The United States’ first major Chicano Rock & Roll star was killed early today (February 3, 1959), in a plane crash that also killed fellow stars Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper.
All of the performers on the plane had appeared at the Surf Ballroom, and were heading to appear in Fargo, North Dakota on the “Winter Dance Party,” in a plane that Buddy Holly had chartered.
Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza plane from the Dwyer Flying Service, because the tour bus carrying musicians like Dion and The Belmonts, Waylon Jennings and other acts on the tour, had no heater.
The situation was so dire, that Buddy Holly’s drummer was actually hospitalize due to frostbite on the tour.
The Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed shortly after it took off from the Mason City Municipal Airport, while attempting to make it to the next date.
Ritchie Valens, just 17 at the time of his death, was riding the chart with his hit singles “La Bamba” and “Donna.”
Ritchie Valens was born on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, just outside of Los Angeles.
In addition to his uncle, who taught him traditional Mexican songs, Ritchie learned to play from a man name William Jones, a black musician who lived across the street from him.
Ritchie built an electric guitar for himself in junior high school, and begin playing rhythm and blues songs he heard on the radio.
In 1957, Ritchie Valens joined a high school group known as The Silhouettes, a multi-racial band that featured traditional Mexican songs, along with popular R&B and Rock & Roll tunes of the time.
Bob Keane, who was instrumental in the careers of Sam Cooke, Frank Zappa Bobby Fuller and others, discovered Ritchie Valens in 1958, after a tip from a local high school student.
As recounted in the popular movie “La Bamba” starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Ritchie Valens spent time in a small recording studio perfecting songs like “Come On Let’s Go,” “Donna,” and La Bamba.”
Tragically, Ritchie Valens never lived to see his own success, since he perished in the plane crash with Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and the pilot of the plane, on what became known as “The Day The Music Died.”
Ritchie Valens album for Bob Keane’s Del-Phi Records, had not even been released.
At only 17, Richie Valen’s catalog of music features an amazing variety of music, influenced by the diverse cultural environment he grew up in, in post-World War II, Los Angeles.
It wouldn’t be until 1965, when Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia and The Headhunters hit big with their single “Land of 1000 Dances,” that the Los Angeles Chicano rock scene would again, rise to such heights.