This is a excerpt from a moving interview in today’s Wall Street Journal with Dion, who sang such early rock & roll gems as “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer” and “Abraham, Martin & John.”  He gave up his seat to Buddy Holly on the plane that ultimately crashed on February 3, 1959, killing Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.  That day is still known as “the day the music died.”  Dion thought thirty-six dollars was too much to pay for a plane ticket because at the time that amount represented one-month’s rent.

As the tour continued on, Bobbie Vee joined the tour with 18-year-old Bob Dylan on piano, as a replacement for the recently killed Buddy Holly.  Dylan is now 70, still produces new music (Nikki Jean, a backup singer for Lupe Fiasco, just recorded a song she cowrote with Dylan, “Steel and Feathers.”) and still tours worldwide for most months of the year.  –SB

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  • The Eternal Teenager in Love


Dion and the Belmonts rose from neighborhood street corners to the top of the pop charts in the 1950s with songs like “I Wonder Why” and “A Teenager in Love.”  Now 72, Mr. DiMucci, who went on to solo stardom with “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby” before releasing his final No. 1 hit, 1968’s “Abraham, Martin and John,” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.  He lives in Florida with his wife of 48 years.  His latest CD, “Tank Full of Blues,” comes out Tuesday.

You were the only headliner who survived the 1959 tour when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash.  Did you ever wonder why them and not you?

I was 19 years old and touring with those guys was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Buddy and Ritchie and I, we all had the new Fender Stratocaster guitars; mine was all white; Buddy’s had the sunburst body.  We jammed every night on that bus.  The heater kept breaking down in subzero weather.  It was so cold on the bus Buddy’s drummer got frostbite and had to leave the tour.  Carlo of the Belmonts filled in for him.  Buddy and the Bopper were from Texas; Ritchie was from L.A.—they didn’t know cold like that.  They wanted off that bus!  Buddy chartered the plane; we flipped for the two other seats.  The Bopper and I won the toss.  But the price was $36 each.  That was the exact amount of the monthly rent my parents argued over all my life.  I couldn’t justify spending a month’s rent on a plane ride.  Plus I could handle the cold.  I told Ritchie, “You go.”  Then all of a sudden, they’re gone.  I remember sitting alone on the bus after and there was Buddy’s guitar; I was in shock.  I thought, what the hell is life about; why am I here and they’re not?  I was angry.  It took me a long time to process that loss.

In your recent book [“Dion:  The Wanderer Talks Truth,” about his Christian faith] you say Feb. 3, 1959, wasn’t the day the music died but the day it was born.  What do you mean?

There’s a line in Scripture that says a grain of wheat doesn’t bear fruit until it dies and takes seed.  Buddy Holly and the Crickets created the form—guitars, bass and drums—that every rock band after him, the Beatles, Stones and all the rest, followed.  They wrote and performed their own songs like he did and his music is still being played today.  And that tour, it gave seed to a new generation.  Bobby Vee was a 16-year-old kid who filled in for Buddy at the next gig in Moorhead, Minn.  We got to know each other and we always kept in touch after that.  When Bob Dylan broke big, Bobby Vee told me that his piano player that night was Dylan, who was 18 and still known as Bob Zimmerman.  [Mr. Dylan’s spokesman said:  “Bob says it’s so.”]  He had been in the audience for one or two of the Winter Dance Party shows and now he was on the stage with Bobby Vee, standing in for Buddy Holly.  Bobby told me Dylan played so loud he couldn’t hear himself sing; he said you couldn’t control the guy; it was like someone let him out of a cage.

Related Post:  Please see [ Revolution du Jour and Another Slice of American Pie ] for a great follow-up story on how the song “American Pie” details the earthquake-like shift that ocurred in America between the time of Holly’s 1959 death and the Stones’ tragic Altamont concert in late 1969.  –SB