I remembered but I forgot to mention it. Which is the same as forgetting in most eyes.
Forty nine years ago on February 3 Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP “Jape” The Big Bopper” Richardson died.
They like to call it the day the music died.
There’s been plenty written about Buddy Holly. He was a total teen genius. Cool enough to write the songs, self effacing enough to ask Gene Vincent for Gene’s autograph, tough enough to play his guitar louder than anyone before him, self confident enough to walk out of a Nashville recording session because the punk kid from Texas knew the way he wanted his music to sound.
Holly has had Oscar nominated movies made about him. His songs are still covered by the oddest collection of bands imaginable. There’s a mediocre play in London featuring a Buddy Holly imitator that’s been running for 14 years. (The songs in it definitely are not rocking or rolling).
The coolest story I ever heard about him was during a magazine interview I did with Mamie Van Doren. She bought him up because Holly was going to be in “Girl’s Town” with her and Eddie Cochran! (Cochran was in the final movie, very cool.) Both stars were at Van Doren’s house practicing and trying out new tunes, playing on her piano . . . I think everybody knows about Buddy Holly.
People all know about Ritchie Valens too. The movie, La Bamba, still gets rented, still gets shown on TV and still barely gives a glimpse into the 19 year old hispanic kid who tore apart the nation. Listen to Valen’s “Live at Pacoima High School” or to his acoustic basement demo of “Come On Lets Go” to understand the passion, the fun and the teen genius that was roiling in the nation. Maybe he was as troubled as they made him looked but his music was all about the love and the fun.
Yet nobody talks about the Big Bopper. Which is a shame.
When they show him in any of the movies he is always represented by some dull looking fat guy. If he gets to do anything its to play some light comic relief. The Bopper was more than that.
He was at least the guy who bought pure sexual lust into the Top Ten.
He came out of East Texas, a town close to Louisiana, Beaumont.
I had a friend, an actor-songwriter-guitarist, who came out of Beaumont. It was Jape Richardson who turned him onto the entertainment world, who made him see that the world never could end at the horizon. My friend and I had breakfast two or three times a week. Whenever the conversation would lull – meaning when we weren’t discussing our plans to take over Hollywood, he’d tell me about Boudan Sausage and working for JP Richardson at the little Rock & Roll radio station in East Texas.
None of the stories were spectacular. I guess, being a 12 year old gopher and watching Richardson set a world record by broadcasting straight for over 5 days, playing nothing but Rock & roll, counts as something beyond cool and certainly a memorable picture.
While none of the stories were spectacular they all painted a picture of a wild man held in check by responsibilities. Richardson had a wife and daughter. Richardson was cool and only needed a tiny bit of prodding, usually from himself, to go out on a tight wire. He wanted kicks. He got them. And during a time when the radio was the only window to a teenaged world of sunshine, surfing, hot rods, unrequited love and cheap sex The Big Bopper pointed the way.
He wrote Country Music Legend George Jones first number one record, “White Lightening”. (Mighty mighty pleasing my pappy’s corn squeezings). And followed that up with the Number 1 hit for Johnny Preston, “Running Bear”. It sounded like a kid’s song but it was cool and driven by The Bopper himself providing the Indian style doo wop background vocal.
He wrote a lot of very cool tunes even a totally whacked out of the stratosphere Christmas tune that is indispensable to my enjoying the season.
Of course the big one was “Chantilly Lace”. The Bopper talking on the phone with the next object of his cool lust, “Oh baby you know what I like!” was more than a catch phrase, it was a way of life. So totally cool that JAYNE MANSFIELD recorded an answer record, pretending to be the girl on the other end of the line. (“That Makes It” I don’t have a copy of it, which is also a shame.)
He did a “sequel” to “Chantilly Lace” (and lets face it, what lace would he be talking about when talking about a girl with pony tail hanging down, who giggled when she talks and wiggles when she walks, oh baby you know what I like! The lace at her throat? Only if the Bopper was into corsets.). It went beyond anything that had been recorded and hit the top 40. “The Big Bopper’s Wedding” tore away all convention and said out loud what every teen age boy knew in his heart.
And then “The Big Bopper” died.
He gets treated like an after thought, a foot note to history. I think he was a lot more than that. I think a part of him would care but for the most part he’d just want to keep on drinking and keep on winking at the pretty girls as they walked by.
I like that.
I don’t think I could convince anyone to feel the same way.
I like that too.
Our neighbor is moving in 10 days.
I regret that in my life I have never lost a good neighbor and gotten a better one in their place.
I’ve lost bad neighbors and gotten worse . . . Maybe it just means I’m due.
Money is still a problem. Isn’t it always?