Jiles “Jape” “JP” Richardson became a radio D.J. in 1952 and worked for ten years (with a two year break in the middle for army duty) at Texas radio station KTRM where he ultimately became their music director. While working at a sock hop, he decided to change his name to The Big Bopper after he witnessed teenagers dancing to a new dance called The Bop.
Richardson wanted to get into the performing side of the business because he saw it as a way to earn enough money to buy his own radio station. So when a promo man from Mercury Records gave him the opportunity to become a recording artist, he jumped. But while his first single release flopped, his second struck gold.
Today, The Big Bopper is mistakenly remembered as a one-hit-wonder for his 1958 top-ten hit and today’s Song Of The Day, “Chantilly Lace.” Yet most people don’t realize that he scored several other hits including “The Big Bopper’s Wedding,” “Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” He was also a successful songwriter who penned “White Lightning,” a number one hit for George Jones, “Beggar To A King,” a number five hit for Hank Snow and “Running Bear,” another chart-topper for Johnny Preston.
But if you’re going to be remembered for one song, then “Chantilly Lace” is a great one to be known for! Richardson had great shtick and the song perfectly captures The Big Bopper’s larger-than-life personality with its rolling piano, rollicking backbeat, wailing saxophone and Richardson’s exuberant basso voice gleefully exclaiming “Oh baby, that’s a-what I like!” It is also one heck of a rambunctious novelty record, to boot!
Richardson was the first recording artist to make music videos. He was convinced that video was going to be the future of recorded music and he coined the term “rock video.” In 1958 he made videos for the songs: “Chantilly Lace,” “The Big Bopper’s Wedding” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” that are now a cherished part of his legacy.
And then came “The Day The Music Died…”
After the success of “Chantilly Lace,” Richardson took to the road with fellow musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion & The Belmonts on “The Winter Dance Party Tour.” His wife Adrianne, was unhappy about his decision to tour in support of the single because by now the couple had a young daughter and she was six months pregnant at the time with their second child.
After the eleventh stop on the tour, Holly chartered a plane to fly a few of the “luckier” tour members to their next stop in Moorehead, Minnesota. (Their flight was actually headed to Fargo, North Dakota where the entourage could catch a flight on to Moorehead.) The plan was for Holly and the lucky few who would get seats on the plane, would fly ahead and be able to do laundry for the rest of the musicians on the tour who had already spent weeks on a tour bus on the road.
Waylon Jennings was one of the lucky few who was supposed to take the flight, but he gave his seat up to The Big Bopper at the last minute because Richardson was suffering from the flu. Buddy Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsup flipped a coin for the last seat with Ritchie Valens and lost, giving Valens the last available seat on the plane.
Nobody knows exactly what went down (other than the plane) on the night of February 3, 1959, but they took off during a blizzard and it is believed that Roger Peterson, the 20 year old pilot, lost his frame of reference and flew the plane down when he should have gone up, resulting in a nose dive to the ground at 200mph that ejected the three musicians out of the plane on impact. It took more than 10 hours for rescuers to find the accident site.
Richardson was survived by his wife, Adrianne and four year old daughter. His son was born two months later. Although “Chantilly Lace” went gold during his lifetime, Richardson had less than $100 in his bank account at the time of his death, and he never got the chance to pick up his gold record. His death was immortalized in the Don McLean hit “American Pie.”