|Subject: How much of this is true?
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Date Posted: Sun February 28, 2016 05:19:26
A free online encyclopedia (that anyone can help edit) about Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley.
Buddy Holly Visits Eau Claire
by Bruce Gardow
Winter Dance Party - 1959
Fifty four years ago this month Rock and Roll legend Buddy Holley and his band “The Crickets” played at Fournier’s Ball Room in Eau Claire as part of “The Winter Dance Party.” The exact date was Monday, January 26th, 1959. Perhaps you were there. About all you hear about this momentous event is that, “Buddy Holley performed at Fournier’s Ball Room once.” But there is a very interesting story surrounding Buddy’s visit to Eau Claire, and I’d like to share it with you.
In 1959 Buddy Holley was married, a new father, and he was broke. Even though he had such super hits as “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Oh Boy,” had a highly successful tour of Europe and the U.S. and was second only to Elvis in records sold Buddy was virtually penniless due to an unscrupulous manager. In order to keep he and his new family afloat, Holly decided to do The “Winter Dance Party” tour of 1959. The tour was of the upper Midwest, primarily Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin and was put together by a shoe string outfit called General Artists Corporation (GAC) which was headed by a druggist who sold Rock and Roll records out of his pharmacies. He cared little for Rock and Roll, but liked money. (This should give you a clue of things to come.)
The Winter Dance Party debuted January 23, 1959 at George Devine’s Ballroom in Milwaukee. However, things were not good. The Upper Midwest was experiencing the deadliest winter in decades. Temperatures took a nose dive in early January and stayed below zero for most of the month. Then a blizzard arrived in late January, with 13 inches of snow falling, claiming the lives of thirty three people. Milwaukee was still digging out from an earlier snow storm as the tour began. Regardless, a huge crowd turned out to hear Buddy and his band the Crickets which consisted of a young Waylon Jennings on guitar along with Tommy Allsup. Carl Bunch played the drums.
After the show, Buddy grabbed his customary fee of $500 and headed toward the tour bus, if you could call it that. GAC had accepted the lowest bid for the bus service. The bus was old. Buddy and the rest of the groups on the tour were really crowded and were forced to sleep in the luggage racks and, the heater didn’t work. But off they went, late in the evening for Mankato, Minnesota, some 350 miles away.
Traveling on two-lane roads covered with drifting snow and ice, the bus rolled into Mankato the next day. Buddy and his group along with the rest of the group’s from the “Dance Party” played before another huge crowd. When the show was over everyone loaded back on the bus and headed to Fournier’s Ballroom here in Eau Claire, a distance of 170 miles. By the time they got to Eau Claire the temperature had plunged to -26 degree’s below zero. The bus reeked of diesel fumes, body odor, sardines and alcohol. Cricket drummer Carl Bunch discovered that he had lost his gray and black stage clothes, forcing the group to wear their one remaining costume, until it was filthy.
Regardless of the temperature, another huge crowd turned out at Fournier’s. After the show, Buddy and fellow musician’s Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper ate at Sammy’s Pizza. Then it was off to Montevideo, Minnesota in far western Minnesota, some 230 miles from Eau Claire. By now, various people on the tour were stricken with colds and flu, while others began to loose feeling in their extremities.
After Montevideo came St. Paul, Davenport and Fort Dodge, Iowa. After St Paul the groups were furnished with a new bus that also had no heat. After Fort Dodge, the groups headed 370 miles north to Duluth. During the show Buddy was introduced to a young, local musician named Robert Zimmerman. Today we know him as Bob Dylan.
After the show the group set out for Appleton, Wisconsin, 340 miles away. As they traveled along the edge of Lake Superior, the wind chill temperature was estimated at -40 below zero. As they headed south on Highway 51, disaster struck. The bus broke down in one of the remotest parts of Iron County. The boys hoped to flag down a passing motorist. But with weather conditions as they were, no one was traveling. The group was in serious danger. They broke out their instruments and started a jam session right there in the bus to take their minds off of what they were going through.
About an hour later they saw headlights coming from the south. It was a semi –truck. Some of the group jumped out of the bus in an attempt to flag the truck down. But the truck drove right by them and kept heading north. The group just sat their and froze for what seemed like an eternity. But, about two hours later the Iron County Sheriff arrived. The trucker had notified the authorities when he reached Hurley. The group was shuttled back to Hurley and given shelter and breakfast in a local strip club except for the group’s black bus driver, who had to eat at the county garage. Carl Bunch was rushed to the local hospital.
The show in Appleton was cancelled and in spite of the severe weather and a broken down bus, GAC insisted that the group keep there next performance in Green Bay. They traveled by train from Hurley to Green Bay and checked in to a downtown motel. This was the tenth performance for the Winter Dance Party. Twenty two hundred people showed up to see Buddy’s second to last performance.
The group had been scheduled to have the following day off but
The ever greedy GAC scheduled a performance 357 miles away in Clear Lake, Iowa. The group boarded a third bus for the trip to Clear Lake and just like the two busses before it, the heater didn’t work. Leaving Green Bay they passed the Austin Straubel Airport. A short time later some guy no one had ever heard of, named Vince Lombardi, arrived to assume the coaching duties for the Green Bay Packers.
They reached Clear Lake and performed at the Surf Ballroom. After the show, Buddy had had enough. He chartered an airplane to take them to their next concert some ten hours and 440 miles away in Moorhead, Minnesota. Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and everyone’s dirty laundry flew with Buddy. However, moments after the take off, the plane crashed in an Iowa corn field and everyone aboard was killed. Just days after playing at Fournier’s Ballroom and eating at Sammy’s Pizza, Buddy Holly was dead. It was the day the music died.
(Information for this article was obtained from “Myths and Mysteries of Wisconsin” written by Michael Bie.)
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