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YouTube Gold: Richie Valens

Gone far, far too young

Photo of Ritchie Valens
The late, great Richie Valens
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Don McLean wrote the song American Pie in 1971 and it was famously about the Day The Music Died in 1959, when a small plane crashed with Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens.

Holly was just 22. The Big Bopper, aka JP Richardson, was 28. But Valens, a major rising star just beginning to explore his talent and nowhere near understanding his potential cultural impact, was just 17.

Because of concerns that an Hispanic name wouldn’t sell many records, Valens cut his full name - Valenzuela - to just the first two syllable.

As it turned out, he did sell and left some enduring classics, notably La Bamba, a rocked up version of a traditional Mexican folk song.

Even as a teenager, his guitar chops and vocal talents had won him local attention in the LA area and he was soon recording and had major hits even before dropping out of high school to focus on his profession.

But he died in that ‘59 plane crash and we never got a chance to see what an older Richie Valens might have done.

But this video at least gives some idea of his talent. Introduced by Chuck Berry, Valens plays “Ooh My Head” and gets a chance to show what he could do. He was already special; imagine what he might have been like in 1969, which was a mere decade after his death when he would have been 27, or in 1982, when he would have been 40.

What a pity. What might have been.