What might have been?

Sep 2019 What might have been?

By David Parker

LIVING a long time gives us the opportunity to look back on our lives and our ups-and downs, best and worst moments.

For many of us, the deaths of performers 60 years on, who gave us so much pleasure in our younger days, has left a lasting impression, especially when remembering those who died young in accidents rather than from natural casues or self-abuse.

My earliest tragedy recollection is of the ‘plane crash in February, 1959, taking the lives of Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, pilot Roger Peterson, and Ritchie Valens. What would they have become had they lived on and developed their amazing talents? They were the same age as me and they played a big part in my teenage lovelife, romancing to their hit tunes.
Suddenly, Ritchie Valens has emerged out of the ether and returned to my thoughts this month. I was sent a book about him from the United States by the author Ryan Sheeler.

It was a strange event because a postcard arrived telling the Royal Mail could not deliver a letter because import duty was due to be paid on it. My first thought was to not pay £13.55 for something I did not order or know anything about. Then I relented and sent the money.

Next day, an A4-size glossy-covered book arrived ‘ Ritchie Valens – His Guitars and Music’ by Ryan Sheeler, published by Centerstream. It is a slim volume but contains an enormous wealth of music, spotlighting Ritchie Valens’s guitars and playing style.

The book also gives access to an audio visual through an entry code, and it also publishes the guitar music for several of Ritchie’s songs.

With such a huge talent made obvious in the 48-page book, it is obvious we had not been given the chance to follow Ritchie on to greater things had he lived longer than his 19 years. A new transcription of La Bamba is just one of the special treats. It shows the special riffs and the guitar solo.

Was Ritchie a great guitarist? According to author Ryan Sheeler, who recreates sound of Ritchie’s riffs on the audio visual connection, Ritchie was probably the first Latino-rock star, with a good voice.

Sometimes it is refreshing and rewarding to read about the background of the early pop stars, especially when they die young and deprive the world of their talent.

Ritchie was a collector of guitars – Gibson, Fender Stratocaster among them. All the acknow-ledged early greats on guitar, such as Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore, were given star status, but Ritchie has not been included.

The names were also influencing Ritchie’s guitar style and he developed a taste for rock and roll. He began to make a name for himself playing at high school functions but showing a special love of Little Richard’s style, and bending the guitar strings.

He was completely self-taught but displayed a natural talent, apparently, and he came from a poor background so had no luxuries. His performances at colleges earned him hardly any money.

His rise to teenage stardom came about through a chain of events starting with a family dance party at which Ritchie and his band plays. The performance was taped by Gil Rocha, who gave the tape to a friend Doug Macchia who worked for Bob Keane. Keane owned a small independent record company, Del-Fi records, in Los Angeles.

Within weeks, Keane saw Ritchie playing at a local amaeur talent show in San Fernando. Ritchie was using a small second-hand amplifier and had alrady won two of the contets. Keane, impressed by the boy’s energy, met the shy young guitarist, and Ritchie followed up the meeting by going to Keane’s studio with some of his bandmates from the Sihouettes and using his Harmony H44 Stratotone.

Ritchie did not read music, but out of the session emerged a rough version of ‘Come on, Let’s Go ‘, the first recording of the smash hit. Not long after, Ritchie was on the road playing some classy concerts and making more hit records, including ‘Donna’.

Then time moves on to the fateful day and the chance happening of the plane crash – the tragedy of ‘The day the music died’.
I find it moving and sad and a tragedy which we survived.

AUTHOR Ray Sheeler is a lecturer in the Department of Music at Iowa State Universirty where he teaches the History of Rock and Roll, and he performs as a guitarist in the Central Iowa area.

‘Ritchie Valens: His Guitars and Music’ – audio access included – Centerstream Publishing and Hal Leonard Inc.

www. ritchievalens.com