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50 Winters Later: A Tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper

March 17, 2009


Click here to listen to Joe's podcast live from the event.
On February 2, 2009, the families, friends and fans of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson celebrated the music and legacies of the performers who played the same stage 50 years ago before boarding a plane that would not reach its destination. The 50 Winters Later Commemorative Concert, was a star-studded event at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA. The television crew that produces Austin City Limits recorded the event for eventual broadcast on PBS.

Editorial Director Joe Coffey was at the event. This is his photo essay chronicling the tribute...


They can make those people dance: Ritchie Valens’ brother, Mario
Ramirez (Left); J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardon’s son, J.P. Richardson, Jr.
(Center); and original Cricket Joe B. Mauldin (Right)


Bobby Vee with his Telecoustic-inspired guitar built by Richard Leach. At the age of 15, Vee formed a band that literally kept the music alive, filling in for Buddy Holly and his band at a scheduled show in Moorhead, MN, following
the crash. Vee would go on to sell 28 million records and score six Top 10 hits.


Guitar Legend Tommy Allsup lost the coin toss for a seat on the plane that crashed. Allsup has 10,000 session credits to his name, going clear back to Bob Wills, and was called “one of the finest guitarists in the world” by Paul McCartney. Here Allsup plays his maple Tradition MTA 700 set-neck hollowbody.”


Graham Nash’s admiration for Buddy Holly runs deep—and even inspired the name of his British Invasion-era band, the Hollies, which continues to perform today. He was also born on February 2 (1942), which would later become known as the “Day the Music Died.” Here Nash plays a vintage J-160E, one of Gibson’s first acoustic electric guitars.




Graham Nash, Joe Ely, original Cricket Sonny Curtis, Sir Timothy Rice,
Bobby Vee and original Cricket Joe B. Mauldin. Curtis is playing a
recent production Strat strung with flatwound 13s (!) and Mauldin
is playing a sticker-festooned ‘38 Kay upright with a String Charger
pickup owned by Tommy Vee, who plays for his dad, Bobby.


Smithereen Pat Dinizio was primed for covering Holly, having just recorded a tribute album called Pat DiNizio/Buddy Holly for Koch Records. Here DiNizio plays a Taylor 110.


Dave Mason’s version of “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” was a big hit with the crowd. Mason’s rock resume includes co-founding Traffic, writing “Feeling Alright” and “We Just Disagree,” and playing acoustic on Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.” Here Mason is playing a relic’d Fender Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster.


The night’s audience included many people who were at the show 50 years ago.





Joe Ely performing “Are You Listening Lucky?” with Los Lobos. Ely learned to play guitar in the house that Buddy Holly grew up in. From left to right: Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys, Cesar Rosas, Joe Ely, (bassist Conrad Lozano is behind Ely), drummer Louie Perez and David Hidalgo. Rosas is playing a recent production Strat, and Ely is playing Hidalgo’s Custom Shop Nocaster.


David Hidalgo of Los Lobos rocks the Ritchie Valens hit, “Ooh! My Head.” Here he plays the Dakota Red Custom Shop Nocaster that Dave Mason also played.


Delbert McClinton knew Buddy Holly back from their days growing up in Lubbock, TX.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum dedicated the Surf Ballroom as a historic rock and roll landmark as part of the Museum’s ongoing Landmark Series, which identifies locations in America that are significant to the origins and development of rock and roll.




One of the stars of the show was this handwired Tweed Twin that was shipped to the event directly from the Fender Custom Shop. According to Nate Westgor of Willie’s American Guitars in St. Paul, MN, who provided guitars and backline for the show, after soundcheck the guitarists were wrangling with each other to play one of the two Tweed Twins Fender had sent. This, despite the fact that Nate had a ’58 Tweed Super and two ’59 Bassmans on the stage.


Kevin Montgomery kicked the night off with his version of Buddy Holly’s “Wishing.” His father, Bob Montgomery, was close friends and teenage band mates with Buddy Holly. Here Montgomery plays a Gibson J-185.


Los Lonely Boys’ Henry Garza brought his customized MIM Strat, but also paid tribute to Valens by playing a few songs on this reissue Harmony Ritchie Valens Stratotone, given to him at the event by Harmony president Charlie Subecz. The company brought several and also gave one to Los Lobos, the Surf Ballroom and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Los Lonely Boys kicked the night into overdrive with their Texican blues that owes much to the road Ritchie Valens paved and Los Lobos widened. Here JoJo Garza plays his Hohner B Bass 6-string that allows him to play three and four note chords high on the neck to fill out the trio’s sound.