On this date in 1959, a small plane went down near Clearlake, Iowa, killing all four people on board. Among the dead were singers Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and pilot, Roger Peterson. What if it never happened? What if the plane was never chartered and never crashed. Here are five possible outcomes.
Buddy Holly went on to enjoy success throughout the remaining year and up until about 1964 when the British invasion hit America. At this time, he went into semi-retirement as a performer and into the studio. During the 1960s he would have become a producer, possibly working with some of the greatest groups of the decade. In the late 1970s, with the re-emergence of oldies, I think he would have had some success, yet would never bring back his hey-day of the late 1950s. He would go on to be recognized as one of the Father’s of Rock-n-Roll and an inspiration to countless musicians. Of the musicians that died that morning, Holly would have been the most recognized.
J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson
Possibly the least known on the Winter Dance Party, “The Big Bopper” had some success with his hit, Chantilly Lace. However, most people don’t remember that he was an accomplished song writer in his own right. He had penned the song, Running Bear for Johnny Preston and White Lightning for George Jones, which later went on to be Jones’ first #1 hit. After the success of Chantilly Lace, Richardson would have went on to have minimal success as a singer, but would have been a successful country songwriter, ending up in Nashville. His story-like songs and ballads would have led to his success throughout the next two decades.
Despite being born in the United States, Valens was known for his Hispanic origins and songs like La Bamba. He was also known for songs like Donna and C’mon Let’s Go. If Valens would have survived, his success, like others from this time period would have continued through the early 1960s and then would have faded as the British Invasion happened. However, I think Valens would have been an inspiration to other Hispanic stars that he would have helped break into the business. By the late 1960s, other Latin American and Hispanic groups would have made a greater impact on American music -much earlier – in the history of rock n’ roll.
Peterson was 21 years old when he was hired to fly the musicians to from Clearlake, Iowa to their next location in Fargo, North Dakota. Peterson was not rated for flying at nighttime in a commercial capacity and it was concluded that pilot error caused the crash. Had Peterson not taken the charter, he would have continued to be a pilot. He was married and would have probably gone on to have a family. Roger Peterson probably would have went down in history as a faceless member of society, unconnected with his rock n’ roll legacy.
This New York-born singer-songwriter is best known for his song, American Pie, which is partially based upon the death of the passengers of Peterson’s flight. The remaining part of the song is semi-autobiographical and still would have been written by McLean. While some of the success may have come from the tie-in with the deaths of the musicians, it is most likely this song would still have been written and become his greatest hit – though not to the degree it was to become. None of his other albums garnered him the success that American Pie gave him and it is likely that without his anchor to this tragedy, McLean would have been a star.