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Chapter 2: The Buddy Holly Curse?
"Every Day's a Holly Day"
The snow was snowing, the wind was blowing when the world said, "Good-bye, Buddy."
-- Mike Berry, "Tribute to Buddy Holly"
February 3, 1959, will forever be known as "The Day the Music Died." Shortly after 1:00 A.M. Eastern time, during what was considered to be a routine flight, three of the brightest stars in the rock and roll heavens came plunging back to the earth in a comet of fire and distorted, twisted metal. When the solemn news quickly spread across AM radio airwaves, the victims were identified as Buddy Holly, twenty-two; J. P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," twenty-eight; and Ritchie Valens, seventeen. These three young musicians were not the first to be sacrificed upon the altar of musical stardom, but such a cataclysmic loss of life at such an early age foreshadowed countless others who would follow in their tragic path.
Today, more than forty years since the crash, the events of that terrible night and the strange sequence of coincidences that have followed have become the very substance of urban legend. Many rumors, as well as conspiracy theories, have continued to swirl about the events that have now defined rock and roll's first great catastrophe, in some ways painting a mental image much like the squall that encased the downed Beechcraft Bonanza in a light shroud of freshly fallen snow as the splintered aircraft lay broken and embedded in the frozen earth just nine miles outside Clear Lake, Iowa.
Several documented accounts have stated that all three performers had some sort of premonition of the calamity that would befall them. The Big Bopper had served as a DJ for radio station KTRM in Beaumont, Texas, as he continued to develop his rock and roll career both as a songwriter and performer. As a DJ, the Bopper's zany radio antics included a sleepless Disc-A-Thon in 1957. The Disc-A-Thon was a popular gimmick that required the station DJ to stay awake and on the air for as many days as possible playing record after record until he collapsed from the terrible weariness. Curious onlookers would rush to the studio to watch the radio personality and silently wonder how long he could possibly last until he succumbed to exhaustion.
Jerry Boynton, who served as radio announcer for KTRM, remembered the Disc-A-Thon and a near-exhausted Richardson who had been awake for slightly more than three straight days. Richardson asked, "Jer, you think I'm going to die?" And Boynton replied, "J. P., I think you are. [Laughs]." During the course of the day several breaks were arranged to help refresh the DJ and keep him going just a little longer. Cold towels, hot coffee mixed with adrenaline, and an iron will kept the Big Bopper continuing his spectacular sleepless production. Finally, after setting a new record of 122 hours and eight minutes (just over five days) without sleep and constantly being on the air, the Big Bopper was carried out of the station by an ambulance. During the sleepless marathon he had begun to hallucinate. In one hallucination he told of foreseeing his own death, later reporting that "the other side wasn't that bad."
For Ritchie Valens, the very thought of flying was terrifying. Donna Fox, subject of Ritchie Valens's hit song "Donna," recalled, "He would have nightmares about that [flying]. He just had a horrible fear of small planes, and planes in general. He indicated that he would never fly. He just would never fly."
That horrible fear began on January 31, 1957. This day was the funeral of Ritchie's grandfather. Ritchie had missed school that day to attend the funeral service. Shortly after the family returned to the Valenzuela home, a deafening explosion shook the earth. When Ritchie and his older brother Bob Morales looked into the heavens, they saw a plane plummeting from the sky totally engulfed in flames.
Quickly, the family members jumped into a car and followed in the general direction of the now crimson sky. Almost like children searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Valenzuela family found the wreckage of the doomed aircraft. Ironically, the crash site was the playground of Ritchie's school, Paicoma Junior High School. The school ground resembled a battlefield, with pieces of contorted, burning metal intermixed with playground equipment. The scene created a ghastly paradox of childhood innocence and untimely death. Horribly, three students were killed and ninety others injured. One of the students killed was Ritchie's best friend. Every day Ritchie would sit on these same playgrounds playing his guitar while his fellow students would gather around him. He was convinced that if he had not attended his grandfather's funeral he would have been one of the victims lying on that pockmarked school ground. But malevolent fate had other plans; two years and three days later he would be at the scene of another plane crash, as one of three rock and roll stars lying sprawled upon the snow-covered grounds of Albert Juhl's farm just outside Clear Lake, Iowa.
