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Monday, May 2, 2016

BASIC BIITTNER : Fifty Winters Later

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My brother Doug is seven years older than I, which meant, of course, that during my formative years I was the "little brother" who was only in the 5th grade when he graduated from High School, and, like many siblings with that great an age difference, I'm sure he didn't really want to have a lot to do with me then.

I say "I think" because I really can't remember any hostility or anything like that. Doug gets embarrassed now when I tell him he was my "idol" growing up, but, well, he was. My Big Bro' was an excellent student, a four-sport athlete, and was in both the band and choir. What's not to admire? On top of that, Doug was a member of a couple of early Rock and Roll bands (The Comets and Robby Rhines and the Rogues, who actually recorded a record). When he went off to college (Iowa State), he was a student government leader and sang and played banjo in a folk group, The Cambridge Singers. The summer after he graduated from ISU, we painted our parents' home together and I served as a nervous 14-year-old groomsman in his wedding.

Since that time, some 43 years ago, I have found that the older you get, the less important age difference becomes. Doug and I share not only the same parents, but also the same passionate interests in popular (be it 50s and 60s rock, country or folk) music, as well as a somewhat less passionate interest in sports. I developed my interest in both of these subjects, of course, through him, and my "worship" of him. I got my first Rock and Roll record (Elvis Presley's "Too Much") when I was only 6 (Doug was 13), and my interest in popular music just continued to grow from there. Now, Doug and I often exchange e-mails and music CDs.

Five years ago, Doug and his wife Nancy took my wife and me on what I called "The Trip of a Lifetime," as we visited New Orleans and Memphis, birthplaces of much of American music. What a blast!

Now, the four of us are about to undertake on another musical pilgrammage. My brother lives in Phoenix and, to put in mildly, has shown no interest in returning to the frozen tundra of Iowa during the winter months. A while ago, though, I discovered an event that I felt, as I e-mailed to him, "will get you to come back to Iowa in the wintertime." Well, I guess I've come to know my brother pretty well. He informed me a week or so ago that he had purchased four ticket for said event and also reserved us a "booth for four."

The event to which I am referring is a concert on February 2, 2009 at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The concert is the culmination of a week-long commemoration of, in the words of Don McLean, "The Day the Music Died." On February 2, 1959 - fifty winters ago - young rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper performed at the Surf Ballroom, then hopped aboard a small plane (piloted by Roger Peterson of Alta) headed for their next gig in Fargo, North Dakota, One of Holly's band members, Waylon Jennings, had to give up his seat on the plane to the headliners. As most of you know, the plane never made it to Fargo, crashing a short way out of Clear Lake in the wintry weather and killing all four passengers.

I am old enough that I remember that day and the impact of the crash. My 16-year-old brother was already into playing the guitar, and was himself just a year younger than Ritchie Valens and four years younger than Buddy Holly, so needless to say, he. too. was "all shook up" (sorry, Elvis).

Doug must be one of the biggest Buddy Holly fans around. He has everything Holly (actual family spelling "Holley") ever recorded, both with the Crickets and as a solo artist - an amazing amount of music, considering the brevity of his career.

The concert will be listening to on Feb. 2 includes such artists as The Big Bopper Jr. (the original's son); Tommy Allsup, who was also on the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour; Los Lobos, who performed Valens' music in the movie "La Bamba;" Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson, who is nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year; Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills...); British Invasion singers Peter and Gordon; country's Joe Ely; Bobby Vee, who went on stage in his native Fargo that night 50 years ago as a substitute performer; and, of course, The Crickets.

I can't wait. All will be playing the music of Hall-of-Famers Holly and Valens, who were acknowledged inspirations for these performers.

Rock on - (and Happy New Year, too, by the way)

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner