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The Big Bopper

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Title: The Big Bopper  
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Subject: Chantilly Lace (song), 1959 in music, Ritchie Valens, February 1959, Waylon Jennings
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The Big Bopper

The Big Bopper
Background information
Birth name Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.
Born (1930-10-24)October 24, 1930
Sabine Pass, Texas U.S.
Died February 3, 1959(1959-02-03) (aged 28)
Grant Township, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, U.S.
Genres Rock and roll, rockabilly, country
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1954–59
Labels Mercury Records

Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr. (October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959), commonly known as The Big Bopper, was an American musician and songwriter, whose big voice and exuberant personality made him an early rock and roll star. He is best known for his 1958 recording of "Chantilly Lace".[1]

On February 3, 1959 — a day that has become known as "The Day the Music Died" (because so called in Don McLean's 1971 song "American Pie")[2][3] — Richardson died in a plane crash in Iowa, along with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson.


Early years

J. P. Richardson was born in Sabine Pass, Texas, the oldest son of oil-field worker Jiles Perry Richardson, Sr. and his wife Elise (Stalsby) Richardson. Richardson had two younger brothers, Cecil and James. The family soon moved to Beaumont, Texas. Richardson graduated from Beaumont High School in 1947 and played on the "Royal Purple" football team as a defensive lineman, wearing number 85.[4] Richardson later studied pre-law at Lamar College, and was a member of the band and chorus. He sometimes played with the Johnny Lampson Combo.


Richardson worked part-time at Beaumont, Texas, radio station KTRM (now KZZB). He was hired by the station full-time in 1949 and quit college. Richardson married Adrianne Joy Fryou on April 18, 1952 and their daughter Debra Joy was born in December 1953, soon after Richardson was promoted to Supervisor of Announcers at KTRM.

In March 1955, he was drafted into the United States Army and did his basic training at Fort Ord, California. He spent the rest of his two-years' service as a radar instructor at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

Following his discharge as a corporal in March 1957, Richardson returned to KTRM radio, where he held down the "Dishwashers' Serenade" shift from 11 AM to 12:30 PM, Monday through Friday. One of the station's sponsors wanted Richardson for a new time slot and suggested an idea for a show. Richardson had seen the college students doing a dance called The Bop, and he decided to call himself "The Big Bopper". His new radio show ran from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm Richardson soon became the station's program director.

In May 1957, he broke the record for continuous on-air broadcasting by 8 minutes. From a remote setup in the lobby of the Jefferson Theatre in downtown Beaumont, Richardson performed for a total of five days, two hours, and eight minutes, playing 1,821 records[5] and taking showers during 5-minute newscasts.

Richardson is credited for creating the first music video in 1958, and recorded an early example himself.[5]

Singer and songwriter

Richardson — who played White Lightning", which became Jones' first #1 country hit in 1959 (#73 on the pop charts). Richardson also wrote "Running Bear" for Johnny Preston, his friend from Port Arthur, Texas. The inspiration for the song came from Richardson's childhood memory of the Sabine River, where he heard stories about Indian tribes. Richardson sang background on "Running Bear", but the recording wasn't released until September 1959, after his death. Within several months it became #1.

The man who launched Richardson as a recording artist was Harold "Pappy" Daily from Houston, Texas. Daily was promotion director for Mercury and Starday Records and signed Richardson to Mercury. Richardson's first single, "Beggar To A King", had a country flavor, but failed to gain any chart action. He soon cut "Chantilly Lace" as "The Big Bopper"[1] for Pappy Daily's D label. Mercury bought the recording and released it in the summer of 1958. It reached #6 on the pop charts and spent 22 weeks in the national Top 40. It also inspired an answer record by Jayne Mansfield titled "That Makes It". In "Chantilly Lace", Richardson pretends to have a flirting phone conversation with his girlfriend;[1] the Mansfield record suggests what his girlfriend might have been saying at the other end of the line. Later that year, he scored a second hit, a raucous novelty tune entitled "The Big Bopper's Wedding", in which Richardson pretends to be getting cold feet at the altar.


With the success of "Chantilly Lace", Richardson took time off from KTRM radio and joined Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion and the Belmonts for a "Winter Dance Party" tour. On the eleventh night of the tour, Holly chartered an airplane to fly them to the next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The musicians had been traveling by bus for over a week, and it had already broken down once. They were tired, they had not been paid yet and all of their clothes were dirty. With the airplane, Holly could arrive early, do everyone's laundry and get some rest.