When Ritchie's career took off like a shooting star he realized that he would have to overcome his fear and dread of flying. With the release of "Come On, Let's Go," "Donna," and "La Bamba," Ritchie Valens was very much in demand. He had a cameo role in the film Go, Johnny, Go! with fellow rocker Eddie Cochran and was asked to join Buddy Holly on the Winter Dance Party. Just before Valens was to catch his flight to join the tour he attended church services with a friend: "On his final night in Los Angeles, he'd gone to the Guardian Angels church on Laurel Canyon Boulevard with his friend Gail Smith and prayed for a safe journey. He was afraid of airplanes, he told Gail,...but he was getting used to them and might even take one at some point during the Winter Dance Party. Gail warned that it was snowy and storming in the North and asked, 'What'd you do if you crash?' 'I'll land on my guitar,' Ritchie said." Strangely, Ritchie Valens's mother was also said to have had a premonition concerning the death of her son on that fateful tour. She had refused to say anything to him because she didn't want to interfere in his career.
The center of the rock and roll universe was Buddy Holly. The other stars would orbit around his presence during the Winter Dance Party tour. Though Holly had the reputation based on his many past hits, the hottest star in this galaxy tour was Ritchie Valens, who was shooting straight up the charts with "Donna" and "La Bamba." Holly's last two compositions, "Heartbeat" and "It's So Easy," had failed to make a splash on the charts. He was determined to get back to the top as a solo artist since his split with the Crickets. In a deal worked out with his producer and cowriter Norman Petty, the Crickets -- Jerry "J. I." Allison and Joe B. Mauldin -- would retain the rights to the band's name and would continue to perform without Buddy. In another sense of irony, both Jerry and Joe had tried to contact Buddy the night of the plane crash in hopes of reuniting the band. Sadly, this was not to be.
For the Winter Dance Party tour, Holly had hired longtime friend and prote;ge; Waylon Jennings to be the bassist. According to Jennings, Buddy purchased a new electric Fender bass guitar and told Jennings he had two weeks to learn to play the instrument. For backup guitar, Holly chose Tommy Allsup. With the addition of these two fellow Texans, the band was complete.
The chief reason for Holly's agreement to do the Winter Dance Party was to generate enough income to support his new wife, Maria Elena, who was also pregnant with the couple's first child. The income would also help support Buddy's new publishing company. Though he hated to go in the dead of winter -- the midwestern winters could be brutal and unbearable in early February -- he had no choice. In recalling their first date, Maria mentioned that Buddy proposed to her then and there. When she asked that just maybe Buddy should get to know her a little better, he smiled and replied, "I haven't got the time." Perhaps this was a premonition that Holly had, that he would have a short life, and so he had decided that he should find all the happiness to fill his tragically numbered days.
Shortly before leaving for the Winter Dance Party tour, both Maria Elena and Buddy were shaken by disturbing but strangely prophetic dreams. Maria was awakened suddenly from a nightmare in which she was standing in a vast open area, much like a farm: "I didn't know where I was or how I got there. And then all of a sudden I could hear noises, like shouting, and it got closer and closer in the distance. I could see all these people running, running, running and shouting, 'They're coming! Hide!'" Maria was convinced that she would be trampled by the onrushing mob. As the crowd parted around her, she heard a terrible noise and then she saw a descending ball of fire falling from the heavens. She was convinced that this flaming cometlike object would crush her but it passed by her. She heard a terrible crash and in the distance witnessed a huge explosion, much like that of a plane crash. As she approached the site, all she could see was a great burning hole in the ground. At this point she awakened Buddy.
As Buddy tried to comfort her, he related to Maria a dream he had just moments before in which he was flying in a small plane with his brother Larry and her. For some reason Larry convinced Buddy to leave Maria on the top of a building but reassured him that they would soon return to pick her up. The dream created so much guilt within Buddy that he broke into tears saying that he just couldn't understand why he left her and she wasn't with him. In a few short weeks both these dreams would come back to haunt Maria Elena: "We were both dreaming the same dream at the same time. And there was so much that came true if you put two and two together. Buddy leaving me [the day he left for the Dance Party Maria had her bags packed to go with him but he convinced her to stay due to her morning sickness]...an airplane crash...on a farm...it was like someone saying something to me but I didn't listen."
