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Kirkus ReviewsAfter two decades of research, Iowa journalist Lehmer has assembled a sometimes lively, often obsessively trivial history of the tour that culminated in the deaths of three rock 'n' roll pioneers on February 3, 1959.
Lehmer is best when detailing the backgrounds of the three stars and how they came to be on the Winter Dance Party tour. J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. the Big Bopper, was a 28-year-old Texas DJ who held the world's record for continuous time on the air (122 hours, 8 minutes) and had struck gold as a singer with "Chantilly Lace." Ritchie Valens, 17, was the first Latino rocker to achieve national success, with the single "Donna." Buddy Holly, 22, was already a major star with a string of hits. Because of conflicts with his manager, Holly was temporarily broke, so he agreed to headline the tour. Lehmer has interviewed musicians who were on the tour (including Waylon Jennings, who played bass for Holly), family members, promoters, and fans who attended the shows. He establishes that while teens were thrilled by the performances, the musicians were miserable, because their tour bus was comfortless and frequently heatless in the subzero weather. To escape another sleepless night, Holly and the others decided to charter a tiny three-passenger plane after their show in Clear Lake, Iowa. Lehmer devotes much attention to their pilot, Roger Peterson, and to the circumstances of the crash, about which he tries to drum up ominous mysteries. The official investigation reasonably cites bad weather and Peterson's unfamiliarity with the instrument panel, but Lehmer entertains the absurd theory that Holly may have shot Peterson. Exhaustive follow-up material details the legacies of the three stars and what's become of their families, associates, and royalties.
Ultimately, it was just a rotten bus tour and a bad-luck accident; even devoted fans may find their attention here waning.