THE BIG BOPPER
Born Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr., 24 October 1930, Sabine Pass, Texas
No matter what his musical qualities may have been, the Big Bopper is best remembered as one of the artists that perished in the Buddy Holly air crash on the day the music died. He undoubtedly deserves better though, as he was a gifted songwriter and could certainly deliver a catchy tune.
J.P. ('Jape') Richardson was born in the East Texas town of Sabine Pass, the oldest of three sons. His father, Jiles Perry Richardson Sr., had been an itinerant roughneck in the oilfields along the Texas Gulf Coast. When Jape was six, the family moved to Beaumont, as work was more plentiful there. Jape's mother, Essie, was a self-taught pianist and guitarist and she encouraged Jape's obvious musical talent. He graduated from Beaumont High School in 1947 and enrolled at Lamar College to study law. But his academic aspirations didn't last long. Jape found part-time work at KTRM Radio in Beaumont and became a full-time broadcaster in 1949. He married Adrianne ('Teatsy') Fryou in 1952 ; their daughter Debbie was born the next year. His career as a deejay took off and in 1953 he created a new radio personality for himself, The Big Bopper. As such he made his first recording in 1954 ("Bopper's Boogie Woogie"), but it remained in the vaults until 1977. And then Uncle Sam came calling. With his career interrupted from 1955-1957, Jape served as a corporal attached to a radar batallion in Fort Bliss, Texas. While in the service, he started to write songs in earnest.
Returning to civilian life, Richardson set a world record by broadcasting non-stop for 122 hours in May 1957, spinning 1,821 records during this "Disc-a-thon". The stunt was a great source of publicity for KTRM and Jape, although he was briefly hospitalized and lost 35 lbs. In the summer of 1957, he came to the attention of Harold 'Pappy' Daily and was signed to Mercury-Starday as a singer. Jape thought he'd try his hand at country music first. His initial two singles, "Crazy Blues" and "Teen-Age Moon" (both credited to Jape Richardson) weren't failures, but they didn't bring him national recognition either. Inspired by the success of two big novelty hits, he then wrote "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor". He didn't really have a B-side when a friend came to pick him up for a drive to the studio, but by the time the session started, Jape had quickly improvised a song called "Chantilly Lace". First released on Daily's own D label in mid-1958 (credited to "Big Bopper"), the record soon became too big for Daily to handle and was reissued on Mercury. "Chantilly Lace" proved to be the hit side and peaked at # 6 in November 1958. In the UK it reached # 12. The Big Bopper had hit the big time. There are several answer records to "Chantilly Lace", including "That Makes It" by Jayne Mansfield and "Bopper 486609" by Donna Dameron. The follow-up was "Big Bopper's Wedding", which went to # 38, while the flip, "Little Red Riding Hood" also charted at # 72.
Then he was booked for the Winter Dance Party of January-February 1959. The chance to tour with Buddy Holly was too good to be true. Jape's pregnant wife Teatsy didn't want him to go, but the Bopper thought he was securing his family's future. The travelling conditions for the Winter Dance Party artists were atrocious. With a blistering winter freeze outside, they were forced to tour in a dilapidated former school bus with a broken heater. Jape caught a nasty cold, needed to see a doctor and persuaded Waylon Jennings to let him have his seat on the private plane that Buddy Holly had booked to reach the next stop in Fargo, North Dakota. The rest is history.
On the morning of Tuesday, February 3, 1959, The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and 21-year old pilot Roger Peterson were found dead in a cornfield some six miles north of the Mason City airport from where the Beechcraft Bonanza had taken off.
Jape's coffin was shipped back to Beaumont's Forest Lawn Cemetery. On April 28, 1959, Teatsy gave birth to his son, Jay Perry Richardson, who grew into the spitting image of his father in size, appearance and even mannerisms. Jay toured as Big Bopper Jr., carrying on his father's musical legacy, but died on August 21, 2013, at the age of 54.
The Bopper had recorded enough material for a posthumous album, which was called "Chantilly Lace" (Mercury MG 20402).
Jape Richardson's music has had a good afterlife. His composition "White Lightnin'" shot to # 1 on Billboard's country charts two months after his death, cementing a long career for George Jones. In 1960, "Running Bear" became a # 1 hit for Johnny Preston. It had been recorded not long before Richardson's death, with the Bopper and George Jones providing the Indian chants in the background. In April 1972, a revival of "Chantilly Lace" by Jerry Lee Lewis hit # 1 on the country charts. Although Buddy and Ritchie are both in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Big Bopper is still waiting.
Official webste : http://www.bigbopper.com/
Book : Larry Lehmer, The Day the Music Died : The Last Tour Of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. New York : Schirmer, 1997 (paperback 2003). 272 pages.
Discography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.nl/search/label/Big%20Bopper
CD recommendation :
Acknowledgements : Johnette Duff, the official website.
Dik, April 2014
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