The Big Bopper was the disc jockey with the capability to be much more. With a big voice, bigger personality and a gift for song writing he was on track for a full career in music when it was cut short during a plane ride in February 1959.
The Big Bopper (real name J.P. Richardson Jr.) was born and raised in Texas and it wasn’t until he studied law at Lamar College that he got involved in the world of entertainment - albeit in a small way - with a part time job at KTRM radio. His route to music however was not immediate and in 1955 he joined the United States Army and spent two years working as a radar operator.
It was on discharge that his career began in earnest when he returned to KTRM. After holding down the lunchtime slot he was eventually approached by the sponsors and asked to host an afternoon slot. As a gimmick, and to give the show an edge, J.P. decided to name himself after the latest dance craze “The Bop” – The Big Bopper was had arrived. His show was a success and he soon became the station’s program director.
In May 1957, with the Big Bopper concentrating on his radio career he played 1,821 records back to back on the radio during a marathon show lasting five days, two hours and eight minutes – he beat the old record for continuous broadcasting by eight minutes.
Away from the radio the Big Bopper played guitar and began to write songs in earnest (including “Running Bear” as recorded by Johnny Preston), a serious career in recording wasn’t however considered until he was ‘discovered’ by Harold ‘Pappy’ Daily.
Only a couple of releases into his career and the Big Bopper hit the charts with “Chantilly Lace”. The song was the third most played song in 1958 and reached number 16 in the charts – the big time beckoned.
To support the song, and his singing career, the Big Bopper took some time out and joined Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Dion on a tour of the US. He was never to return, leaving just one hit as an indication of what might have been.
- Jane Mansfield recorded “That Makes It” as a response record to “Chantilly Lace”.
- According to legend The Big Bopper had a premonition of his death. During his record marathon he began to hallucinate and allegedly foresaw his own death remarking that the “the other side wasn’t that bad”.
- The Move recorded a tribute to The Big Bopper - “Down On The Bay”. It was released on MGM in 1971 as the b side to “Chinatown”.