have been made about two of the three rock and roll pioneers who
died in a plane crash outside of Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3,
1959. Buddy Holly was, naturally enough, the subject of "The
Buddy Holly Story" and Richie Valens was given the biopic
treatment in "La Bamba." But no one has made a movie about the Big
Bopper, aka J. P. Richardson, aka the Big Bopper, who also perished
in that snowy Iowa field.
If the trilogy of what the 1971 song "American Pie" called "The
Day the Music Died" were to be completed with a film about Richardson,
the opening scene would show Multimax Village, a government housing
project in Beaumont.
There the Bopper-to-be would be seen hanging out with another future
singer of note, George Jones. The two were friends growing
up, and Jones' number one hit "White Lightning" was written by Richardson,
though it was released after he died.
Richardson was introduced to the guitar and piano by his mother
when the lad was just a wee bopper. He played in the band and sang
in the choir in addition to playing for the Royal Purple football
team at Beaumont High School. He continued his musical pursuits
at Lamar College, where he enrolled with a vague notion of becoming
a lawyer but music turned out to be more fun. He dropped out to
devote full attention to his job as a disc jockey at KPRM in Beaumont.
Jape, as his friends sometimes called Richardson, was said to be
shy in person but with a microphone in front of him he found his
voice and a booming personality to go with it. But he could still
be something of a contradiction. Writer and East Texas historian
P. MacDonald grew up listening to Richardson on the radio and
about it for this website.
"The mellow voice of disk jockey J.P. Richardson wafted through
the mysteries of broadcast radio to the little brown, plastic, all-AM
receiver in my room," MacDonald wrote. "A slow instrumental piece
provided background while our old friend greeted us and gently eased
into the evening's program of equally slow, soothing, almost pacifying,
'easy listening' music.
"Were we fooled. We knew that Buddy Holly and Bill Haley and some
kid named Presley were upsetting the musical world, but we knew
not that in another, secret life, J.P. Richardson metamorphized
into The Big Bopper, a rock-n-roller more interested in Chantilly
Lace and pony tails hanging down than in listening easy about anything."
Richardson became The Big Bopper when a sponsor, Schlitz Brewing
Company, asked him to create an on-air personality that could be
marketed to the station's teenage listeners. Since teenagers of
the day were doing a dance called the Bop and since Richardson was
a large man, he became The Big Bopper, then and forevermore.
His first brush with fame came when he set the Guinness Book of
World Records for most consecutive hours on the air, spinning 1,821
records over 122 hours and eight minutes. The last song he played
was "Cattle Call" by Dinah Shore. Then he was helped to a waiting
ambulance - a prop, of course - and whisked away for rest and recuperation.
Richardson's first songs, such as "Beggar to a King," were country-flavored
but way too mellow for a true bopper. He cut a record for Harold
"Pappy" Daily from Houston called "Purple People Eater Meets the
Witch Doctor." The B-side, which he wrote on the way to the studio,
was a little ditty called "Chantilly Lace."
That turned out to be the song that turned programmers and disc
jockeys' heads, and the one they played. They played it a lot. "Chantilly
Lace" reached number six on the charts, and was in the Top 40 for
more than five months. The opening line, "Hell-o-o-o- Baby!" became
sort of a catch-phrase as did the reoccurring line, "Oh baby, you
know what I like!"