The Big Bopper
Jiles Perry (J.P.) Richardson, Jr. (October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959), called Jape by friends but commonly known as The Big Bopper, was a disc jockey who parlayed a big voice and exuberant personality into a career as an early rock and roll star. He is best known for his hit song "Chantilly Lace".
Richardson was born in Sabine Pass, Texas, the oldest son of Jiles Perry, Sr. and Elise (Stalsby) Richardson. His father was an oil field worker and driller. He had two younger brothers, Cecil and James. Within a short time the family moved to Beaumont, Texas. He graduated from Beaumont High School in 1947 and was a member of the "Royal Purple" football team, wearing number "85" as a defensive lineman.
Richardson later studied law at Lamar College, and was a member of the band and chorus. During this time he worked part time at KTRM radio, where in 1949 he was hired full-time and left school. On April 18, 1952, Richardson married Adrianne Joy Fryou from Montegut, Louisiana; in December 1953 their daughter, Debra Joy, was born. Earlier that year Richardson was promoted to Supervisor of Announcers at KTRM. In March 1955 he was drafted into the United States Army. His basic training was at Fort Ord, California after which Richardson spent two years as a radar instructor at Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon his discharge at the rank of Corporal in March 1957, Richardson returned to KTRM radio, where he held down the "Dishwashers' Serenade" shift from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
One of the station's sponsors wanted Richardson for a new time slot and suggested a gimmick for the show. Richardson noticed all the college kids doing a dance called The Bop, so he decided to become known as "The Big Bopper". He kicked off a new radio show from 3 to 6 p.m., and soon The Big Bopper became the station's program director.
In May of 1957, he broke the record for continuous on-the-air broadcasting by eight minutes. He went a total of five days, two hours and eight minutes, playing 1,821 records and taking showers during five-minute newscasts. During the marathon, he lost 35 pounds (16 kg). KTRM paid Richardson $746.50 for his overtime and he quickly hit the sack for 20 hours.
According to the Internet Accuracy Project website, Richardson is credited with coining the term "rock video".
Around this time, Richardson – who played guitar – started writing more songs. George Jones later recorded Richardson's "White Lightning", which became Jones' first #1 country hit in 1959 (#73 on the pop charts). Richardson also wrote "Running Bear" for Johnny Preston, his friend from Port Arthur, Texas. Inspiration for the song came from Richardson's childhood memory of the Sabine river, where he heard stories about Indian tribes. Jape sang background on "Running Bear", but it wasn't released until September 1959, after his death. Within several months it went to #1.
The man who launched Richardson as a recording artist was Harold "Pappy" Dailey from Houston. Dailey was promotion director for Mercury and Starday records and signed Richardson to Mercury. Richardson's first single, "Beggar To A King", had a country flavor, but failed to gain any chart action. He soon cut "Chantilly Lace" as "The Big Bopper" for Pappy Dailey's D label. Mercury bought the recording and released it during the summer of 1958. It reached #6 on the pop charts and spent 22 weeks on the national Top 40. It also inspired an answer record by Jayne Mansfield titled "That Makes It". In "Chantilly Lace", Richardson pretends to have a flirting phone call with his girlfriend; the Mansfield record suggests what his girlfriend might have been saying at the other end of the line.
With the success of "Chantilly Lace," Richardson took some time off from KTRM radio and joined Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Ritchie Valens and Dion & the Belmonts for a "Winter Dance Party" tour. On February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza to take him and his new Crickets band (Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings) to Fargo, North Dakota. Richardson came down with the flu and didn't feel comfortable on the bus, so Jennings gave his plane seat to Richardson. Valens had never flown on a small plane and requested Allsup's seat. They flipped a coin, and Valens called heads and won the toss.
In the early morning of February 3, after a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the small four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off from the Mason City airport during a blinding snow storm and crashed into Albert Juhl’s corn field several miles after takeoff at 1:05 a.m. The crash killed Holly, Valens, Richardson and the 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. This event would become known as "The Day the Music Died".
Richardson, 28 when he died, left behind his wife, Adrianne, and 4-year-old daughter Debra Joy; a son, Jay Perry Richardson, was born in April of 1959. At the time of his death, Richardson had been building a recording studio in his home in Beaumont, Texas, and was also planning to invest in the ownership of a radio station. In addition, he had written 20 new songs with plans to record by himself and with other artists. Richardson was a well-loved figure who was known to care deeply about his family.
Son Jay P. Richardson took up a musical career inspired by his late father and is known professionally as "The Big Bopper, Jr." He has performed at venues around the world. Notably, he has toured on the "Winter Dance Party" tour with Buddy Holly impersonator John Mueller on some of the very same stages as his father.
In film, The Big Bopper has been portrayed by Gailard Sartain in The Buddy Holly Story and Stephen Lee in La Bamba.
Monument at Crash Site, September 16, 2003In 1988, Ken Paquette, a Wisconsin fan of the ’50s era, erected a stainless steel monument depicting a steel guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of each of the three performers. It is located on private farmland, about one quarter mile west of the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, approximately eight miles north of Clear Lake, this is where the plane crash was situated. He also created a similar stainless steel monument to the three musicians near the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.
J.P. Richardson's pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
The Big Bopper is fondly remembered not only for his distinctive singing and songwriting, but also as a humorist who combined the best elements of country, R&B and rock'n'roll.