21-year old pilot Roger Peterson had agreed to take the singers to Fargo, North Dakota, where the airport serves the cities of Moorhead and Fargo. A snowstorm was inbound, and the pilot was fatigued from a 17-hour workday, but agreed to fly the trip. The musicians packed up their instruments and finalized the flight arrangements. Buddy Holly's bass player, Waylon Jennings, was scheduled to fly on the plane, but gave his seat up to the Big Bopper, who was suffering from influenza. Holly's guitarist, Tommy Allsup, agreed to flip a coin with Ritchie Valens for the remaining seat; Valens won. The three musicians boarded the red and white single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza at the Mason City Airport around 12:30 AM on February 3. Snow blew across the runway, but the sky was clear. Peterson received clearance from the control tower, taxied down the runway and took off. He was never told of two weather advisories that warned of an oncoming blizzard ahead.

The plane remained airborne only a few minutes; no one is sure what went wrong. The best guess is Peterson flew directly into the blizzard, lost visual reference and accidentally flew down instead of up. The four-passenger plane plowed into a cornfield at over 220 mph, flipping over on itself and tossing the passengers into the air. The bodies of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper were jettisoned from the plane, landed yards from the wreckage and lay there for ten hours as snowdrifts formed around them. Roger Peterson's body was not jettisoned from the plane.[6] Because of the weather, no one reached the crash site until later in the morning.

"Their airplane registered on the radar of the 789th Air Force Radar Station located near Omaha for a few sweeps. Long enough for the Search Radar Operator to contact me and notify me of the appearance of the new target. As Movements and Identification Operator, my job was to identify every radar return as Friend or Foe. I had enough time to realize the blip was moving away from our site, thus it was a Probably Friendly, and before we could set up a track on the board, the blip faded from sight. Some time later, before the crash site was found, we were asked if we had seen it. The last location was given and in effect, we were the last people to see Rock and Roll, before they and their music died." Willis S. Cole, Jr. A2C (1957-61), 789th AC&W (1959-61).[7]


Richardson was survived by his wife and four-year-old daughter. His son, Jay Perry, was born two months later in April 1959. At the time of his death, Richardson had been building a recording studio in his home in Beaumont, Texas, and was also planning to invest in a radio station. He had written 20 new songs he planned to record himself or with other artists.

Jay Perry Richardson took up a musical career and was known professionally as "The Big Bopper, Jr.," and performed around the world. He toured on the "Winter Dance Party" tour with Buddy Holly impersonator John Mueller on some of the stages where his father performed.

In January 2007, Jay requested that his father's body be exhumed and an autopsy be performed to settle the rumors that a gun was fired or that Richardson initially survived the crash.[8] The autopsy was performed by Dr. Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Jay was present with Dr. Bass throughout the autopsy and observed as the casket was opened; both men were surprised to find the remains well enough preserved to be recognizable as those of the late rock star. "Dad still amazes me 48 years after his death, that he was in remarkable shape," Richardson told the Associated Press. "I surprised myself. I handled it better than I thought I would".[9] Dr. Bass's findings indicated there were no signs of foul play. He was quoted as saying, "There are fractures from head to toe. Massive fractures ...[Richardson] died immediately. He didn't crawl away. He didn't walk away from the plane".[9]

After the autopsy, Richardson's body was placed in a new casket made by the same company as the original, then was reburied next to his wife in Beaumont's Forest Lawn Cemetery. Jay then allowed the old casket to be put on display at the Texas Musicians Museum. In December 2008, Jay Richardson announced that he would be placing the old casket up for auction on eBay, giving a share of the proceeds to the Texas Musicians Museum,[10] but downplayed the suggestion in later interviews.[11]

Jay Perry Richardson died on August 21, 2013 at the age of 54.[12]


Songs Richardson composed and recorded include:

  • Chantilly Lace #1 hit for The Big Bopper
  • White Lightnin', #1 hit for George Jones
  • Treasure of Love (George Jones song)
  • Running Bear, #1 hit for Johnny Preston and Sonny James
  • Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Walking Through My Dreams (two versions, one on 45-RPM only, the other on LP)
  • Beggar to a King (recorded under his real name),(later recorded by Hank Snow in 1961, it made it to #5 on the country singles chart)
  • Crazy Blues (recorded under his real name)
  • Bopper's Boogie Woogie
  • That's What I'm Talking About
  • Pink Petticoats
  • Monkey Song (You Made a Monkey out of Me) (Richardson's attempt to imitate Buddy Holly)
  • It's the Truth, Ruth (two versions, one on 45-RPM only, the other on LP)
  • Preacher and the Bear
  • Someone Watching Over You
  • Old Maid
  • Strange Kisses
  • Teenage Moon
  • The Clock
  • One More Chance (extremely RARE)
  • Don Terry featuring The Big Bopper - She Giggles


Monument at Crash Site, September 16, 2003

In 1988, Ken Paquette, a Wisconsin fan of the 1950s era, erected a stainless steel monument depicting a steel guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of each of the three performers. It is located on private farmland, about one quarter mile west of the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, approximately eight miles north of Clear Lake; this is where the plane crash occurred. He also created a similar stainless steel monument to the three near the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.[13]

J.P. Richardson's pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The Big Bopper is fondly remembered not only for his distinctive singing and songwriting, but also as a humorist who combined the best elements of country, R&B and rock 'n' roll. Many people say he would have been a great actor and comedian.

His name is mentioned as one of the upcoming musical acts in both the print and television versions of Stephen King's short story You Know They Got a Hell of a Band about a town inhabited by late musical legends. Buddy Holly is subsequently featured in the story.

The Canadian television comedy show SCTV featured a character named "Sue Bopper-Simpson", a fictional daughter of the Big Bopper, played by Catherine O'Hara. The character was a part-time real estate agent who appeared in a musical titled I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing It On Right, and No Guy's Gonna Tell Me That It Ain't.

Shortly after the fatal plane crash, Tommy Dee wrote and recorded a song titled Three Stars in tribute to the three singers. It was recorded by others, including Eddie Cochran, a good friend of all three.

Van Halen's song "Good Enough" from their 1986 album "5150" begins with singer Sammy Hagar calling out "Hello Baby!", imitating Big Bopper's hook in "Chantilly Lace."

The Simpsons episode, "Sideshow Bob Roberts" features a gravestone of The Big Bopper in Springfield that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) used to help commit voter fraud and become elected for mayor; The gravestone is a bust of The Big Bopper holding a telephone receiver, with the epitaph reading "The Big Bopper", his birth and death year (1930-1959), then a parody on the memorable hook by reading "Gooooodbye, baby". He also appeared as a vampire holding a telephone in an "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoon during the episode "C.E.D'oh".

Book, film and stage

In Not Fade Away, a turbulent road novel taking place at the end of the fifties, Jim Dodge narrates an eventful trip to The Big Bopper's grave.[14]

Richardson was portrayed by Gailard Sartain in The Buddy Holly Story, Stephen Lee in La Bamba, and John Ennis in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

On the London stage, Richardson has been portrayed by John Simon Rawlings & Steve Dorsett in the musical Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, and will be portrayed by Jason Blackwater in the 2013/14 UK National Tour.

The song Chantilly Lace is used in the movie True Romance.[15]


  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ "1959: Buddy Holly killed in air crash". On This Day (London: BBC). February 3, 1959. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  3. ^ Thimou, Theodore (December 28, 2006). "Preview: The Twice-Famous Don McLean Plays Rams Head". Bay Weekly. Archived from the original on 2008-06-13. Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  4. ^ Big Bopper: From Head Waiter To Rock'N'Roll Hero. T Knight - Goldmine, 1989
  5. ^ a b "J.P. "The Big Dipper" Richardson". Internet Accuracy Project. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  6. ^ Civil Aeronautics Board (September 23, 1959). "Aircraft Accident Report" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ "The Day the Music Died". Time Magazine. 
  8. ^ "Autopsy of 'Big Bopper' to Address Rumors About 1959 Plane Crash". Associated Press. 2007-01-18. 
  9. ^ a b Davis, Elizabeth A. (2007-03-07). "48 Years Later, Big Bopper Rumors Buried". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  10. ^ Big Bopper's casket a macabre marketable on eBay, The Beaumont Enterprise, December 27, 2008
  11. ^ Big Bopper's casket appears on eBay, but it's not for sale, The Beaumont Enterprise, January 14, 2009
  12. ^
  13. ^ The Day the Music Died - Music Articles
  14. ^ Dodge, Jim (1987), Not Fade Away, Atlantic Monthly Press + r. Grove Press, 1998 and Canongate books, 2004.
  15. ^ Lyrical commentaries: Learning from popular music. BL Cooper - Music Educators Journal, 1991 - JSTOR The character Dragoon is referenced as being The Big Bopper, as is his partner/body host Red Mantle being Buddy Holly in the animated series The Venture Bros.
  • Escott, Colin (1998). "The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson)". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 35.
  • at The Death of Rock: The ArchiveTribute: The Day the Music Died

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