PLEDGE WEEK BONUS: “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
PLEDGE WEEK BONUS: "Chantilly Lace" by the Big Bopper

Welcome to Pledge Week! I’m doing a week of posting some of the Patreon bonuses I’ve done, to encourage those who can to sign up to my Patreon.


My understanding when I did this episode was that “White Lightning” was recorded right after the Big Bopper’s death. That is not actually the case — Jones just turned up drunk to the session because he was drunk, not because of his friend’s death, and they *released* the record a few days after Bopper’s death.

Every day of Pledge Week will start with the same section, which I’ll transcribe once, below, before the cut.

Pledge Week Intro

This is not a proper episode of the podcast. Rather, this is something else.

I’ve decided to hold a pledge week, to try to get a few more subscribers to my Patreon. So every day this week I’ll be putting one of the backer-only episodes I’ve done over the past year up on the main podcast feed, so people can hear what it is you get if you sign up for the Patreon, with this little introductory piece before them. If you’re already a backer, you will already have this episode, so you can skip this and everything else labelled “pledge week”.

I do one of these every week for my backers, and backers even at the lowest levels get them — if you sign up for a dollar a month you get each new one as it comes out, and access to all the old ones. There are fifty-nine of them up so far, as well as a few other things like the monthly Q&As I’ve been doing for backers. I’m only making seven of these available on the public feed, so there’s a lot still there for you to listen to. If this works well, I might do another one next year, when there’ll be another fifty-odd episodes to choose from.

None of this is meant to put any pressure on anyone who can’t afford it to back the podcast — the podcast will always remain free to listen to, and I hope it will remain ad-free as well. I know times are especially tough right now, and many of you literally can’t afford the money you’re already spending, let alone paying any more out. I only want backers who can spare the money.

But if you can afford it, and you like these bonus episodes enough, then go to slash andrewhickey, that’s spelled h-i-c-k-e-y, or follow the link in the shownotes, and sign up, and you’ll get one of these the same day as every new episode. If you can’t, well… enjoy this extra free bonus, and don’t worry about it.

Transcript behind cut

Since we looked at Ritchie Valens in the main podcast last week, and this week we’re looking at Buddy Holly, it’s probably worth devoting this week’s bonus podcast to the third person who died in that terrible plane crash.

The Big Bopper is known as a one-hit wonder who had a novelty hit, and these days when he’s remembered at all by rock and roll fans it’s simply because he died in the same crash as Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. And certainly his one big hit, “Chantilly Lace”, doesn’t suggest he would have been one of the greats of music. But J.P. Richardson actually had rather more of a career than that might suggest, much of it posthumous:

[Excerpt: The Big Bopper, “Chantilly Lace”]

Jiles Perry Richardson always liked to be known as “Jape”, after his initials, but he developed a public persona from working as a DJ on KTRM radio, when he switched from his original show, “the Dishwashers’ Serenade”, to a new one called “the Bop”. While on KTRM he took part in all sorts of publicity stunts, such as breaking the world record for longest uninterrupted broadcast by staying on the air for five days, two hours, and eight minutes straight, after which he apparently slept for twenty hours.

At KTRM he got to know his fellow DJ George Jones, and he also got to know Pappy Daily, who was the promotion manager for Mercury Starday records (If you listen to the great country music podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones, the episode on Shelby Singleton talks quite a bit about Daily). Mercury Starday had been having some success with records by Jones, who had hit the country top ten a few times, and Jape had written a few country songs, so he started recording for the label. His first effort was a pure country ballad, released under the name Jape Richardson and the Japettes:

[Excerpt: Jape Richardson and the Japettes, “Beggar to a King”]

That did absolutely nothing sales-wise, so Richardson changed to a rockabilly style. His next single, “Monkey Song”, didn’t do much better:

[Excerpt: Jape Richardson, “Monkey Song”]

But the next song was much more successful. “Chantilly Lace” is the song that made the Big Bopper’s name. If you don’t mind the objectification in the lyrics, there’s a lot of charm to the song, and at the time it became a massive hit, and it’s one that’s still remembered to this day:

[Excerpt: The Big Bopper, “Chantilly Lace”]

The fact that it was intended as a novelty cash-in can be seen by its B-side – which was originally its A-side – “The Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor”, a team-up song inspired by the two novelty hits we talked about a few weeks ago:

[Excerpt: The Big Bopper, “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor”]

The single made the top ten, and it was followed up by “The Big Bopper’s Wedding”, which was less successful, but followed the same formula:

[Excerpt: The Big Bopper, “The Big Bopper’s Wedding”]

But then, of course, came the fateful tour we look at in this week’s main podcast, and the Big Bopper’s death in a plane crash, with two much more prominent musicians. That should, by all rights, have been the end of his career. But as it turned out, his two most important contributions to music hadn’t yet been released.

Shortly before he died, Richardson had written a song called “Running Bear”, and he’d given it to a young friend of his, Johnny Preston. It was a teen tragedy song of the type that was a rather successful subgenre of the time, this one with the novelty element that the characters were native Americans (or an “Indian brave” and “Indian maid” as the song puts it) who lived on opposite banks of a river and ended up drowning in the middle when they tried to be together.

Richardson and George Jones had sung backing vocals on it, doing Hollywood-Indian chanting and generally playing up to every stereotype of the Western-film Indian, but it hadn’t been released at the time of Richardson’s death. When it was released a few months later, it went to number one and became one of the biggest hits of all time:

[Excerpt: Johnny Preston, “Running Bear”]

But that wasn’t Richardson’s only posthumous contribution to music. Richardson had already co-written a country top ten hit for George Jones, “Treasure of Love”:

[Excerpt: George Jones, “Treasure of Love”]

But less than a week after Richardson’s death, Jones went back into the studio again, to record another song that Richardson had written for him. Jones was still shaken by his friend’s death, and turned up to the session drunk — the first time he would do so in a long career of drunkenness. They had to do so many takes that the bass player, Buddy Killen, got blisters on his fingers and threatened to physically attack Jones. Jones never got the song right, and eventually they stuck with either the first or third take — accounts vary — where he’d only messed up one word — singing “s-slug” rather than “slug”, which honestly sounds fine to me:

[Excerpt: George Jones, “White Lightning”]

That became Jones’ first country number one, and one of only three singles he ever released to also make the pop top one hundred — it reached number seventy-three, the highest he would ever reach in the pop charts.

While Jones had had country top ten hits before, “White Lightning” is generally regarded as the breakout hit that made his career — a career that would last more than fifty more years, during which time he would have over a hundred and fifty records make the country charts, thirteen of them going to number one. That’s more chart hits than any other act in history, and that career was owed at least in part to Jape Richardson, the one-hit wonder who died with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

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