Eerily, Buddy Holly had been fascinated with piloting small planes and had taken at least one flying lesson shortly before his death. His brother Larry was along with him. In this particular lesson the flight instructor cut the small plane's engine and put the plane into a nosedive. Holly recalled that the dive felt like it lasted a good forty minutes before the pilot calmly leveled the plane and continued the flight. Sadly, this saving motion would not occur on the night of February 3, 1959.
During his successful tour of England in 1958, Buddy was startled to find a note delivered to him personally by legendary British recording engineer and producer Joe Meek. Meek had become fascinated with the occult and had graduated from his Ouija board to tarot card readings. During a tarot session in January of 1958, vocalist Jimmy Miller of Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues joined Joe Meek. Miller had enjoyed using his Ouija board as a method to help pick up girls. He noticed it helped break the ice, and many of his dates found the spooky readings to be fascinating. It just seemed natural that Jimmy would graduate to higher forms of spiritualism with Joe Meek, especially since Joe was the band's producer.
According to Miller, on this particular night Joe Meek had invited Faud, an Arab friend and another dabbler in the occult sciences, to make up the third party, and the tarot cards were brought out into an appropriately darkened room. Miller recalled, "That was the first time I had handled tarot cards, and even now I am getting tingles down my spine." These slight tingles would later turn to petrifying fear as the evening progressed. Meek told Jimmy to shuffle and cut the cards with his left hand. The right hand of each man securely gripped the left of the man sitting next to him. Joe placed himself in the middle and Faud's right hand was kept free to write down on a writing pad any spiritual messages that might make their way through the veil. Miller recalls that the cards felt strange and that he became nauseated.
Slowly, he turned each card with his left hand. Halfway through the deck, Jimmy grasped Joe's hand so tightly that the singer's fingernails dug deeply into the producer's knuckles, cutting into the flesh. Faud began slowly writing down individual letters that created the message now being obtained from the beyond.
When the cards were completely turned, Joe Meek screamed in pain and wrenched his hand free from the now equally terrified Miller. In horror the three men looked at the spiritual message that had been recorded by Faud. The message stated a date -- "February the third." The date was followed by the name "Buddy Holly" and "Dies." "The whole affair was amazing because the message was written in what looked very much like my [Miller's] own handwriting," Miller said.
As Miller recalled it, Joe Meek was now a man filled with a terrible urgency. Not only was he a fan of Buddy Holly, but now he had only a few short weeks to get the message to Buddy to be extremely careful on February the third. Meek contacted record companies, music publishers, and any other inside sources that could carry the prophetic message of doom to the popular American singer.
When February 3, 1958, finally came and passed without incident, Miller said Joe felt relieved but still felt it was his responsibility to personally deliver the message to Holly when the singer and his backup group the Crickets arrived in Great Britain in mid-February to begin their UK tour. When Meek told Holly the incredible events of the tarot reading the singer very politely thanked Joe for his concern and promised that he would always be extremely careful in the future when February the third would come around.
In an interview with the BBC at the tour's end, Holly remarked that his tour of England had been very strange. First, a fan threw a brick with an autograph book attached through his dressing room window, almost hitting him, and then he received a message telling him that he was going to die. If only Buddy Holly had remembered Joe Meek's warning the next year when on February 3, 1959, Holly climbed into a small chartered airplane on a cold winter's night in Iowa. Fate would not present Buddy Holly with a second chance.
Fate had a different outcome in mind for the members of Holly's backing band. Drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalized due to his contracting severe frostbite on his feet. Providence would also play a major role in allowing both Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to escape the one-way flight in the doomed Beechcraft Bonanza. The band was forced to honor a grueling schedule of performances. Sometimes they would be forced to travel over five hundred miles in one night following a performance.
To make matters even more unbearable, the musicians were forced to travel on reconditioned school buses that kept breaking down during the long road trips. Coupled with temperatures that reached twenty-five degrees below zero, the musicians' morale was quickly diminishing. After performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly made arrangements to charter the small plane to help escape the misery of the school bus caravan. Gaining a few hours would allow him to have his clothes laundered.
When the Big Bopper discovered the plan to fly to the next show, he asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. The Bopper was sick with the flu and wanted to see a doctor. For Jennings, who enjoyed the camaraderie of the other performers, it was no great sacrifice to give up his seat. The final bargaining item was the Big Bopper's new sleeping bag. When Buddy found out that Jennings had given up his seat he admonished Jennings to have fun on the Arctic school bus and laughingly joked that he hoped the school bus would break down. Jennings quickly shot back a comment that haunts him forever when he remembers that night. Jennings quipped, "Yeah, and I hope your old plane crashes."
The most surprising test of fate occurred when Ritchie Valens kept asking Tommy Allsup for his seat. Finally, Allsup produced a half-dollar and told Ritchie to "call it." Valens called "heads" and watched intently as Allsup flipped the coin into the air. As the coin came tumbling down, Ritchie smiled as he saw that he had made the correct call. According to Alan Freed, Valens claimed this was the first time he had ever won at anything.
Allsup notified Buddy that Valens would take his seat on the plane. Tommy then gave his wallet to Buddy to pick up a registered letter that was waiting for him at the band's next stop. Shortly after the crash, for a few anxious hours, investigators believed that there were five victims in the wreckage and looked frantically for the missing body that had to be hidden somewhere in the frozen cornfield. Luckily, Allsup had called home informing his parents about the tragedy just minutes before the call came to notify Tommy's mother and father that their son's name was given as one of the victims of the accident. Tommy Allsup was given a second chance. To commemorate his good fortune he opened his own saloon when he returned to Austin, Texas. He called the bar the Head's Up Saloon. This would remind him in the future how a simple coin toss had saved his life.
A few days before the fatal crash, Buddy had called up fellow rocker and friend Eddie Cochran. Holly was afraid that he had lost his creative touch and that he would never again have a song at the top of the charts. Cochran assured him that he was still the top star in the rock galaxy and that it was only a matter of time before Buddy again topped the pop charts. Cochran was scheduled to be with his friends Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens on the Winter Dance Party tour. He and Ritchie Valens had just finished the film Go, Johnny, Go! but Eddie had a performance scheduled for early February on The Ed Sullivan Show and Buddy reminded him that the show would be much more important for his career that slowly freezing to death in the reconditioned school buses plodding wearily through the midwestern winter. When Cochran heard of the crash and death of his friends he was shaken. He was supposed to have been there too. Had he cheated death?
At his next scheduled recording session Cochran had planned to record "Three Stars," a tribute written by DJ Tommy Dee of KFXM in San Bernardino, California, to honor Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. Dee had written the song the day after the accident and Cochran recorded his version of "Three Stars" on February 5, 1959, just two days after the ominous crash. The original purpose was to split the song's royalties among the families of the three fallen stars.
The song contains three verses of spoken narrative, and Eddie describes each of his departed friends with heartfelt emotion. For Ritchie Valens, Cochran sang, "Everyone calls me a kid, but you were only seventeen." He describes the Big Bopper as wearing a big Stetson hat and added, "Don't forget those wonderful words 'you know what I like.'" Cochran's voice was completely wracked with emotion as he mentioned Buddy Holly. "Well you're singing for God now in his chorus in the sky, Buddy Holly, I'll always remember you with tears in my eyes." The session proved to be so moving for Cochran that he entered into the control room and told his producer that if that song was ever released he would never cut another record. The record remained unreleased until 1964 when Liberty Records issued the single four years after Cochran's own tragic death.
In early 1960, Eddie Cochran left for England to perform a series of tour dates with Gene Vincent. The English crowds loved Eddie. One teenager in particular, George Harrison, followed Cochran from city to city acutely studying where Eddie placed his fingers as he played the guitar. A few days before her twentieth birthday, Sharon Sheeley came to England to join Eddie on tour.
