The brevity of life

On February 3, 1959, American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “the big bopper” J.P. Richard were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, together with pilot Roger Peterson. The event later became known as “The Day the Music Died”, after singer-songwriter Don McLean referred to it as such in his 1971 song “American Pie”.

At the time, Holly and his band, consisting of Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch. They  were playing on the “Winter Dance Party” tour across the Midwest. Rising artists Valens, Richardson, and Dion and the Belmonts had joined the tour as well.

After stopping at Clear Lake to perform, and frustrated by his bus constantly breaking down, Holly chose to charter a plane to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.  Richardson, suffering from flu, swapped places with Jennings, taking his seat on the plane, while Allsup lost his seat to Valens on a coin toss. Soon after takeoff, late at night and in poor, wintry weather conditions, the pilot lost control of the light aircraft, a Beechcraft Bonanza, which subsequently crashed into a cornfield, killing all four on board.  Waylon Jennings, who played bass guitar for Holly, who did not make the trip went on to become a country music trailblazer, one of the genre’s original “outlaws.” 

On March 5, 1963, country music stars Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in an airplane crash near Camden, Tennessee, along with the pilot Randy Hughes.

On October 20, 1977, a Convair CV-240 passenger aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed in a wooded area near Gillsburg, Mississippi.  Chartered by the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, it was near the end of its flight from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  

Lead vocalist/founding member Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist and vocalist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (Steve’s older sister), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray all died as a result of the crash while 20 others survive

On Monday, August 27, 1990, American musician Stevie Ray Vaughan was  killed in a helicopter crash near East Troy, Wisconsin at age 35. He was one of the most influential blues guitarists of the 1980s. Vaughan spent much of his last days performing with his band Double Trouble as the opening act for Eric Clapton. They had just performed at the Alpine Valley Music Center outdoor theatre. After the concert concluded, he and three members of Clapton’s tour entourage boarded a helicopter that crashed into the side of a nearby ski hill shortly after takeoff.

Vaughan took the final seat on the five-seat helicopter that crashed around 1 a.m. local time into a man-made East Troy, Wis., ski hill that was obscured by dense fog.  Three of Clapton’s associates, including Los Angeles booking agent Bobby Brooks, and the pilot also were killed in the crash of the Chicago-bound helicopter. The guitarist originally had planned to fly to Chicago on a later helicopter but decided to take the earlier flight when the seat became available. In the 1959 tragedy, Valens and Richardson had also taken seats on the ill-fated plane as last-minute substitutes. Ricky Lawson, Eric Clapton’s drummer gave up his seat last minute and took a later helicopter from the venue.

On a side note, I worked with Billy Powell, the keyboardist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, who was one of the survivors of the plane crash.  Billy died of a heart attack January 29, 2009. I also worked with Ricky Lawson for a couple of years on the Lionel Richie tour. He died December 25, 2013 of a brain aneurysm.

Reflecting back on so many of our long overnight bus runs, we shared our personal convictions and “war” stories into the wee hours of the night. The main theme seemed to always center on the fact that our time on this earth was painfully limited and, regardless of how many times we may have escaped some tragedy, in the end, we were only allowed so many heartbeats. This rather sobering reality, made us appreciate the time we had on the road as well as the time between tours with our families.

As the world descends into panic and hysteria over the coronavirus, I am convinced more than ever that God has this whole thing under His control, even though we don’t. We have to keep looking up, maybe turn down main stream media a little………….

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:13-14

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