Remembering the Rock N’ Roll pioneer Ritchie Valens on his 83rd birthday

The 17 year old Rocker who during his short life and career scored memorable Rock classics such as “La Bamba” and “Come On Let’s Go” was born on this day in 1941

Remembering the Rock N’ Roll pioneer Ritchie Valens on his 83rd birthday

Ritchie Valens had one of Rock music’s shortest and tragic careers, lasting only 8 months, but during that períod, the young Rocker scored a string of memorable hit songs that solidified his legend status. Born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, California, Valens, a self-taught musician, was brought up hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar, which he blended together in order to create his signature style. During his live performances, he often improvised new lyrics and added new riffs to popular songs while he was playing. It was that way that Valens came up with his own version of the traditional Mexican folk song “La Bamba”. The 17 year old Valens transformed the song into one with a rock rhythm and beat, and it became a hit in 1958. Signed by label Del-Fi, Valens scored more hits with “Come On, Let’s Go” and the love song “Donna”, written to his girlfriend. During those months between 1958 and 1959, Ritchie Valens toured extensively within the U.S, alongside his own music idols including Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and appearing twice on the popular Dick Clark’s TV show “American Bandstand” where he performed his hits “Come On, Let’s Go” and “Donna”. As his popularity grew, Valens was required to tour more, that meant, plane traveling to get faster to the venues. By 1959 he had been able to avoid most of the time plane travel, the reason for this was his fear of flying due to a freak accident at his junior high school when, on January 31, 1957, two airplanes collided over the playground, killing or injuring several of his friends. But on February 2, 1959, after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa featuring Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, a succession of decisions sealed the faith of the three musicians. Due to the bad weather, Valens got on a 3 passenger plane, won his seat by tossing a coin with Buddy Holly’s backup guitarist Tommy Allsup. Holly’s bassist, the famous Waylon Jennings, voluntarily gave up his seat on the plane to J.P. Richardson (Big opper), who was ill with the flu. At approximately 12.55 am on February 3, 1959, the three-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza departed for Fargo, North Dakota, and crashed a few minutes after takeoff for reasons still unknown killing everyone on it. At just 17, Ritchie Valens was dead. The tragedy inspired singer Don McLean to write his 1971 hit “American Pie”, immortalizing February 3 as “The Day the Music Died”. In 1987, the short life of Ritchie Valens was adapted into a movie, the biopic “La Bamba”, featuring Lou-Diamond Phillips as Valens. The movie was one of the biggest blockbusters of 1987 and brought back Ritchie’s music to the forefront, introducing it to a new generation. Mexican-American Rock band Los Lobos, scored a huge hit with their version of “La Bamba”, the theme song of the movie.

Listen to “Come On, Let’s Go” while watching some Ritchie Valens home footage in 1958

Listen to “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens

Watch Ritchie Valens performing “Ooh My Head” in the 1959 movie “Go, Johnny, Go!”

Listen to “Donna” by Ritchie Valens

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