As we approach the 50 year anniversary of The Day the Music Died, I have been thinking about the connection between Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly. As most music fans know, The Day the Music Died refers to the early morning hours of February 3, 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash after the show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Clear Lake was a stop on what was called the Winter Dance Party, which was a 24 day tour of the Midwest headlined by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion and the Belmonts. Holly, who was tired of riding the bus and anxious to get to the next stop to do some laundry, chartered a single engine plane which crashed in a corn field shortly after take off.
In an stroke of good fortune for him, Waylan Jennings, who was playing bass in Holly's band, gave his seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper. Waylon lived to have a very successful country music career. He later immortalized himself by writing the lyric: "Waylon, Willie and the boys" in the song Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).
As reported in several Dylan biographies, a young Bob Dylan saw Holly at the Deluth Armory two nights before the show in Clear Lake. It has been written that Dylan was not only inspired by the show, but actually thought that Holly made eye contact with him.
In another coincidence, Bobby Vee, who was a 15 year old singer from Fargo at the time, filled in the next night in Moorehead, Minnesota for the fallen headliners. Dylan using the pseudonym, Elston Gunn, may have played piano that night. Vee was well received and went on to a successful career. He even topped the charts in 1961 with Take Good Care of my Baby. Dylan did not stay with the band because they couldn't afford a piano for him to play.
Many people might think of Bob as a pure folk singer in the early 60's, but he had history and aspirations as a rock and roller as well. In Hibbing, Dylan formed several rock and roll bands before he came to New York in January of 1961. He began his career as a Jerry Lee Lewis like piano basher in a band called The Chords.
Even after arriving in New York and adopting his Woody Guthrie persona Dylan had not lost his taste for rock and roll. His first single was Mixed Up Confusion which had more to do with Buddy Holly than Woody G.
I have always loved the music of Buddy Holly. When I moved into a condo in Philadelphia in 1979, the movie The Buddy Holly Story had just made it to HBO. Cable television was pretty new in those days and there wasn't much selection. I think I watched Gary Busey playing Buddy every night for about 6 months. It was especially good entertainment after a few quick pops with CP at the Happy Rooster.