After roaming in BAM for 100+ days, Tim was totally at ease traveling and began telling people
“I’ve got nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there”.
But, eventually it was time for Deborah to return to Phoenix, and they bid adieu at the Minneapolis Airport. Now, Tim needed to move BAM back toward Phoenix. So, as fate would have it, Tim’s old high school golfing buddy, Bob ‘Mr. Stick’ Baldwin, had “nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there,” and flew into Minneapolis to join Tim on this final leg of the 2017 Risk Blossoming Tour. They charted their journey and felt that twenty-five days seemed about the right amount of time to make this 2,080 mile journey. This is one of Tim’s stories while he and Mr. Stick wandered back home to Phoenix.
The Day The Music Died
Embracing the opportunity to explore big things in little towns, I decided to stop in both Clear Lake, Iowa and Lubbock, Texas, both connected to Buddy Holly, while moving BAM from Minnesota to Phoenix. I was very young when Holly died and knew little about the new direction he was moving popular music. I did know he was born and raised in Lubbock and played his last engagement in Clear Lake before dying in a plane crash, a short distance away.
Clear Lake, Iowa
Driving south from Minneapolis, we exited I-35 about halfway to Des Moines to explore in Clear Lake. I didn’t know what we were looking for other than a place to park BAM for a few hours so we could unhook Willy and explore. I knew the concert site was still here and the crash site was nearby. The Surf Ballroom was the first place to pop up under ‘Attractions’ on the Garmin. We followed the ten blocks the magenta line led us, and there it was.
I had no concept what I was about to see and how emotional the experience was going to be. We were greeted by light color brick building, seemingly just one story high with a plastic letter marquee that proclaimed ‘The Music Lives On’. As we walked toward the entrance, we passed a monument to entertainers Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper – J. P. Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson, all who perished in the February 3rd 1959 plane crash.
The Surf Ballroom
We cautiously opened the door to peek inside only to find that we could just walk in and walk around. Not even an entrance fee. It became a two-hour odyssey of musical history and wonderment of those who had played here.
How could all this happen in such a small town,
with such a small venue, in such a remote place?
Inside The Surf you can feel the music and the ghosts past. There was no need to talk and no one else was making noise. The unspoken protocol seemed to be enjoy at your own pace. I grew up in the Midwest. I experienced music in small town auditoriums like this. The Surf put me back in time. Inside my head, I was re-experiencing my youth.
Stepping Back in Time
For music lovers, The Surf is a “must” stop. The original ballroom was built in 1933 and sat on the edge of the lake. It burned down in 1947 and was replaced by the current 2,000 capacity building in 1948. Its ocean beach motif mimics the original but it sits in the former’s parking lot, a block from the lake. It still looks like and is operated almost exactly as it was when it hosted Holly’s 1959 Winter Dance Party.
You can sit in the 40’s wooden booths with palm tree motifs and their little purse storage boxes, a convenient place to stash your smuggled in whisky, can walk on the stage where your view includes paintings of Holly, Valens and Richardson and you can go into the green room (actually white) where nearly every performer and a few politicians (Obama, Clinton and Romney) have signed the walls.
The common areas are covered with signed studio 8 x 10’s that start in the Big Band Era with the likes of Harry James, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Country artists span decades with Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Willy Nelson, Kris Kristoferson, Glen Campbell and Blake Shelton. Soul and R&B offered BB King, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and The Temptations. Female vocalists include Pat Benatar, Martina McBride and Lady Antebellum. Rock, how about this lineup? – The Beach Boys, Lynrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Three Dog Night, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, Santana and ZZ Top.
And of course, Don McLean, who thirteen years after the crash, penned his classic ‘American Pie’:
‘A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while‘
Buddy Holly was born and raised in Lubbock where he perfected his rockabilly, country and R&B sound with top hits ‘That’ll Be The Day’, ‘Rave On’ and ‘Peggy Sue’. He was just 22 when he died.
The plane, a Beachcraft Bonanza 35, has been nicknamed ‘the doctor killer’, mostly because it offered, perhaps, too much power for inexperienced pilots. It crashed on a cold, snowy February night after what turned out to be final performances by Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper.
The Big Bopper was sick and to save him a long, cold, all night bus ride to Moorhead, MN, Holly’s base player, Waylon Jennings, lost his seat to The Big Bopper. Disappointed that he was regulated back to the frigid bus, Jennings made the comment that would haunt him for the rest of his life when he said to Holly “I hope this plane crashes.” Fate also cost Valens his life after he won a last minute coin toss to replace Holly’s lead guitarist, Tommy Alsep, on the plane.
‘But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died’
Holly’s style was moving popular music in new directions in both the U.S. and Britain. After touring England in 1958 with his band, The Crickets, their four person sound, created by two guitars, a base and a drummer became the standard recipe as music was evolving toward The Beatles gigantic success in the mid 60’s.
Richie Valens and J. P. Richardson
Valens and Richardson also had profound affects in popular Music’s evolution. Valens (Richard Valenzula), was just 17 but he had already opened doors for Chicano and Latino performers with his hit rock version of ‘La Bamba’. Richardson was the first DJ with a personality name, ‘The Big Bopper’, who turned performer and recorded perhaps the first rap booty call with his hit ‘Chantilly Lace’.
The Crash Site
Driving a short five-miles north of The Surf we visited the actual crash site. I find the emotional thought of the final moments before crashing in an airplane something I can’t think through to the end. Visiting an actual site is quite sobering. Again, not a word needed to be spoken.
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die
Lubbock is a small West Texas cowtown. We found that there is not much before it as you approach from the East. As you leave to the West there is even less.
Yet, in the middle of this panhandle town, curving behind a larger than life Holly statue, there is the wall of fame honoring local legends including Jennings, Roy Orbison, Mac Davis, Jimmy Dean, The Gatlin Brothers, Bob Wills, Tanya Tucker and Dilbert McClinton. Music runs deep here. The Buddy Holly Center covers his story and probably should be visited before The Surf, but our travels led us in the opposite order.
Times were so different. Music had limited news reporting, little TV exposure and no internet. Bands evolved by taking their sound to all people in all places.
The 1959 Winter Dance Party was scheduled for 24 shows in 24 days, criss-crossing Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio (a fatal flaw as travel time, especially in the winter, was not thought through). They traveled in sub-freezing tempertures in buses with no heaters. These were bands with No. 1 hits! This was an era when the promotors, not the entertainers, pulled the strings.
Holly’s original drummer, Carl Bunch, had to drop out mid-tour when his toes suffered frost-bite while traveling on the bus. Holly wanted to charter the plane to afford him time to do his own laundry before the next nights show (no wardrobe or assistants, just an entertainer in search of fame). The bands, I’m sure, were happy that they were performing and people were flocking in. The producers, I’m sure, were keeping more than their share of the money while over-scheduling the tour.
The result was, unfortunately, we lost three talented, blossoming musicians……….
but, their music lives on.
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Tim and Deborah are back in Phoenix. While the 2017 Risk Blossoming Journey has concluded, they are already making plans for an extended Risk Blossoming Tour in 2018. In a couple of weeks, they are headed to their beloved Hawaii (without BAM) to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Be assured that they will be seeking opportunities to continue “risk blossoming.”
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”
– Anais Nin
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