THE ANNUAL GATHERING OF FANS OF OLD ROCK 'N ROLL AT THE SURF BALLROOM IN CLEAR LAKE, IOWA
A CELEBRATION OF THAT GREAT BODY OF AMERICAN MUSIC OF THE FIFTIES AND SIXTIES WHICH BUDDY HOLLY'S INFLUENCE PERMEATES THROUGH AND THROUGH
Buddy Holly's Legacy: Music That Will Never Die.
Responding to a vision or two, the Mad Hatter (DJ at KZEV-FM in Clear Lake, Iowa) decided a tribute to Buddy Holly was in order on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his fatal plane crash just north of town. Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (the "Big Bopper") died along with pilot Roger Peterson shortly after 1 AM on February 3, 1959 after their show at the Surf Ballroom. And so it came to pass that The Tribute to Buddy Holly Concert was held on Saturday night, February 3, 1979.
Commemorating also Valens, the Bopper, and the pilot – and ultimately evolving into a celebration of the music of the fifties and sixties – the concerts became an annual affair and expanded to a 2-day event (Friday and Saturday) starting in 1980 when the first Friday night "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" was held in the ballroom of the local Holiday Motor Inn (now the Best Western Holiday Lodge), featuring a performance by the Rondells. In subsequent years through 1989 – the last KZEV-sponsored tribute – the Tea Party was held at the Surf Ballroom.
By the mid-'80s, the Surf Ballroom was sponsoring some "warm-up activities" on Thursday nights, such as the "Darrel Hein Hospitality Night" on Feb. 5, 1987. By 1992, these became incorporated officially into the annual "tribute weekend" when it became a 3-day affair with a Friday night sock-hop and the six hour-plus Saturday night concert.
In the list of concerts on the following page, performers' names are given in alphabetical order, and I have just begun to list their order of appearance in parentheses after their names. Hopefully I am not missing any act. I would like to find out the names of all members of the Crystals, Diamonds, Drifters, Fantastic Convertibles, Fireballs, Playboys (Gary Lewis'), Rockin' Robyn, Tokens and Whitesidewalls as they appeared in these concerts, and photos I put on this site will hopefully jog some memories. (There were two separate groups of Diamonds and three of Drifters!) In 1993 and '96 it seems that the MC duties were up for grabs as (according to my photos) a number of MC's drifted through including Bill Griggs, popular ABC Radio DJ's Zippo & Maria, and Surf manager Bruce Christenson.
Sometimes those who played in the lounge in the afternoons rivalled the talent on stage Saturday night. One particularly accomplished and memorable group were The Roadhouse Rockers who appeared in 1994 and are now known as The Cadillac Angels.
In 1990, Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band included John Beland on lead guitar and also Bobby Neil and John Davis. (A little more about Rick's performance is here.) In '91, The Sun Rhythm Section consisted of Paul Burlison, Sonny Burgess, D.J. Fontana, Stan Kesler, Marcus Van Story, and Smoochie Smith. In '94, Gene Vincent's old group The Blue Caps contained Tommy Facenda (vocals), Paul Peek (vocals), Johnny Meeks (guitar) and Dickie Harrell (drums). Graham Fenton joined them with an amazing impression of Vincent. In '92 through '94, The Crickets were Gordon Payne (lead vocals and guitar), Jerry Allison (drums) and Joe Mauldin (bass). Sonny Curtis rejoined his old bandmates by the '95 concert, replacing Gordon Payne. Glenn Hardin (keyboards), a Cricket in the '60s, appeared in the group in '97 and was temporarily replaced by Mike Franklin in '99. In both '97 and '99, Nanci Griffith joined the Crickets for a few numbers. A rough list of the Crickets personnel since their beginning with Buddy Holly can be found here.
The Roses were a trio used by Buddy Holly's producer Norman Petty in 1958 to back up or overdub some of Holly's recordings – specifically to "fill out" the vocal sound for those recordings released as by "The Crickets," as opposed to those released as by "Buddy Holly." (This job had been done by The Picks in '57.) Original Roses David Bigham and Robert Linville appeared in 1999 and provided backing vocals for some Bobby Vee and Crickets numbers. Other Buddy Holly associates who appeared over the years included Niki Sullivan, Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch and Bob Hale – MC at Holly's last performance at the Surf. Appearing in '94, '99 and '01 were The Fireballs, a group used by Petty in the 1960s to overdub a number of Holly's recordings.
The Shirelles appeared in 1995 and '97 and consisted of original member Doris Kenner Jackson, Eloise Whitaker (once with the Blossoms) and Fanita James (the "baby" of the group). A tribute to another original member, Addie "Micki" Harris, was included in their act. The Shirelles were scheduled to appear in 2000 but were forced to cancel shortly before the concert due to the ill health of Ms. Jackson – who soon passed away from breast cancer in Sacramento on February 4. Appearing in their place were The Dixie Cups consisting of Barbara and Rosa Hawkins (original members) and Dale Mickle. Their performance included a moving tribute to their mentor, Doris Jackson, which left the group and much of the audience in tears.
Rocket 88 was renamed The Rockin' Ricochettes and was also billed (to a greater or lesser degree) as Ar (Stevens) and the (Rockin') Ricochettes. While maintaining separate band names, the personnel of this band and that of The Vees (which include Bobby Vee's three sons) eventually overlapped to a great degree and became an integral part of Bobby Vee's act by '95 – frequently performing by themselves. For many years, the Ricochettes backed up numerous other acts, and the name seemed to disappear by '99 when Ar Stevens and the Vees backed up Chris Montez and Freddie Cannon as well as Bobby Vee.
Special non-singing guests (sometimes they tried, though!) are not yet listed in detail. Maria Elena Holly (Buddy's widow) came for several of these events, starting in '81. The original Peggy Sue and Donna (Gerron and Fox, respectively) came in '94. His Most Excellency Terry Branstad, Governor of Iowa (1983-99 and 2011-present), came in '88 and '92 and probably other years as well.
1984 was the year of the big snow. Highways were closed by order of the police and National Guard after the Saturday night concert, and most out-of-towners had to stay in Clear Lake an extra day. An impromptu concert was given at the Holiday Motor Lodge by the Whitesidewalls, Niki Sullivan (member of the Crickets in 1957) and The Chimes (who were appearing in the motel lounge) on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 5 – a beautiful, mild, sunny day.
Some years (such as '79 and '96), the temperature (not just the wind chill!) dipped below minus 30°F. A winter storm kept Fabian from appearing in '96. At least three times ('87, '98 and '99), spring-like conditions prevailed with melting snow everywhere.
Following are a few more photos of mine, and on the next page is the list of performers at the annual concerts. A few links (many more to come!) to additional photos and/or stories are indicated on the list.
PHOTO AT RIGHT: Looking east toward the crash site, located several miles north of Clear Lake.
Links of various degrees of relevance:
This site on jlindquist.com was originally put on the web on
The essay and photos on this page have remained unchanged since 2003.
This site and its continuation on splammo.net still require a bit of
For 2003 and beyond,