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The Big Bopper

+ {Jape Richardson}

While nowhere near as famous as BUDDY HOLLY or RITCHIE VALENS, two stars he would forever and a day be associated, fame came at a cost for the `Chantilly Lace’ hit man, The BIG BOPPER (aka Jape Richardson). Only a few of years into his pop career, groomed as the next rockabilly rebel to rival BILL HALEY or CARL PERKINS, Jape was tragically killed on February 3, 1959, when a chartered plane carrying HOLLY, 17-year-old VALENS and pilot Roger Peterson, crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa. Ironically, a flu-riddled Jape (and Ritchie) took the place of Buddy’s back-up bandmates WAYLON JENNINGS and Tommy Allsup. It was indeed “the day the music died”, as poignantly eulogized by DON McLEAN in his classic 1971 song `American Pie’.
Born Jiles Perry Richardson, October 24, 1930, Sabine Pass, Texas, the oldest son to an oil-field worker and his wife, J.P. – as he was then known – graduated from Beaumont High School and played football for his college team. From part-time to full-time work at a radio station (KTRM), his job as an announcer helped support his wife Adrianne Joy Fryou (wed on April 18, 1952) and their daughter Debra Joy (born the following December). But then came his army draft papers in 1955, curtailing his ambitions somewhat, until Corporal Richardson returned to Radio KTRM duties in the spring of ’57.
Building up his radio portfolio from night-shift disc-jockey to day-time presenter and producer, he broke broadcasting records in a 5-day+long broadcasting feat that saw him play over 1,800 discs consecutively; breaks were taken during the newscasts. In the meantime, after sending a demo to Harold “Pappy” Daily, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jape signed to the Mercury Starday label. Now 27 years-old, Richardson was hardly scream-o-meter fodder for the hoards of teenagers, but the rockabilly simplicity of debut single, `Crazy Blues’ (b/w `Beggar To A King’), kicking off a promising career. A little rougher around the edges and very much in the mould of Dean Martin impersonating BUDDY HOLLY, the same fate met April ’58 follow-up, `Monkey Song (You Made A Monkey Out Of Me)’. The fact that it sounded a clone of `White Lightning’ was no coincidence, as it was Jape that wrote the song for country star GEORGE JONES (it’s since been covered so many times!).
Swapping crooner tactics for rock’n’roll in the shape of the JERRY LEE LEWIS-stamped `Chantilly Lace’ (b/w `Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor’), The BIG BOPPER – as he was now billed – soared up the charts and into the Top 10 (UK No.12) by late summer ‘58. Inspired by an “answer” recording by movie star Jayne Mansfield, and spouting opening lines of “Hellooo Baby” and “you know what I like”, Jape had created his own happy hunting ground. Not so mighty but just as suggestive and un-PC, the derivative double-header `Big Bopper’s Wedding’ (#72) and `Little Red Riding Hood’ (#38), saw further chart action.
As album charts were not quite kicking into gear as yet, CHANTILLY LACE STARRING THE BIG BOPPER (1959) {*6}, basically hit the buffers in its novelty-rock presentation, but it did spawn posthumous 45s, `Walking Through My Dreams’, `It’s The Truth Ruth’ and `Pink Petticoats’, none of which were close to hits. The BIG BOPPER’s legacy continued in many shapes and forms, none more so than when fellow Texan JOHNNY PRESTON raced up to the top of the hit parade in January 1960 with J.P.’s Red Indian tragi-love-call, `Running Bear’.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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