The Big Bopper was a rock-and-roll novelty act for a short time but his legacy has cast a long shadow over the pop music business since his untimely death in the late 50's.
He was born Jiles Perry Richardson in 1930 in Sabine Pass, Texas. He grew up in East Texas, not far from the Louisiana border. He was known as J.P. or Jape to his friends. Richardson worked as a disc jockey before entering the military. On his discharge in 1955 he set his sights on being the preeminent disc jockey in East Texas. He worked at KTRM in Beaumont, Texas and at one time set a record for continuous broadcasting, lasting for over 122 hours.
He became interested in songwriting and wrote songs for friends, in addition to doing some recording on his own as the Big Bopper. His hits included Chantilly Lace and Big Bopper's Wedding, both novelty songs released on the Mercury label in 1958. Chantilly Lace went as high as number six on the pop chart.
In early 1959 J.P. Richardson joined some other notable rock-and-roll acts on a tour of the Upper Midwest. One of the other performers, Buddy Holly, was tired of traveling on the group's bus and wanted to have some time to do his laundry after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa on the night of February 2, 1959. Holly made arrangements for a private pilot, Roger Petersen, to fly Holly, Richardson and another performer on the tour, Ritchie Valens, to the group's next tour stop. They never made it. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff just outside of Clear Lake early on the morning of February 3, killing all four.
That plane crash became part of the subject matter when another singer/songwriter, Don McLean, wrote and recorded American Pie - Parts I & II in the early 70's. J.P. Richardson was 28 years old at the time of his death.
Before he died the Big Bopper had seen a young singer, Johnny Preston, perform at the Twilight Club in Port Neches, Texas. He formed an alliance with Preston and the latter recorded a song that Richardson had written for him titled Running Bear. Richardson and country singer George Jones provided backup vocals on the song, which entered the charts some ten months after the Big Bopper's death, making it to the number one chart position in early 1960.
Today Richardson's son tours as a singer. A tribute is held annually at the Surf Ballroom, the site in Clear Lake, Iowa where the Big Bopper gave his final performance.
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