'If I Leave Here Tomorrow:' Musicians Who Died In Plane Crashes

By | October 3, 2018

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Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd, being interviewed on July 10, 1976 at Stouffer's Hotel in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)

The course of rock 'n roll history took a turn when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper perished in a deadly airplane crash in Iowa -- an event Don McLean would later describe as "The Day the Music Died." Many musicians have died in plane crashes, among them Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, Ronnie van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and John Denver. Most of the 12 hit-makers here were still in their artistic prime when they met their untimely ends -- just imagine how much more music they might have given us if these musicians hadn't died in airplane crashes.

"If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" Ronnie van Zant sang in "Freebird," a song some have called prophetic. Remember them? We couldn't forget the artists behind "Peggy Sue," "Crazy," "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay," "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," "Sweet Home Alabama," and "Country Roads, Take Me Home" if we tried.

February 3, 1959: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. 'Big Bopper' Richardson

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Buddy Holly

The Day the Music Died – when Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. It was another case of an improperly trained pilot.  The group was on a Winter Dance Party Tour and, as they were traveling from one venue to another, there were problems that developed. Beginning with unheated tour buses that broke down twice in the freezing weather, things escalated when the drummer had to be put in the hospital with frostbite and Buddy decided to charter a four-seated airplane from Mason City, Iowa on to their next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. 

It was originally planned for Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to be on that plane, but Waylon gave up his seat to J.P. because he had the flu and Tommy Allsup and Ritchie Valens tossed a coin for the other seat with Valens “winning” the toss. He said that it was the first time he ever won anything. The pilot was not certified to fly by instruments only so when they took off in the bad weather conditions, he was not able to properly control the plane due to spatial disorientation. Just after takeoff, around 1:00 am, on that fateful day, February 3, 1959, all four of them were killed instantly when the plane crashed into a cornfield only five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport.