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Posted Tuesday, 10 February, 1998
by Tim Verthein -

We arrived in Clear Lake, Iowa this afternoon (Friday) about 3:30 PM. Weather is better than usual here this time of year, about 29 degrees (F). Two years ago it was 38 below zero! Checked in with management at the Surf Ballroom. First, and most obvious change this year, is that the event is now called "The Winter Dance Party", rather than the Buddy Holly Tribute. Informed speculation tells me that the Surf is trying to break free of the clutches of Maria Elena Holley, who has always socked them for a lot of dough to use Buddy's name in the event (like 30% of the gate, a good chunk of the bar reciepts, and 15% of gift shop sales...not confirmed). This years poster, for the first time to my knowledge does not have Buddy (or any other entertainers) on it in picture form. This is OK with me. it's saving the Surf some cash, and, after all, there were THREE performers involved, so this makes it seem more "fair" to the others as well.

The Crickets, who were scheduled to appear, are NOT comming. First time in 5 years they haven't been here. The short version of the story is, with Maria not "in charge" of how the event should be handled, the Crickets wanted more control of the show, and the Surf was not going to give it to them, so they are not comming. This, too, is OK with me, more because I1ve seen them about 10 times, and the Fantastic Convertibles are taking the stage in their place, and they are one heck of a rockin' outfit! The author of the recently released book "The Day The Music Died" will be here signing his book, I believe on Friday and Saturday. Wouldn't you know, I forgot my copy back home!

Iowa public Television did a documentary on the Surf, which was mostly finished (as least as far as actual filming) about 3 years ago, due to lack of funding it wasn't completed till this year. it was shown on IPTV, the day BEFORE we arrived, so I missed it, but I'm gonna try to find a copy. Lou Diamond Phillips narrates the film (Played Ritchie Valens in Labamba).

Rumors are already flying about the upcomming event in 1999, the 40th anniversary of the plane crash, and the 20th for the reunion, which started in Œ79. Word on the street is Gary Busey is comming (Played Buddy in the movie), along with a large contigent of Valens' relatives (also heard his Aunt Ernistine is having some health problems). There1s also rumors that JP Richardson Jr will be here next year, (and also rumors that he will be here this weekend). he looks and sounds just like his Dad, and after talking with him a few months ago, indicated he had a CD comming out, chock full of guest performers, and he has a show together). So that will be interesting if it indeed happens. Maria will definitly be here next year. Here in Clear Lake gas in .99 a gallon, and Twinkies are two packs for a buck, so I1m in great shape! I've heard from a couple others on the list that are commin', so maybe we1ll bump into each other!

Thursday night the band was the Torpedos, from Wisconsin. A typical oldies cover band, although quite versatile. complete with a white jumpsuited Elvis impersonator who frolicked among the audience. Way to skinny to be the 70's Elvis, however. The band was competent, however, the guitarist certainly didn't nail the solo on Rock Around the Clock, and why, oh why, does a band with a sax player, complete with TWO saxes intheir stands, do the sax bit in RATC on a KEYBOARD!!?

Spent most of Friday afternoon hitting the many Clear lake antique stores. Bought one 78, Hank kenny on King doing The Poodle Song/The Freckle Song, for a buck, and also got a nice early 50's vintage Airline phonograph. One dealer was certainly poised to take advantage of the Holley/Valens/Bopper fans comming to town, complete with current issue Holly CD's priced at over TWICE the surrent record price! I mean current stuff, like, available now in any common record store! They also had common, modern reissue and collection Holly LP's priced at hundreds of dollars! Almost as high priced as original issue Coral/Brunswickstuff!

Friday night was the Sock Hop, with a DJ, who does a very good job - music was LOUD, crowd was PACKED IN, and the costume contest and dance contest blew about 45 mminutes to an hour, and pissed off a lot of people who want to dance! The DJ's show is great with three huge screen video's hanging from the ceiling with live performances from many vintage rock and rollers, car commercials, crusin' videos, etc. We made it back to the motel for the evening by 11 PM.

Up Saturday morning at 6AM to set up at the record show. Was a rather slow show, but made enough selling 45's at three bucks a piece to cover our room for the weekend. Some real pricey stuff, but a lot of reasonable priced stuff too. It1s a hard show to do, because the general public is the main customer, and don1t want to pay collector prices, and are shopping for mainstream rock and roll. There was a guy who had purchased a comb belinging to Buddy at an auction, had a certificate of authenticity from Maria Elena, and was charging $6 bucks to let you run it thru your hair while he took a polaroid picture, which was then mounted on a certificateof authenticity saying something like "I ran my hair thru Buddy's comb."I almost did it, then figured...phooey.

The memorabilia show in the ballroom yesterday was a bit slow too. One fella with a great collection of stuff that I had met before was not at this show, and I was looking forward to perusing his stuff again. The show was again this afternoon, along with fan fare, but we didn1t bother going. Some of tonights performers will be there signing autographs, etc., but we've already met all of them before, so thought we could use the rest before tonights 7 hour long concert. The Surf is giving narrated bus tours to the crash site. Kind of morbid, but they're always full. I've never taken the tour because I already know the story, and I've been to the site several times. There's a quarter mile walk to the site in the middle of a cornfield, where there is a nice stainless steel memorial (built by a fan) there.

Saturday night's show includied The Vee's, The Fantastic Convertibles, Tommy Row, Bobby Vee, Frankie Ford, and the Diamonds. 7 PM - 1:30 AM. Taking the stage first the Fantastic Convertibles. Good cover band. Lots of style, a bit of edge, and a genuine stand up bass player. 'Nuff said.

Next came the Diamonds. I believe ONE of the four was actually an original Diamond. Nice tight four part harmony. They actually played a few horns as needed, and most of the background music was synthesized/sequenced. 'Nuff said.

Frankie Ford takes to the stage next, and this is where the evening gets interesting. Frankie had breakfast with the guys from WATD in Boston, who reported he had already had a few beers, and they told me they kept him straight most of the day with plenty of coffee. he slipped on the ice on the way into the Surf. Takes to the stage, and appeared slightly tipsey. Got off to a pretty decent start, complete with some cutsey one liners. Now, the stage is set up so there is a "walkway" about 4 feet wide in front of the stage, that is roped off, with a security dude at each end. This keeps the fans off the stage, basically, and give me (the media) a way to get to the front of the stage easily for photo/video purposes. So, I move into place to get some decent shots of Frankie (keep in mind, he's about 4 feet from me, on stage). He gets up from the piano, walks toward the front of the stage while singing, trips over the monitor speaker, does a full front summersault off the front of the stage, and LANDS ON ME! We're rushed with security guards who help him back on stage and make sure I'm OK. he continues the show, then about two minutes later, falls again (but not off the stage). Worried that he might go kaplunk again, the security guys spend the rest of the set "spotting" for Frankie. Finished his set (making a lot of cracks about laughing at old people who fall down). He was forced to play a Roland electric piano which was on an "X" style stand, that was quite wobbley, at least for his playing style (5-6 years ago when he was at the Surf heplayed a baby grand). He commented about hating to play instruments fromMattel! He did a standard set of New Orleans flavored rockers.

Following this bit of buffoonery, Tommy Roe takes over. I expect 30 minutes or so of moderate pop pap. he surprises me by really rocking out, doing a great "Susie Q", and doing his own lead playing which was very good. The crowd loved him, and he was ROCKIN'!

Tommy is followed by Bobby Vee, backed by his sons "The Vees". Standard set of BV classic tunes, along with a few fun numbers he had worked out with his sons, like Jambalaya. As I had seen Bobby several times, and after all, how many times can you stand to hear "Rubber Ball", we began to wander a bit. This is where we met Jason D. Williams drummer, who was busy looking for Jason, who was on next. Turns out Jason went wandering along the lakefront across the street from the Surf hitting the bars and trying to pick up a gal or two. They found him, and got him to the ballroom, but he wasn't ready to go on. To kill a few minutes, the Vee's did a couple tunes without their Dad, and is you know these guys are one tight COOKIN' rockabilly outfit. They REALLY got the crowd cranked, and I mean CRANKED! Then, Jason being the tempermental fool he is, had second thoughts about following them, but finially went on.

Now, while scouting the bars, Jason had found a cute blonde girl who he invited to the ballroom to watch him play. (you need to know, that Jason is perhaps one of the UGLIEST humans on the earth). She showed up with her BOYFRIEND, and had clearance from JDW himself to stand in the 'media" area directly in front of the stage and him, and he spent most of his set singing directly to her, making snide remarks, etc...(keep in mind she was standing there with her very preppy boyfriend). She looked totally bored with his set, which is hard to comprehend, as, although he seemed a bit off his regular game so to speak, did a fine set. Her boyfriend appeared to get to like it after a bit. He was suppose to wrap it up at 1:30, but wouldn't quit playing. Management kept singnaling him "one more song", which, to Jason, can and did mean a 35 minute medley of everything from Jerry Lee to Hank Williams, to Mozart! It was about 1:30 when he encouraged the crowd to storm the stage, and get up and boogie with him (I've seen this happen before, and it gets rather out of control). Management and security rushed to the stage area, and kept it all under control, and they turned on the huge mercury vapor house lights. He proceeded to play till 2:05.

In summary, a fun weekend, very little of the music had anything directly to do with Buddy, but everyone acknowledged buddy's influence on their carreers.

Above Text and Photos Copyright 1998, Tim Verthein - used with permission