2007 - Individual Artist
Hometown: Pacoima, CA
Bio: Rarely do we find a person for induction into the Iowa Rock' N Roll Music Association Hall of Fame that had as short a career with such a lasting impact on the history of Rock and Roll as that of Ritchie Valens.
Only two 45 rpm records were released prior to his untimely death, in 1959, in a tragic Iowa plane crash. The sounds of “Come on Let’s Go”, “Donna”, and “LaBamba” are still included on play lists of radio stations throughout the world.
Richard Steven Valenzuela was born in Pacoima, Calif., May 13, 1941. He expressed interest in learning to play guitar at age 5. Encouraged by his father and a neighbor, he was playing and singing by the time he was in junior high school. At 16 he joined a local band (the Silhouettes) in addition to playing solo at parties and other events.
In May of 1958 Bob Keane of Del-Fi records heard about Ritchie and went to a performance to listen to him. Keane was impressed and decided to sign him to a recording contract. Keane suggested he shorten his name from Valenzuela to Valens. The next several months would become a whirlwind of bookings for him arranged by Keane, including: American Bandstand, Alan Freed’s Christmas Jubilee in New York City with the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran and Jackie Wilson. He also performed with Buddy Holly and Paul Anka in Hawaii. He signed with The “Winter Dance Party” tour in early 1959. Also appearing on the tour were Dion & the Belmonts, Buddy Holly with a new group of “Crickets” (Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch and Waylon Jennings), The Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson and Frankie Sardo.
The tour was poorly set up and criss-crossed across Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin during an extreme midwestern winter. The bus they were traveling in was in poor condition and broke down several times during the tour. Carl Bunch suffered frostbitten feet and was hospitalized for treatment and unable to complete the tour. Other musicians on the tour took turns playing drums in his place. Several of the performers were suffering from colds. Although the weather was terrible, huge crowds packed the venues for the performances.
The last performance for Ritchie took place at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on Feb 2, 1959. Buddy Holly decided to charter a plane for himself, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to continue on to the next performance in Moorhead Minn. J.P. Richardson talked Waylon Jennings out of his seat on the plane and Tommy Allsup gave up his seat to Valens. After the Surf performance, Manager Carroll Anderson drove the young musicians to the airport where they boarded the small private plane piloted by 21-year-old Roger Petersen of Storm Lake Iowa. The plane took off into a snowstorm and crashed just a few miles northwest of the airport, killing all aboard.
Even though Ritchie’s career ended much too prematurely there have been releases of the music he recorded prior to his death: over 35 albums, and 5 CD’s and box sets have been released. His picture has been featured on a U.S. Postage Stamp, he received a “star” on the Hollywood walk of fame and he has been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A tribute film of his life was made in 1987 and his recordings have been covered by numerous popular entertainers. Each year in February a tribute to him and the others who lost their lives on the plane crash is held at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. In 2004 an annual tribute was started the first weekend in February in Watsonville Ca. It is appropriate that Ritchie Valens is inducted in the Iowa Rock ‘N Roll Music Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007.