By: Cindy Annis – Feb. 2017
The Big Bopper was born on October 24, 1930 in Sabine Pass, Texas. His birth name was Jiles Perry Richardson Jr. Being the son of an oil- field worker, singing was considered to be a girlly thing and was frowned upon. When Richardson got into high school, he played football for the Royal Purple of Beaumont High, and he graduated high school at age 17.
Richardson went on to study pre-law at Lamar College.
To help pay for college, he got a part time job at radio station 990 KTRM, which is now KZZB. Soon after he received a promotion from the station, he dropped out of college. He was really a shy kind of guy, but when he got in front of a microphone he turned into a vocally animated DJ. His passion was to spin the vinyl and make a name for himself. He had a radio show called Dishwasher Serenade and called himself Jape the Headwaiter of Club 990.
The show was on Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. Schlitz beer, a sponsor for the station, asked if he could go into a different time slot and play music that would appeal to the younger generation. His new show was 3:00 to 6:00 Monday through Friday. Rock and Roll was the only kind of music that was played on the show. Jape faded fast and disc jockey Big Bopper was born out of a dance called The Bop. J.P. married Adrianne Joy Fryou in 1952. Their first child, a girl, Debra Joy, was born in 1953.
By 1955, he was drafted into the Army. His basic training was done in California. When his basic training was complete, he went to Texas for two years as a radar instructor. In 1957 he was discharged from the Army as a corporal. At that point, he returned to KTRM. He wanted to make a big deal out of his return, so he talked the owner of the radio station into having an on-air party. This celebration was at the Jefferson Theatre. Listeners could come by and meet the Big Bopper any time during the five day, two hours and eight-minute broadcast. This broke the on-air broadcasting record by 8 minutes doing his big return to civilian radio. After spending ten years at KTRM, Richardson got a recording contract at Mercury Records.
J.P. played the guitar, and was always the enthusiastic entertainer. If someone suggested it, the guitar was going before the request was finished! He was also interested in writing music and lyrics. He wrote a song, “White Lightning,” and a fellow named George Jones took that song and made it his first #1 on the country charts. J.P. also hade a friend, Johnny Preston, whom he wrote “Running Bear” for.
It is said that his early life on the Sabine River was the inspiration for this song. J.P. even sang background vocals for Preston on his record; however, the song wasn’t released until about 7 months after J.P. died, so he never saw the song reach #1 for three weeks.
Harold Daily was the production guy for Mercury Records and he wanted J.P. His first song, “Beggar To A King,” didn’t go anywhere, but that was just the beginning. His next song came out under the name, The Big Bopper. “Chantilly Lace,” would be The Big Bopper’s biggest hit. The song got to #3 on the R&B charts in 1958, and #8 on the hot 100 in August. If you play “Chantilly Lace,” and then play Jane Mansfield’s “That Makes it,” you will definitely get a kick out of them, together. After that he did, “The Big Bopper’s Wedding.” It did pretty good on the charts.
Because of the success The Bopper had from “Chantilly Lace,” he decided to take time off from the radio and go on tour with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Dion, and the Belmonts. That fateful night on February 3rd, 1959 won’t be gone into here. However, the Big Bopper died that night, leaving a daughter, and a wife seven months pregnant with a son.
The Bopper had written about 20 other songs that hadn’t been performed by the time of his death, so Jay P Jr. took over where his Dad had left off. Jay Jr. toured with a Buddy Holly impersonator, John Mueller, and played all over the world performing on many of the same stages that his father had played on, many years earlier.
I really enjoyed doing this story for you as the Big Bopper has always been one of my favorite artists. We will be doing “that fateful night” in the future, so be watching out for it. Hope you enjoyed this one.
Remember to tune into Cindy’s Vinyl Vault all this month for our featured Artist of the Month. We go live Sunday’s at 10pm, Monday’s at 11pm and Wednesday’s at 10pm on AM 980 WCAP. During every show, you are invited to call in a request or dedication at 978-454-4980. Join our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cindysvinylvault. There, you’ll be able to listen to past shows commercial free. And remember, everyone, “it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds!”