The 3rd February 1959 was the Day The Music Died, when rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The disaster gained its name twelve years later as a result of Don McLean’s hit song American Pie.
On the 23rd January 1959, Buddy Holly began the headline Winter Dance Party Tour of 24 cities in the American Midwest with support from Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Dion and the Belmonts. Touring was a very profitable activity for musicians and Holly – recently married and with a pregnant wife at home – was keen to pack in as many performances as possible.
However, the tour involved covering gruelling distances in a bus that soon developed a fault with its heating system. The situation was so bad that Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalised with frostbitten feet. The bus was promptly replaced, but with less than half the dates already covered the musicians were frustrated and tired.
After playing a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on the 2nd February Holly opted to charter a plane to get him to the next venue. The plane, contrary to popular opinion, was not called American Pie and was only identified by the serial number N3794N. In addition to Holly and the pilot, 21 year-old Roger Peterson, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper took the remaining seats following some negotiation and a coin toss. They took off at 12:55am on the 3rd February, but flew only 6 miles before crashing amidst deteriorating weather.