Who was Ritchie Valens?
The second-most famous of the "Three Stars" who perished "The Day the Music Died" was Latino America's first rock star, a verifiable teen idol who reconfigured Latin culture into rock and roll and produced one deathless double-sided classic single, "La Bamba" backed with the ballad "Donna." The crash which took Buddy Holly's life in 1959 tragically also ended Ritchie's life, but his influence extends even beyond those two recordings.
Ritchie Valens' biggest hits:
"Come On, Let's Go"
"We Belong Together"
"Ooh! My Head"
Where you might have heard him The 1987 biopic La Bamba, one of the first such rock biographies to be a serious hit; "La Bamba" is heard in the movies Grease and White Chicks, "Come On, Let's Go" is featured in the 2002 crime drama Deuces Wild
Born: Richard Steven Valenzuela, May 13, 1941, Los Angeles, CA (Pacoima); died February 3, 1959 (Clear Lake, IA)
Genres Rockabilly, Rock and Roll, Tex-Mex
Instruments Vocals, Guitar
Claims to fame:
The first Latin-American to make significant inroads into the rock and roll scene.
Among the first rock and rollers to blend traditional Latin music with the new beat
Instrumental in introducing the Danelectro bass into rock
Perfected an image that was tough yet vulnerable in his songs
His ebullient vocals garnered him the nickname "The Little Richard of San Fernando"
Combined the tremelo urgency of Bo Diddley with Buddy Holly's romanticism
Subject of one of rock's first live albums
Richie was born into a family that loved blues and R&B as much as it did the traditional Latin songs that made up its culture, and this would prove to be a profound influence on him. Unfortunately, his parents were separated, and his father died when he was ten. By seventh grade the young Valens was playing the guitar and imitating the latest rock performers for his classmates. By high school, he was performing with local garage rockers The Silhouettes as their main singer and guitarist.
Neophyte entertainment manager Bob Keane was tipped off to Valens by a printer's assistant, and the 17-year-old Richie was soon recording demos of songs in Keane's basement.
During the infamous Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959, just one year after the success of "Come On, Let's Go," Ritchie Valens was killed, along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, in a plane crash near Clear Lake, IA. Although his untimely demise makes him necessarily one of rock's more tragic figures, it is his musical legacy which survives him, specifically, his groundbreaking mix of musical styles and his honesty
More about Ritchie Valens
Ritchie Valens facts and trivia:
Manager Bob Keane convinced Richie to shorten his last name and add a distinctive "t" to his first
Keane was also the first to suggest Valens make a rock song out of the traditonal "La Bamba"
Valens wrote "Donna" for fellow San Fernando High classmate Donna Ludwig, and even played an early version of it over the phone
His half-live album Ritchie Valens In Concert at Pacoima Jr. High, released in 1960, is considered one of the era's great live recordings
The movie La Bamba is ostensibly about Valens' life, even though many parts are inaccurate
Ritchie Valens awards and honors Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2001), GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2000), Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1999), Hollywood Walk of Fame (6733 Hollywood Blvd.)
Ritchie Valens hit singles:
Top 10 hits:
Pop: "Donna" (1959)
Movies and TV Valens made his only screen appearance ever in the Alan Freed musical Go, Johnny, Go! (1959), but instead of singing "Donna," his big hit at the time, he performed "Ooh! My Head"
Notable covers Led Zeppelin turned the Valens single "Ooh! My Head" into "Boogie with Stu" on the 1975 album Physical Graffiti, with credit given to his widow as "Mrs. Valens"; Los Lobos had hits all over again with "La Bamba" and "Come On, Let's Go" in 1987 when they rerecorded them for the La Bamba film soundtrack; that same year, "Weird Al" Yankovic parodied "La Bamba" as "Lasagna"