Day The Music Died: The Last Tour Of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, And Richie Valens
Book by Larry Lehmer
Review by Ronnie

This book chronicles the events leading up to the plane crash at 1am on February 3, 1959 - when rock and roll experienced its first real tragedy, losing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the "Big Bopper". The book explains what brought together these three rock 'n rollers for a tour of the frozen Midwest and most importantly, the possible causes of the fatal crash.

The book has quite a bit of information including short biographies of all the stars, a 'diary' of the fateful tour, the investigation of the crash and a 'where are they now' of the people and places associated with the tour. The 'diary' section of the book chronicles each day of the 'Winter Dance Party' giving unique insight into the running of a rock 'n roll tour in the late '50s. There are recollections from the people that were on the tour, fans that were there as well as press coverage for the tour.

Although the 'diary' of the tour was interesting, the book's section on the cause of the crash was the most fascinating to me. Lehmer covers each of the purported causes, no matter how outrageous, answering each one with FACTS.

Here are a few of the theories that were addressed:

  • There was foul play in the plane. Since Buddy Holly had a gun on the flight, it was rumoured that he shot the pilot Peterson. However, no gunshot wounds were found on the pilot.
  • There was drug use on the plane and there was either a fight about flying to a major city to get more drugs or somebody 'freaked' out on the flight. This was supposedly evidenced by the large number of candy bars found at the crash site - urban myth that a drug user eats candy bars to tide him over until his next fix. However, when all the members of the tour were interviewed, nobody recollects ANY drug use. Also, if there the plane was diverting to another city, why didn't the direction of the plane alter from its original destination?
  • Buddy Holly was flying the plane. However, Peterson was the only one trapped in the wreckage.
Now that we have covered the rumors, here are the facts:
  • The plane could have been overloaded. J.P. Richardson's weight was listed as 190, when he was actually at least 210. Plus, you had heavy winter coats & carry-on luggage. These mathematical errors could have put the center of gravity for the plane beyond allowable limits, creating serious handling problems for the pilot.
  • The reports on the crash found that there was no evidence of mechanical malfunctions.
  • Possible pilot incompetence: In March of 1958, Peterson took his instrument rating flight test. Here is a quote from the report: "applicant was very susceptible to distractions & became upset & confused." Peterson also had a hearing deficiency in his right ear. Most importantly, the altitude gyro in the Beach Bonanza plane had a display exactly OPPOSITE of the gyro that Peterson was used to. With the changing weather conditions of snow and complete darkness, the pilot was required to rely solely on his instruments, including the attitude gyro. That means that he could have thought he was making a climbing turn when in fact he was making a descending one. The report states that Peterson was relying on instruments that he was not properly certified, since he did not have his instrument rating.
Like the Titanic disaster, there was probably not one single instance that led to the plane crash, but the culmination of little ones proved fatal for the flight.

All in all, THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED: THE LAST TOUR OF BUDDY HOLLY, THE BIG BOPPER AND RITCHIE VALENS is an entertaining and informative read not just for fans of these musicians, but a fascinating portrait of the early tours of rock 'n roll.

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