TexasEscapes.com  
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
TEXAS TOWNS
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Big Bopper

by Clay Coppedge

Movies 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 Archie P. MacDonald grew up listening to Richardson on the radio and wrote 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!"

Of course, we all know how the movie ends. Waylon Jennings, a bass player for the Crickets on this tour, swapped his seat on an airplane bound for the next gig to The Big Bopper. The plane crashed in a snowy Iowa field, and the music died.

The final scene in the movie might be an interview the Big Bopper gave to "Disc" magazine just a couple of weeks before the crash. He told the magazine that he had filmed three of his songs on video tape and envisioned juke boxes with video screen, televisions with video tape players and an attachment that would allow people to record their favorite television shows.
Yes, the Big Bopper is credited with creating the first music video and he had an idea for VCRs at a time when the country was just getting comfortable with television.

There was a lot more to the Big Bopper than "Chantilly Lace" and pony tails hanging down, but the music died before the world had a chance to find that out.


Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
July 1, 2015 column

See also The Big Bopper by Archie P. McDonald, PhD

Forum:
Subject: The Big Bopper

"My mother used to go to the laundromat to dry clothes because we had only a washer for many years. The Big Bopper's widow did her laundry at the same place which was next door to the Weingarten's supermarket somewhere near Royal Street, I think. Just about every time we saw her there, Mama would tell me the tragic story of the plane crash." - Frances Giles, July 04, 2015


More
Music & Musicians
Related Topics:
People | Column | Texas Towns | Texas
Books by Clay Coppedge
Custom Search
TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS FEATURES
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes. All Rights Reserved