Buddy Holly among musicians honored at Winter Dance Party

Johnny Tillotson
By Mike Marx, for the Courier-Post
Posted: Mar. 25, 2019 5:46 pm

 I journeyed to Clear Lake, Iowa, with my buddy, John Buckman of Palmyra, for the 60thanniversary of the Winter Dance Party, the Day the Music Died, on Jan .31 at the Surf Ballroom.

The Winter Dance Party was the name of the tour that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were on when they played their last concert at the Surf Ballroom. After the concert Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper decided to fly on to Fargo, N.D. However, it was storming that night, and their plane crashed in a field shortly after takeoff, killing all three plus the pilot on Feb. 2, 1959.

The Winter Dance Party event began after an on-air jest by a Clear Lake radio personality known as “The Mad Hatter” back in 1979 on radio station KZEV. … It didn’t take long for the event to sustain itself.

This year the three-day Dance Party began Thursday with The Good Clean Fun Band playing '50s music with songs like “Keep A Knocking,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Tooti Fruiti,” “Shake, Rattle & Roll”  and “Willie and the Hand Jive.”

Next up was Robin Luke of Springfield, whose 1958 hit, “Susie Darlin’” reached No. 5 on the Billboard chart. Robin also performed numbers like “Peggy Sue,” “I Walk the Line,” “You Can’t Stop Me From Dancing,” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Robin is a member of the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame.

Little Anthony and the Imperials were next, performing  “Tears On My Pillow,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “On the Outside Looking In” and “Shimmy Shimmy KoKo Pop.” He followed with “Take Me Back,” “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” “Hurt So Bad” and “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head.” It was great to see Anthony again but I noticed he had two new Imperials, as both Clarence Collins and Sammy Strain have retired from the road, leaving only Anthony and Ernest Wright as originals.

Jay and the Americans closed the evening, presenting “Only In America,” “Let’s Lock the Door,” “Sunday and Me,” “Save The Last Dance For Me” and “She Cried” as a tribute to the original Jay, Jay Traynor. This was followed by a Roy Orbison medley of “Only The Lonely,” “Crying” and “Pretty Woman.”

After the Orbison medley, they performed songs like “Let It Be Me,” “Walkin’ In the Rain” and “This Magic Moment.”

Friday evening was billed as the “Rock’n’Roll Royalty” show featuring the Killer Vees (Tommy and Jeff Vee, sons of Bobby and Matt Vee, cousin of Bobby), Frank Avalon, son of Frankie Avalon; Edan Everly, son of Don Everly; Mario Remirez, younger brother of Ritchie Valens; Bobby Cochran, nephew of Eddie Cochran, Linda Gail Lewis, sister to Jerry Lee Lewis; Austin Allsup, son of Tommy Allsup; and Wendy and Carnie Wilson, daughters of Brian Wilson.

First up was the Holy Rocka Rollaz, who performed a lot of  '50s and '60s rock ’n’ roll favorites and then filled in as backup musicians. Mario Ramirez and his Backyard Blues Band followed with “LaBamba,” “You’re Mine” and “We Belong Together.”

John Popenhagen did a tribute to Del Shannon, singing “Hats Off To Larry,” “Runaway,” “Handy Man,” “Little Town Flirt,” “Searchin’” and “Follow the Sun.”

Bobby Cochran started off with tunes like Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else,” “The Girl Can’t Help It,” “Milk Cow Boggie,” “Summertime Blues,” “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride.”

Austin Allsup’s claim to fame is being the son of Tommy Allsup, who was a Cricket on the Winter Dance Party Tour. His performance included “Lonesome Me," “Boney Morony,” “You’re Tall That’s All,” “Can’t You Hear Me When I Call,” “White Lightning”and “Don’t Fade Away.”

Linda Gail Lewis was next, with her piano pounding style like her brother, Jerry Lee Lewis.  She was joined by her daughter, Annie Marie, and son-in-law Danny B. Harvey. She started with “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Johnny B. Good,” “Wild, Wild, Wild,” “Oh Boy,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On,” “Rocking My Life Away” and “Rockin’ at the High School Hop.”

The Killer Vees with Matt Vee doing a tribute to Bobby Vee followed, with “Devil Or Angel," “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," “Someday," “Don’t Ask Me About Barbara," “Come Back When You Grow Up Girl,” “Run To Him,” “Susie Baby,” “Rubber Ball” and “Walking With My Angel”.

Edan Everly and Frank Avalon performed “Be Bop A Lula” with Frank backing on drums. Then Frank sang “Peggy Sue,” “Dream Maker,"  “Walked Out On Me," “Wakeup Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love.”

Wendy and Carnie Wilson closed the Friday show with  “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows," “Everything Will Be Alright," “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ USA.”

Saturday night always has the headline performers. The Killer Vees opened with what they called “The American Bandstand Show.” First up was my good friend from Los Angeles, Brian Hyland, who had some great hits like “The Letter," “The Joker Went Wild," “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bikini," “Sealed With A Kiss” and “Gypsy Woman.”

The Chiffons were up next with the original lead singer, Judy Craig, kicking off with “One Fine Day," “Sweet Talking Man” and “He’s So Fine”.

Then another good friend from my Los Angeles days, Chris Montez, started with “Call Me,” “Donna,” “LaBomba,” “The More I See You” and “Let’s Dance.”

Following Chris was still another L.A. friend, Johnny Tillotson. It was great to see Johnny, as it had been over 25 years since I saw him perform. It was wonderful to hear him sing his  hits, like “Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On," “It Keeps Right On A Hurtin’” and “Talk Back Trembling Lips," then slip in a couple Buddy Holly songs, “Oh Boy” and “Maybe Baby,” followed by his “Dreamy Eyes,” “Earth Angel,” “All My Life” and closing with “Poetry In Motion”.

Shirley Alston Reeves, lead singer of “The Shirelles” performed their classic hits, “Mama Said," “Baby It’s You," “Tonights the Night," “Foolish Little Girl," “Everybody Loves Somebody," “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," “Soldier Boy," “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On," “Blue Suede Shoes," “Hound Dog," “Hand Jive” and “Fade Away”.

The second half of the show belonged to Chubby Checker, who did a 90-minute show with no breaks.  He opened with The Rascal’s “Good Lovin’” followed by classics like “Twist It Up,” “Blueberry Hill” and “Pony Time.” He added songs like “Twist and Shout," “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “My Girl,” “Hello Stranger” and an Elvis medley, after which he invited members of the audience to join him on stage to do dance to “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again” and closing with “Peggy Sue.”

If you have never been to the Winter Dance Party, I highly recommend it.

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