Sharon was a hit songwriter herself and was the youngest songwriter ever to score a number one hit with "Poor Little Fool," a song she had penned for teen idol Ricky Nelson. Sheeley had fallen in love at first sight with Eddie Cochran when Phil Everly introduced her to the singer. She imagined him as a blond Elvis and loved to watch him perform. Sheeley also had a tragic link to Ritchie Valens. She had met Ritchie through Eddie, and Valens recorded Sharon's "Hurry Up" as a cut for his Del-Fi album.
When Sharon arrived in England, she found Eddie to be severely depressed. He was taking tranquilizers to deal with clinical depression. He was convinced that he had cheated death by avoiding the Winter Dance Party and now he would be destined to die a violent death just like Buddy. On one occasion, he asked Sharon to buy as many of Buddy's records as she could find. He would then sit in his room playing the songs over and over again. When Sheeley asked, "Doesn't it upset you hearing Buddy this way?" Eddie answered her in a faraway voice with, "Oh, no, 'cause I'll be seeing him soon." Eddie mentioned that he had a new guitar lick he wanted to show Buddy.
Following one performance, Cochran visited a fortune-teller to determine just how long he had before he would meet an untimely death. This preoccupation continued throughout the English tour, with Eddie awakening from a troubled sleep one night screaming out "My God! I'm going to die and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it!"
On Easter Sunday, April 17, 1960, Eddie Cochran, Sharon Sheeley, and Gene Vincent were headed to London's Heathrow Airport for a return flight to California. Eddie had scheduled a new series of UK performances but wanted to return home for a short visit before continuing the tour. On the way to the airport, the chauffeur-driven Ford Consul suffered a blown tire, putting the car into a frenzied spin like a hellish Tilt-A-Whirl reeling completely out of control until it smashed into a light post, bringing the car to a complete and violent stop. Cochran was thrown from the car, as was Sharon Sheeley. Sheeley suffered a broken neck and a broken back. Gene Vincent reinjured his leg that had previously been maimed in a motorcycle accident. Vincent would carry the limp with him for the rest of his life.
When Sheeley regained consciousness, she asked, "Where is Eddie?" Vincent, trying to reassure her, replied, "He is in the car having a cigarette." Sharon knew something had to be seriously wrong. If Eddie wasn't seriously hurt he would be with her. He would be there to comfort her. He wouldn't leave her alone to bleed to death by the side of the road. When the ambulance arrived they found Cochran's orange Gretsch guitar lying next to him in the pasture. The guitar had been hurled from the wreckage but miraculously didn't receive a single scratch.
All three passengers where rushed by ambulance to St. Martin's Hospital in Bath. Ironically, the Crickets were in England finishing up an Everly Brothers tour. Immediately Sonny Curtis, who had rejoined the Crickets, and Jerry Allison rushed to the hospital to see Eddie. Joe B. Mauldin, fearing that there would be too many visitors in the way, decided to wait until the next day to see Cochran. Sadly, the next day Eddie Cochran would die from massive head injuries. In an eerie coincidence, Ritchie Valens's mother was the first to call Sharon Sheeley's parents notifying them of the accident in what must have been a tragic sense of rock and roll de;jà vu. Ritchie's mother and the Sheeleys knew each other through Ritchie's recording of Sheeley's "Hurry Up."
In another sense of bitter irony, the last single released by Eddie Cochran was entitled "Three Steps to Heaven," and the Crickets served on the recording as his backup band. Eddie also proved to be prophetic when he told Buddy that another of Holly's compositions would soon top the charts. Holly's last single was aptly entitled "It Doesn't Matter Anymore." Though the song was released shortly before his death, it exploded onto the charts following the news of his death and reached number one in Great Britain. Buddy was making yet another point in rock and roll history, and that was that a dead rock star was very good business and a fortune could be made in the sale of rights and royalties.
When the Crickets returned to the United States they would find that they would be involved in a series of other rock and roll tragedies. For whatever reason, bad luck seemed to follow anyone associated with the band. The first victim of the Holly curse was singer Ronnie Smith. Smith, a fellow Texan, had performed with drummer Carl Bunch and Tommy Allsup in Ronnie Smith and the Poor Boys. In February 1959, he was hired to replace Buddy Holly for the remainder of the Winter Dance Party tour. He fronted the band now composed of Jennings, Bunch, and Allsup. When the tour ended the band continued to record as the Jitters due to an injunction concerning the rights to the name the Crickets. In 1962, Smith was committed to a Texas state hospital for drug abuse. On October 25, 1962, a despondent Ronnie Smith hanged himself in the bathroom of the state hospital.
