The rickety old bus took out of the Duluth Armory late on Saturday, Jan. 31, 1959, and headed throughout St. Louis Bay into the frigid Wisconsin night.
On board were some tired, stinky rock ‘n’ rollers and their harried supervisor. The Winter Dance Celebration tour had actually just completed its ninth gig in as many days and was headed east for Appleton and Green Bay, for shows 10 and 11 on Sunday.
As the temperature plunged to around 30 listed below and the wind shouted, fate stepped in. The southbound bus creaked to a stop as it had a hard time up a slope on Hwy. 51 about 10 miles south of Hurley.
Friend Holly, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Waylon Jennings, Dion and the others were stranded on a remote highway in the northern Wisconsin forest. They gathered under blankets and burnt papers to try to remain warm. Buddy’s drummer was nursing painful frostbitten feet.
It was the night the music nearly died.
As Holly fans from around the world assemble on Iowa’s Surf Ballroom to bear in mind his death in a plane crash 50 years ago and celebrate his music, the little-known story of the Wisconsin bus breakdown and the rest of the difficult tour is worth telling to comprehend why Holly chartered the plane at Mason City.
Feed Loader, Jane Ellefson
Buddy Holly performing with Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup at the Feast Ballroom, Montevideo, on Jan. 27, 1959.
One of the country’s most popular rock stars, Holly had actually hesitantly signed onto the midwinter Midwest tour since he required the cash. After 11 days of touring, he was tired– tired of the endless miles on frozen buses, tired of carrying out in filthy clothes, tired of quarreling with his manager in Clovis, N.M., and worn out of sleeping sitting up on tough seats.
By all accounts, the rockers offered a rousing efficiency in Clear Lake on Feb. 2, 1959. But instead of get on that cold bus once again to take a trip 365 miles to Moorhead, Holly, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and Valens got on a single-engine Beechcraft Treasure trove that crashed into a cornfield just after departure. All three and pilot Roger Peterson were eliminated.
The story of “The Day the Music Passed away” is legend– made more famous by Don McLean’s ’70s song “American Pie.” Not so popular is exactly what some call the “Trip from Hell.”
The midwinter tour was especially challenging for Texans Holly and his reconstituted Crickets, and for Valens, a Southern California kid who had not packed a winter coat.
” It was so cold on the bus that we ‘d need to wear all our clothes, coats and everything. … I could not believe how cold it was,” wrote Waylon Jennings, who played bass for Holly on the trip. The original Crickets were back in Texas.
General Artists Corp. had organized the trip with no thought to geographic peace of mind.
” They didn’t care,” states Holly historian Costs Griggs. “It resembled they threw darts at a map. … The trip from hell– that’s what they called it– and it’s not a bad name.”
Griggs, who long back transferred to Holly’s house town of Lubbock, Texas, from Connecticut, approximates they had utilized 5 different buses before driving into Clear Lake– “reconditioned school buses, unsatisfactory for school kids.”
The tour began in Milwaukee on Friday, Jan. 23, 1959. It then zig-zagged throughout the next 11 days from Wisconsin to Minnesota to Wisconsin to Minnesota to Iowa to Minnesota to Wisconsin to Iowa to Minnesota.
There were no roadies to assist establish and pack up, and only icy two-lane highways to get from town to town.
At the Tuesday night, Jan. 27 dance at the Fiesta Ballroom in Montevideo in western Minnesota, young fans excitedly crowded the phase. All the shows were drawing big, enthusiastic crowds.
Bob Bunn, who played with a local band called the “Rockin’ Rebels,” wanted Holly to sign his guitar. So after the show, Bunn owned to Montevideo’s Highway Coffee shop, where the singers had actually gone to get something to eat. Bunn greeted Holly, who seemed in a rush as he left the cafe.
” Is it always this damn cold in Minnesota?” Holly asked.
” No,” Bunn responded. “It gets a lot chillier.” The next day, the trip visited the Prom Ballroom in St. Paul.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
circa 1958: Headshot of American rock ‘n’ roll musician and vocalist Friend Holly (1936 – 1959) wearing his signature horn-rimmed spectacles.
In the 50 years because that wonderful night at the Carnival, Bunn, now 71 and a retired farmer, has actually had a chance to ponder what his idol went through on the geographically challenged tour. “It wasn’t prepared worth a darn, and it killed a great deal of excellent individuals.”
On Saturday, Jan. 31, the tour made its second-longest haul– 368 miles from Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Duluth.
Bob Dylan, then a young high schooler from Hibbing named Robert Zimmerman, has told the story of making eye contact with Holly.
” He was terrific. He was unbelievable. I indicate, I’ll always remember the image of seeing Pal Holly up on the bandstand,” Dylan informed the Wanderer in 1984.
The Duluth show ran until about 11 p.m. The balky bus had been kept in the Armory basement to remain warm. Trip members evacuated and headed into the completely cold Wisconsin night.
Tommy Allsup, the Crickets’ lead guitar player who will be in Clear Lake at the big 50th anniversary bash on Feb. 2, has vibrant memories of that next unscheduled stop on Hwy. 51.
” We had actually launched this incline, it was snowing real bad, and the bus simply started going slower and slower, and the lights got dimmer and dimmer, and all of an abrupt the bus stopped,” Allsup remembers.
” The motorist said, ‘The bus is frozen,’ … It was so cold, and we were simply sitting there right in the middle of the road. Everybody started thinking we were about to freeze to death.”
Dion’s Belmonts began lighting newspapers to produce warmth. Holly’s drummer Carl Lot was in discomfort and having trouble moving his legs. Allsup looked at his feet; they had turned brown.
At that moment, they saw headlights in the range. “It looked like it took forever to get to us.”
A sheriff’s deputy, who had actually looked out by a passing trucker, sized up the dire scenario and got 4 vehicles to take the musicians to Hurley. He also got Lot to the health center in close-by Ironwood, Mich., where the drummer would find out 2 days later about the plane crash.
The Iron County Miner carried a short item on the rescue– published three days after the crash– calling the stranded entourage an orchestra. “The guys were gently dressed and struggled with extreme cold of 35 below absolutely no that early morning with no heat in the bus while they waited for somebody to come along.”
There are few individuals in Hurley still alive who keep in mind that night. One is Gene Calvetti, now 85, who hauled the bus to his daddy’s garage. He recalls getting to the scene to discover the guys “complaining about the cold and afraid of bears.” He likewise bears in mind that the bus engine “was shot.”
The singers wound up at the Club Carnival in Hurley to get something to consume. Some went to a hotel in Ironwood to get a brief night’s rest. The next day, they headed to Green Bay by train and Greyhound bus; the Appleton show was canceled.
Monday, Feb. 2 was supposed to be an off-day. At the last minute, tour organizers reserved Clear Lake. So it was back on the bus for the 355-mile journey.
Life on the bus: Cold not only pain
” We attempted to hang our old and wrinkly matches in the aisle, and after a while, it got kind of ripe therein. We smelled like goats,” Jennings wrote.
Allsup puts it another method: “We were lacking white t-shirts and underclothing.”
The dreadful conditions also triggered camaraderie, story telling and lots of jamming.
Dion described in his autobiography how he and Holly huddled under blankets.
” Through the dark hours while we awaited something to occur, we would inform each other stories. Him, about Lubbock. Me, about the Bronx. I could always get a laugh from him– soft and low like his drawl …”
John Mueller, who plays Friend Holly in a traveling roadway program called “Winter Dance Party,” has unusual insight into what the ’50s entertainers endured. In 1999, Mueller and the other musicians aimed to duplicate ’59 trip. It was the 40th anniversary of the plane crash, and he wished to honor the ’59 trip by going back to the initial cities and original places.
” By the time we got to Clear Lake, I had lost my voice, I had lost about 10 to 15 pounds, I was just physically tired, as was everyone in the group. The difficult nature of the tour, following the specific geographic routing, it truly hit me in the head why they chartered the aircraft,” stated Mueller, whose group took a trip in warm, comfy minivans.
Griggs, who has actually dedicated his life to Holly’s music and story, believes the Wisconsin bus breakdown was the last straw.
” Pal had his mind comprised then. He believed, ‘I do not desire to go another 400 miles on this bus.’ “
Indeed, even the Civil Aeronautics Board discussed the tour conditions in its report on the examination and reason for the crash. “Due to the fact that of bus trouble, which had actually pestered the group, these 3 decided to go to Moorhead ahead of the others.”
As many a Holly enthusiast knows, Allsup and Jennings were expected to be on the aircraft. They provided up their seats to Valens and the Bopper, who was ill. Allsup lost out to Valens in a last-minute coin toss.
When Buddy found out that Waylon’s seat had gone to the Bopper, he informed his bass player with a grin, “Well, I hope your damned bus freezes up once again.”
“Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes,” responded Jennings, who was haunted for many years by that exchange.
Holly headed for the airplane, and the bus headed for Moorhead.
Holly buffs also know that 15-year-old Robert Velline of Fargo, and his band– called at the last minute the Shadows– filled in at the Moorhead Armory show the next night.
Velline ended up being Bobby Vee, who now lives near St. Cloud. At 65, he is still visiting the country and when again belongs to this year’s Clear Lake show.
“I shamelessly do a homage to Holly in almost every program that I do. He was my Elvis, as much as I enjoyed Elvis, Pal was the man who spoke with me.”
Pamela Huey – 612-673-4470