February 3, 1959 — They were so young. Buddy Holly was 22, the Big Bopper was 28, and Ritchie Valens was only 17. And the pilot, Roger Peterson, whose name has been forgotten, was 21.
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED
Buddy Holly and his new band — Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch — were on a “Winter Dance Party” tour across the Midwest. Up-and-coming artists Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) and Dion (DiMucci) and the Belmonts also joined the tour.
The musicians traveled by bus, which turned out to be five different buses because they kept breaking down and had to be replaced. The buses were not equipped for the weather, which consisted of temperatures as low as minus 36 degrees F (minus 38 degrees C) and waist-deep snow in several areas.
Because of the bitter cold, some of the musicians got the flu. Carl Bunch was even hospitalized with frostbite.
FATEFUL COIN TOSS
After the group had performed at Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly decided to charter a light plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.
The plane had room for only three passengers and since the Big Bopper had the flu and wanted to get there as quickly as possible he took Waylon Jennings’ seat on the plane and Waylon stayed on the bus.
In another twist of fate, Richie Valens and Tommy Allsup tossed a coin for the remaining seat. Valens won the coin toss, saying, “This is the first time I’ve ever won anything.”
The organization that booked the tour, General Artists Corporation, reportedly showed “a total disregard for the conditions” in which the musicians travelled.
They didn’t care. The tour from hell — that’s what they named it. —Buddy Holly historian Bill Grigg