The original Crickets, Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, and Sonny Curtis, continued as a group and brought in seventeen-year-old David Box to replace Buddy Holly. Box was born and raised in Sulphur Springs, Texas, and joined the Crickets in 1960. His first two recordings with the Crickets were "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Don'tcha Know." Neither song was successful on the charts and in a few years Box left the Crickets to follow a solo career. David Box proved to be a regional success with one single, "Summer Girl," doing well in the local Texas markets.
On October 23, 1964, David Box hired a Cessna Skyhawk 172 to fly to a show in Harris County, Texas. He, drummer Bill Daniels, who was also the pilot, and guitarist Buddy Groves left immediately after the show to fly back to their homes in Houston. Shortly after takeoff, the Cessna nosedived into the ground, killing all three passengers in yet another case of terrifying rock-and-roll de;jà vu. Sadly, Box was scheduled to be in Nashville, Tennessee, to cut his next single on October 24. He was upbeat about his career and it appeared that he was poised to make a name for himself on the national stage. Box's parents met with Buddy Holly's parents a few days after the crash. Buddy's father remarked, "People will tell you the pain eventually goes away, but I can tell you now that it never does." Besides his perishing in a plane crash, there was one more similarity to Buddy Holly. David Box was twenty-two years of age when he died -- the exact same age as Buddy Holly at the time of his own untimely death.
Fate continued to play its dark hand when Bobby Fuller and the Bobby Fuller Four emerged from Texas in the early 1960s. Fuller admired Holly's work and had modeled his sound after that of Buddy and the Crickets. Buddy's parents had received a demo from Fuller and sent the tape to Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty had worked as Buddy's producer and had gained songwriting credits for a number of Buddy Holly's songs.
At the time of Buddy's death, he and Petty had dissolved their business ties, but there were many accounts of Norman Petty hiding vast sums of Holly's money. Some of Buddy's friends go as far as accusing Petty of being responsible for Buddy's death. If Norman Petty had paid Buddy the money he owed him, then Buddy would not have been forced to go on the Winter Dance Party tour. Petty produced two tracks for Bobby Fuller, "Gently My Love" and "My Heart Jumped." Both tracks were regional successes, but national attention did not come easy for the Bobby Fuller Four.
Fuller attempted to make his sound more up to date by writing songs about surfing and drag racing. If the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean could sell records by this set formula, then surely there would be some success in it for Fuller as well. All he needed was a hit song that would allow him to break into the pop charts. In 1963, Fuller moved his band to Hollywood, where Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records signed the band immediately after personally witnessing an intense performance in a local club.
In 1965, Crickets guitarist Sonny Curtis provided Fuller with the song that would change Bobby's luck and fortune, "I Fought the Law." The Crickets had tried a recording of the same song earlier but their performance was nothing compared to the fiery treatment that Bobby Fuller put on vinyl. The Hollyesque rocker conjured forth images of prime Buddy Holly in all his glory.
By returning to his roots, the rock of Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, Fuller at last had his hit song, and "I Fought the Law" made its way into the top ten. But his career was about to come crashing down around him in what has become one of rock's greatest unsolved mysteries. The tragic comparisons to Holly continued throughout his short-lived career. It took a song by the Crickets to break Fuller to the national stage. The last song Bobby Fuller recorded was "Love's Made a Fool of You," which ironically was written by Buddy Holly. Other haunting similarities to Holly included Fuller being contacted by Norman Petty to return to Clovis and continue his career under Petty's guidance, much in the same way as Buddy had been contacted by Petty to return and work out their differences. Bob Keane had also been Ritchie Valens's manager, and this helped form a connection to that terrible night in early February. Bobby Fuller, like Holly, had just broken with his backing band and was putting together a solo career. Another striking comparison was that Bobby Fuller would also die at the age of twenty-two -- just like Buddy.
