50 Years Ago Today: The Day the Music Died

Posted by Michael Mueller on February 3, 2009 at 12:24 PM

Fifty years ago today (Feb. 3, 1959), in a frozen cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP "Big Bopper" Richardson crashed, killing all three young musicians. As Don McLean coined it in his song "American Pie," it was "the day the music died."

Buddy Holly Stratocaster

While the deaths of all three performers was tragic, it is Holly's influence in rock 'n' roll that is undeniable. With the release of the 1995 Beatles Anthology album, it was revealed that one of the first songs John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison recorded—as the Quarrymen—was a cover of Holly's "That'll Be the Day." Further, Holly was one of the earliest rockers to play the now iconic Fender Stratocaster. The cover of Holly's first album, 1957's The "Chirping" Crickets, featured Holly holding the then largely unknown Fender Stratocaster solidbody, thus inspiring guitarists throughout the U.S. and U.K. to check out this radical new instrument. While Holly may not often be mentioned in the same breath as guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, or Eric Clapton, his influence on those guitarists and countless others is immeasurable.

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