THE BIG BOPPER
P. McDonald, PhD
"We knew that Buddy Holly and Bill
Haley and some kid named Presley were upsetting the musical world,
but we knew not that in another, secret life, J.P. Richardson metamorphized
into The Big Bopper, a rock-n-roller more interested in Chantilly
Lace and pony tails hanging down than in listening easy about anything."
in the 1950s, when I still worried about acne and wondered how and
where I would get the courage to ask Julianne what's-her-name to like
me, Beaumont's Radio Station KTRM aired a balm for the baffled beginning
at 9:00 p.m. each evening. The programıs format of "easy listening"
music for those in love and those who wanted to be continued until
midnight, but my mother never let me stay up that late to find out
what went on then.
This program starkly contrasted with the remainder of the stationıs
fare, which was "hillbilly" followed by "country" followed by more
"hillbilly" followed by more.... This was punctuated with Tommy O'Brien
"on sports" and another now forgotten fellow reporting news off the
wires every few hours.
Then, at 9:00 p.m., this frenzy ceased. The mellow voice of disk jockey
J.P. Richardson wafted through the mysteries of broadcast radio to
the little brown, plastic, all-AM receiver in my room. A slow instrumental
piece provided background while our old friend greeted us and gently
eased into the evening's program of equally slow, soothing, almost
pacifying, "easy listening" music.
Were we fooled. We knew that Buddy Holly and Bill Haley and some kid
named Presley were upsetting the musical world, but we knew not that
in another, secret life, J.P. Richardson metamorphized into The Big
Bopper, a rock-n-roller more interested in Chantilly Lace and pony
tails hanging down than in listening easy about anything.
For a while the masquerade continued. Richardson continued his "day
job" -- or more rightly his "night job" -- with KTRM while he developed
this schizoid character. We worried over his well being when he set
a then-record of broadcasting for over 96 consecutive hours from the
lobby of the Jefferson Theatre. He even had the prop of an ambulance
to whisk him to the hospital in case of collapse, and did get to ride
in it when the ordeal was over.
But the "Mr. Hyde" side won out when The Big Bopper and "Chantilly
Lace" hit the big time. Only then, did we -- or at least I -- learn
of his dual personality. I followed his short if spectacular career
in rock-n-roll avidly until he boarded that ill-fated airplane with
Holly and Richie Valance on a snowy night to make the next gig.
For a much better known person who wrote a song that said such, the
music died that night when Buddy Holly's plane went down. For Beaumonters,
the silencing of J.P. Richardson's, or The Big Bopper's, music was
a personal tragedy. The listening wasn't so easy anymore.
I hear "Chantilly Lace" less infrequently now, most often as background
in a movie such as "Pretty Woman." I wonder, if Buddy and Richie and
The Big Bopper had survived that flight, what might we think now of
J.P. Richardson? A boy grows up and becomes a man, but he still listens
easy, and he still wonders. And Mother, I confess that I still stay
up too late, sometimes, listening.
P. McDonald, PhD
Things Historical June
23-29, 2002 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Archie McDonald is author of Pioneers, Poke Sallet and Politics with
Bob Bowman. It is available through the East Texas Historical Association,
also The Big Bopper
by Clay Coppedge
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