At 1:00 A.M., in the early morning hours of July 18, 1966, Fuller received a phone call at his Hollywood apartment that he shared with his mother. He left after receiving the call and told his mother that he would be right back. He had just purchased a new Corvette but on this night he drove his mother's white Oldsmobile.
When Fuller didn't return to the apartment by the next morning, his now worried mother asked the band's road manager to look for the car. At approximately 5:00 P.M. the car mysteriously appeared in the driveway. When she went to the car to check on her son she found his body lying across the seat. He had been badly beaten. Blood was caked on his shirt and there was a small pool of blood on the floor. His hair was matted and his body and clothes were soaked in gasoline. Gasoline was also found in his stomach. Bob Keane said that when he arrived on the scene he witnessed a police office take a gasoline can from the backseat of the Oldsmobile and throw it meaninglessly into a Dumpster. Incredibly, said Keane, no foul play was suspected. The car was not dusted for fingerprints nor was it impounded. Bob Keane was told that it was just another rocker who had OD'd. Bobby Fuller's death was listed as a suicide by the Hollywood police department.
Of course, as with Buddy Holly's death, many rumors have circulated about the death of Bobby Fuller. The predominant theory had Fuller as a victim of a gangland slaying. It seemed that Bobby had a romantic interest in a young lady who was also dating a major underworld figure. For this youthful indiscretion Bobby Fuller was said to have paid with his life, and his last recorded song hauntingly stated the double irony that indeed "Love's Made a Fool of You."
Throughout the years following Bobby Fuller's death, other artists have fallen victim to the so-called Buddy Holly Curse.
In 1977, Hollywood finally brought the life and career of Buddy Holly to the motion picture screen. The film was entitled The Buddy Holly Story and starred a thirty-three-year-old Gary Busey as Buddy Holly, but it contained a great many distortions. First there was no mention at all of Norman Petty, nor of the original Crickets Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin. In the movie Buddy's parents discouraged his desire to play rock and roll; however, in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth. Buddy's parents wholeheartedly endorsed his love of music and encouraged him to follow his dreams.
Other inaccuracies suggested that Buddy could read and write music charts, that his recordings took place in New York instead of Clovis, New Mexico, and that on the Winter Dance Party Buddy was backed by an orchestra. Sadly, the roles of Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup were left out of the film as well. In another surprise Gary Busey did his own singing in the film and refused to lip sync to the early Holly recordings. A soundtrack album was released following the film's debut. The soundtrack didn't sell well but Holly's original recordings gained new sales as a new audience discovered the West Texas rocker from Lubbock. But Busey's performance was captivating and the actor was nominated for an Oscar.
The film, however, was not exempt from the Holly tragedy. Gary Busey was almost fatally injured in a motorcycle accident following the completion of the film, and Robert Gittler, who wrote the screenplay, committed suicide shortly before the film's theatrical release.
Buddy Holly was still extremely popular in England in the late 1970s. In this case it would only seem natural that if a curse existed it would also find more victims across the Atlantic. The death of T. Rex founder Marc Bolan contained another Holly similarity. Bolan died in a terrible car crash on September 16, 1977. As investigators searched through the rubble, they noticed a peculiar pin. Its message was "Everyday is a Holly day." Unfortunately Bolan, like Holly, achieved the bulk of his success posthumously.
Malicious fate struck a second time and claimed rock and roll's original madman, Keith Moon. Moon, the Who's drummer, had attended the London premiere of The Buddy Holly Story with Paul and Linda McCartney on the night of September 6, 1978. As he and his companion, Annette Walter-Lax, returned to Harry Nilsson's flat in Mayfair, Keith took a handful of sleeping pills along with a sedative called Heminevrin. The sedative had been prescribed for Moon for his bouts with alcoholism and mania.
When he awoke early the next morning at 7:30 A.M., he fixed himself something to eat, drank some champagne, and took a few more Heminevrin. In a few short hours Keith Moon was dead. He was pronounced dead on September 7, 1978. The strange Holly connection was that September 7 was Buddy Holly's birthday. Earlier that year, on February 3, 1978, the nineteenth anniversary of Holly's tragic death, the city of Lubbock, Texas, condemned for demolition Buddy Holly's birthplace. Many of Holly's die-hard fans demanded that the house be bought, restored, and made into a Buddy Holly museum. Buddy's mother, however, objected to the plan to restore the early family home and without her support the campaign to save the house was forgotten. What is strange is that the house was never demolished. The house was bought and moved from the foundation. I suppose the ultimate Holly mystery is where the Holly home is now, with its peculiar playing-card window shutters? The mystery continues.
There are two other tragic entries into the Buddy Holly curse. Both involve American musicians who gained their fame at the same time Buddy Holly was raving on. Ricky Nelson was the all-American boy who grew up on American television. He, along with his brother, David, and his mother and father, starred on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. When Ricky brought out his guitar on the popular series the girls swooned, and Ricky Nelson was well on his way to becoming a teenage idol.
Ricky Nelson had met Buddy Holly only once but highly respected Holly's music. Sharon Sheeley wrote Nelson's number-one hit "Poor Little Fool" and completed a link between Nelson, Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Ritchie Valens. In 1979, Ricky Nelson recorded "Rave On" and "True Love Ways," both songs written by Buddy Holly, and both songs would be released the year after Nelson's tragic death. Ricky Nelson's last performance was in Guntersville, Alabama, on December 30, 1985.
Though Nelson had changed his musical style throughout the years, he still knew what to give his audience. They came for the oldies, and he didn't disappoint them as he generously sprinkled them in between his new recordings. For an encore Ricky chose to do Buddy Holly's "Rave On." It brought the house down, and the last line reverberated throughout the hall: "Rave on for me." After the show Nelson and his band flew off in a reconditioned DC-3 and came to a fiery crash in De Kalb, Texas. Nelson and his band were killed while the pilot and copilot survived. Ironically, the plane had earlier been purchased from Jerry Lee Lewis, who had a premonition that he would perish in this plane in a terrible crash.
Del Shannon hit the rock charts in the early 1960s. His classic hit "Runaway" filled the radio airwaves in 1961 and introduced what sounded like a Moog synthesizer, but was most likely a Musitron, an organlike instrument. Other Shannon hits included "Hats Off to Larry" and "Little Town Flirt." Sadly, Del Shannon was doomed to be yet another victim of the British invasion during the mid-1960s.
In the late 1980s, Del Shannon was attempting a comeback. Tom Petty had worked with him and included the line "Me and Del were singing 'Little Runaway'" in Petty's "Running Down a Dream." Even though Shannon's career was about to be rekindled, he suffered from severe bouts of depression. His last performance came at the Surf Ballroom on February 3, 1990, the thirty-first anniversary of the Holly plane crash. His backing band that night was the Crickets. Del returned home and on February 9, 1990, took out his shotgun and took his own life. Shannon was unaware that he had been just been selected to take the late Roy Orbison's place in the superstar band the Traveling Wilburys. Some medical experts claimed that the antidepressants Del was taking might have contributed to his death, while others remembered another night just thirty-one years earlier when three young rock stars soared into the heavens to gain rock and roll immortality. The last performance for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Del Shannon was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
In the middle 1960s a generation of American teenagers immersed themselves in the British invasion and the American rock stars of the 1950s were cast aside. I suppose it was with a sense of irony that the Beatles landed in New York City on February 7, 1964, to prepare for their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. February 7 is significant because that was the day in 1959 that Buddy Holly was laid to rest in Lubbock, Texas. The Beatles were devoted fans of Holly and their name itself was a play on the Crickets.
Few people know that Holly first suggested the name the "Beetles" for his own group's name. Just think. Buddy Holly and the Beetles does have a certain ring to it, doesn't it? The Beatles recorded a faithful rendition of the Holly classic "Words of Love." As a matter of fact, the first recording the Beatles completed, on a borrowed tape recorder, was Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day," with John Lennon taking the lead vocal. Today Paul McCartney owns the Buddy Holly song catalog and is able to combine business with the music he loves. When it comes to great rock and roll, truly some things just do not fade away.
©Copyright © 2004 by R. Gary Patterson