dad still amazes me 48 years after his death...he was in remarkable shape".

So, if you're riding in your car today and you hear "American Pie" on the radio, stop and have a drink. You'll probably need it. And, if you have that drink or one for any other reason, toast the Big Bopper, he deserves it.

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