Thursday, February 3, 2011
Rock Musician, Singer. Born Richard Steven Valenzuela in a largely Hispanic community north of Los Angeles known as the San Fernando Valley, his father was a devotee of flamenco music and blues and instilled his love of music to Ritchie. At the age of eleven he started playing guitar and took it with him everywhere. During lunchtime at school he would sit on the bleachers and practice or entertain his friends with his music. When he entered High School he was already an accomplished musician and played often at school assemblies and after school parties. He was in a variety of bands and in his junior year he joined a local California Rock n Roll band called the "Silhouettes" and they quickly became local stars. At a January 1958 'rent party' held in an American Legion Hall, the band was taped by a part time talent scout who worked for Bob Keane, the owner of Keen Records. Keane was looking for talent for his new label Del Fi Records and after hearing the tape, Keane decided he wanted to hear more of Ritchie so he auditioned him in Los Angeles. The audition went very well and shortly afterward Ritchie Valen's first single 'Come On Lets Go' was released in the summer of 1958. The single did well and he released two more singles: 'Donna' for his high school sweetheart and 'La Bamba' which was reworking of a traditional Mexican folk song. Both singles became enormous hits and began moving towards the top ten and his record sold a half million copies. In late January 1959 Ritchie Valens joined Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and "Dion and the Belmonts" for the 'Winter Dance Party' which was a tour of the upper Midwest. On February 2, 1959 the 'Winter Dance Party' arrived in Clear Lake, Iowa to play a dance at the Surf Ball Room. Due to a broken heater on the bus that they had been traveling on Buddy Holly arranged to fly to North Dakota in a leased four seat Beechcraft Bonanza airplane for himself and the band members, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup. Richardson and Ritchie Valens talked Jennings and Allsup out of their seats. The plane took off shortly after midnight in a light snow and crashed into a pasture about five miles from the airport. Valens, Holly, Richardson and the pilot Roger Peterson were all killed instantly. Ritchie Valens was one of Rock n Roll's first Latino superstars and has inspired countless musicians around the world. In 1987 a biographical movie of his life and times entitled 'La Bamba' was released and was a worldwide smash hit. In 1990 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2001 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.