In October 1958, Holly and singer Dion DiMucci toured together (with their respective groups, the Crickets and the Belmonts) and with other acts as part of The Biggest Show of Stars for 1958: Autumn Edition.
“We got along because he thought where I was coming from was different, and I thought where he was coming from was different,” New York native DiMucci recalls.
One culinary difference between them was particularly memorable.
“Buddy had never smelled Parmesan or Romano cheese,” DiMucci says. “He didn’t know what it was. He said, ‘What is that smell?’ I said, ‘Buddy, my whole neighborhood smells like that.’ He thought it was awful. I said, ‘Man, I grew up with this.’ And then my mother cooked him rigatoni when he moved to New York.”
In January 1959, the 22-year-old Holly and 19-year-old DiMucci were back on the road
together as part of the Winter Dance Party, which also starred Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Frankie Sardo.
Traveling hundreds of miles across the Midwest in cold, unreliable buses during harsh winter conditions, the musicians spent a lot of time huddled together for warmth and getting to know each other better.
“We told a lot of dirty stories,” DiMucci says, his voice dropping as if slightly embarrassed. “It was just funny; I had never heard anything like it.
“We used to get under this blanket, and I would tell [Holly] about Frankie Yunk-Yunk and Joe BB Eyes from the Bronx, and he would tell me about Texas.”
There was music, too. DiMucci adds that he, Holly and Valens would bust out their new Fender Stratocasters, “and we were in a contest to see who could make them ring the longest.”
When Holly decided to charter a plane for a flight departing after the Feb. 2 booking at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, he offered the remaining two seats to the other headliners, DiMucci recalls.
They were the only ones who could afford it, DiMucci says. But even so, he declined because his share would have been the same as his family’s monthly rent.
“I never realized that all the arguing between my mother and father that I grew up around literally saved my life,” DiMucci says. “It used to bother me that they used to yell — ‘The rent is due.’ So when Buddy said that my part of the ticket for the plane was $36, it just rung a bell in my head because that was the rent back in the Bronx.”
Ultimately, Valens and Richardson joined Holly and pilot Roger Peterson on the flight, which departed early Feb. 3 from Mason City, Iowa, and was headed for Fargo, N.D. The plane crashed mere minutes after takeoff, killing the musicians and the pilot.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Winter Dance Party musicians traveled the 350-plus miles by bus to Moorhead, Minn., for the tour’s next show. The tragic news awaited them at Moorhead’s Hotel Comstock.
“It was a sunny, warm day, and we went into the hotel lobby,” DiMucci says. “People were watching this little TV, and when we heard that the plane went down, killing everybody including the pilot, it was unreal. It was hard to process.
“I walked out of the lobby of the hotel and sat on the bus. I was alone, with Ritchie’s blue outfit hanging up in the rack and Buddy’s guitar on the seat — I was baffled. It threw me into shock.”
That night in Moorhead, DiMucci recalls playing the Holly hit “Rave On.” Fifty years after Holly’s version hit the Top 40 of Billboard’s pop-singles chart, DiMucci covered the song for his 2008 album, Heroes: Giants of Early Guitar Rock.
For his recording, DiMucci couldn’t resist imitating Holly’s signature vocal hiccup.
“I tried to put it in there because I used to hear it so much,” DiMucci says with a laugh. “I heard some of [Holly’s] songs five times a day for six weeks.
“Buddy was quite a guy. I miss him, I really do.”
Read Part 3 of our look at Buddy Holly's legacy!