An international group dedicated to preserving the memory of rock 'n' roll pioneer Buddy Holly and the performers who died with him 42 years ago in an Iowa plane crash have announced that a special concert will be held in Storm Lake in January as a tribute to the artists and a fundraiser for music scholarships.
The memory of that tragedy is still poignant in the Storm Lake area, where the parents of the young pilot who died with them in a winter storm, Art and Pearl Peterson, still reside.
Relatives of the performers, well-known tribute artists, young bands recreating their classic songs, and many of those who recorded with Holly in the 1950s are planning to take part in the unique concert here. Among them is "The First Lady of Rock 'n' Roll," Peggy Sue Garron, who will co-host. Holly's close friend, she was immortalized in his early hit "Peggy Sue."
The group is known as Winter Dance Party, named after the ill-fated tour that claimed the life of Holly, 22, Ritchie Valens, 17, and JP "The Big Bopper" Richardson, along with pilot Roger Peterson.
In 1999, Paul King of Northhampton, England, Dennis Farland of Newton and several others dedicated to preserving the memory of Buddy Holly, put together a 40th anniversary tour that traced all eleven cities that Holly's tour played in 1959's Winter Dance Party, on the same dates as 1959, ending in Clear Lake, the tragic last stop for the young stars. All six of the surviving venues were played, and over 6,600 people attended the shows, raising $20,000.
"It is the whole ethos of that period in the history of music, the innocence. Even when we look back on it, we do so in black and white," King told the Pilot-Tribune in a telephone interview from England. "We would like to share the music with the generation that remembers it, and of course, with the young people of today."
To King, no one comes close to Holly's stature in creating the rock 'n' roll phenomenon. "As a fan, nobody else is what Buddy Holly is. Even in the case of Elvis Presley, he had a very long time in the music business. Buddy's entire career was 16 months. That is a pretty tight window to create something that people are still talking about all these years later."
The money from the original tribute tour in 1999 was used to fund music scholarships and awards at a number of schools in the home cities and states of the three musicians and the pilot, as well as the late Darrel Hein, who ran the Surf Ballroom at Clear Lake years ago.
King traveled from England to Storm Lake in 1999 to present the first Roger Peterson Music Scholarship at Storm Lake High School, and returned to Storm Lake last May to continue the scholarship work. Art and Pearl Peterson, the late pilot's parents, have been on hand to co-present the honor.
"I think that is very important. Too often when this story is told, Roger Peterson is the forgotten man," King said.
Peterson had been hired to take some of the musicians on from Clear Lake to their next performance in Fargo, N.D., so that they could escape the bitter cold and crowded tour bus. Bad weather caused the plane to crash into a farmyard northwest of Mason City, killing all aboard.
The tribute group was impressed with the community during their stop in 1999 for the scholarship presentation, and added it as one of six stops in Minnesota and Iowa as it prepares for a second Winter Dance Party tour this winter.
"Coming to Storm Lake is something else. It is really a wonderful place, the Petersons are tremendous people, and the school is outstanding. I have a real soft spot for Storm Lake, and while it wasn't on the Buddy Holly tour in 1959, it seems like an idea place to bring the tribute concert," King said.
King said that he has fallen in love with Iowa, and finds his travel to the state becoming frequent .
In Buddy Holly's hometown, all that remains of his birthplace is a vacant lot, he said. "There is hardly any sign in his own hometown that he was ever there, but Iowa people have a feeling for music, and they tend to remember Buddy Holly and the others who died as if they were their own. I think that in the same sense as Memphis fits Elvis, Iowa fits Buddy and his music."
During the previous tribute tour, perhaps 20-40 people at each stop attended the concerts and told the organizers that they had met Holly at the 1959 concerts. "They all make a point of saying that he seemed like a very simple, nice guy. The only place you don't hear that about him is a few books that have been written, and I have come to believe that whatever was written was mainly written to sell books."
As King traveled in the first breakneck tribute tour two years ago, he found a new respect for the pioneer performers. "We have much better vehicles and equipment than they had, but it was still exhausting to get to all of the places he did, every night. They had a bus with no heat in the middle of winter. From what I understand, they set up in 15 minutes - it takes us three hours today."
Still, the work was worth it to recreate Holly's appearances, King feels. "I've met so many nice people because of it. Of course, it wouldn't work if the music wasn't good, it wouldn't be right to do that to the memory. The performers we had, and the ones we will have this time are fantastic."
During his 1999 visit, King also expressed an interest in seeing the historic Cobblestone Ballroom restored, as preservation of the remaining older music venues is another key cause for the tribute group.
He is ecstatic to hear that effors are now underway in hopes of preserving and restoring the landmark ballroom, and hopes to get a tour of the site during his next visit.
"Gosh, a beautiful old ballroom like that, wouldn't it be exciting for Storm Lake to bring that back to the glory that it had in your community. I gather it would be expensive, but I have to think it is achievable," he said.
Perhaps the Winter Dance Party concert will help the community to see what kind of event it could one day host in a restored Cobblestone, he said.
"I can tell you that everyone is looking forward to Storm Lake. We'll have an exciting lineup of Holly/Valens/Richardson connections, and we hope that people will help us to provide continued funding for the Winter Dance Party Musical Scholarships and Awards," King said. "We are emphasizing our commitment to high schools, and I'd like to think that Storm Lake High School can play a real part in our community project. It would be great if a school band or other local musicians would open for the show."
The 2002 tour will play the Storm Lake High School gym on Sunday, January 27. It will play the Roof Garden at Arnolds Park, the Skate Castle in Newton and the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on the following three days.
Tickets for the event will go on sale soon at the Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce.
*â€ Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch, band members on the 1959 Winter Dance Party. They played with all three of the late singers, and will be playing together for the first time in more than 40 years. Allsup is the one who flipped a coin with Holly to see who would go on the ill-fated plane and who would have to ride the bus.
*â€ The Roses, a New Mexico group that backed Holly in recording hits such as "Think it Over" and "It's So Easy," as well as playing with other stars such as Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings.
*â€ Gary and Ramona Tollett, from Holly's hometown of Lubbock, Texas, they did backup vocals on his recordings including his first major hit in 1957, "That'll Be the Day." Holly had returned the favor by playing lead guitar on Gary's own releases.
*â€ Ernie Valens, nephew of Ritchie Valens, who had accompanied him on the 1959 tour. He performs a highly-regarded tribute act of Ritchie's music.
*â€ The Shackshakers, a Minnesota band that recorded its debut CD a year ago in Lubbock to enthusiastic reviews, are receiving international radio play. They will back all of the other artists as well as performing a set of their own music.
*â€ The Mad Hatter, a well-known Iowa personality, will emcee most of the tour shows.
*â€ 8-Track and The Brunswicks, two midwest bands, will perform at some tour stops.
*â€ Other artsts are trying to work the tour into their schedules, including Jay P. Richardson Jr., the Big Bopper's son, and Robert Reynolds, Kenny Loveland and Jack Leaver, three of the performers from the 1999 Winter Dance Party tour.
Ticket information and more details on the local concert will be released in the next several weeks.
Finally, as an Englishman, King said he wanted to share his condolences with his friends in the U.S. for the tragedies of September 11, 2001. "I heard the news from my daughter who was traveling in America at the time. I want to see people all over the world standing up on this. My hope is that all Europeans will hold up next to the U.S. on this - we know who has stood next to us."