Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Day After the Music Died

Fifty-one years ago yesterday was the Day the Music Died, which means that fifty-one years ago today was the Day the Music Was Forced to Soldier On, Somehow. Although the three headlining acts of the Winter Dance Party would not be appearing on February 4th, 1959, in Moorhead, Minnesota, someone decided that the tour should continue, with Dion and the Belmonts moving up the totem pole to become the headliners. (The lesser acts on the tour weren't even told about the loss of Holly et al. until they arrived in Moorhead and saw the news on TV.)

A kid named Jim Stillman from nearby Fargo, North Dakota, sensing this was his big chance, called up the armory in Moorhead and asked if his band could help fill in at the show. Desperate, the promoters let them come on, not realizing they had only been playing together for two weeks. Driving to the gig, the stopped at JC Penney and got some uniform-looking duds, and decided to call themselves the Shadows.

The Shadows played a handful of songs, some of them instrumentals and some of them featuring 15-year-old lead vocalist Bobby Vee. They didn't get paid. The next night, the Winter Dance Tour moved on to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with hastily recruited teen stars Frankie Avalon and Jimmy Clanton joining the show. The Shadows stayed in Fargo.

When the Winter Dance Tour had stopped in Duluth a few nights earlier, on January 31st, there was a kid in the audience named Bobby Zimmerman - I say "kid," but he was actually two years older than Bobby Vee. Later that summer, Vee and the Shadows had a regional hit called "Suzie Baby," and Zimmy hitchhiked over to Fargo to check out the band. He talked them into letting him join the band as a piano player, changing his name to Elston Gunn, but it didn't take, both the piano job and the name.

Bobby Vee would go on to have a Number One hit, 1961's "Take Good Care of My Baby." Bob Dylan never had one, although he reached Number Two twice, with "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35."

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