Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Men Who Walked Away: A Chaos Theory Meditation

CBS reminded me that on this day some 49 years ago, a Beechcraft Bonanza crashed west of Clear Lake, Iowa, taking the lives of four people-the pilot, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and J.P. Richardson.

I'd venture to say that what makes this tale an enduring one is the theme of possibility cut short. The three musicians were on what was called the Winter Dance Party tour, along with a number of other musicians. They had appeared at the now lovingly restored Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Not wanting to face another long winter bus ride to the next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota, Buddy Holly took it upon himself to charter a plane for a flight to Fargo, North Dakota.There were some extra available seats on the Bonanza, and one of the artists declined to pay the $36 tab-that was Dion DiMuci, better known for his musical career with the Belmonts. Another artist, a little known bass player from Texas in the Crickets named Waylon Jennings, wanted to go along with his friend Buddy, but gave up his seat in favor of J.P. Richardson, who was suffering from a cold. Tommy Alsup, another Cricket, tossed a coin and lost the last seat to Richie Valens.

Four young lives were cut short, and three music careers ended that snowy night in a farm field west of Clear Lake, but what's notable about the story is what happened to the three men who gave up their seats.
Waylon Jennings had a long and illustrious career in what is sometimes known as outlaw country music. Dion DiMuci continued in a career that led him from the doo-wop style of the Belmonts to acoustic meditations like his incomparable "Abraham, Martin and John". And Tommy Alsup, as I found out today, continued his career, veering into my beloved western swing.
He's the man with the big smile playing six string guitar and wearing the mother of all Stetsons.

The rest, as they say, is history. With all due respect to Don McLean. the music didn't die-it was going to be different. Much different.


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