"Hellooo…Baby!" The Big Bopper
The Big Bopper was a rock-and-roll novelty act for a short time but his legacy has cast a long shadow over the pop music business since his untimely death in the late 50's.
He was born Jiles Perry Richardson in 1930 right down the road in Sabine Pass. His family moved the few miles to Port Arthur when he was very young. He attended public schools, and played football in high school. Jape graduated at Beaumont High School in 1949. While attending school, he found a job at a radio station in Beaumont, Texas. Jiles, or "Jape" as he preferred to be called, married Adrian Joy Fryon on April 18, 1952.
He enlisted in the Army in 1952, having worked some as a disc jockey before entering the military. On his discharge in 1955 he set his sights on being the preeminent disc jockey in East Texas. In 1957, while working as a deejay for KTRM in Beaumont, he coined the name "The Big Bopper" a stage name he would use for the rest of his life. He later earned the coveted 3-6 p.m. shift where his program, "The Big Bopper Show," fared well, and he was soon appointed program director of the station. He was a wild radio man. In May of '57 he broadcast for six days straight, spinning 1,821 records and established a world record for continuous broadcasting.
But Richardson was not happy with being only an air personality. He wrote songs and sang, and he wanted to achieve some success with that as well. He did not have to wait too long, either. By the late 1950s, he had written "Running Bear" for his good friend Johnny Preston of Port Arthur, Texas. The record shot to number one. (That's Richardson chanting the Indian mumbo-jumbo in the background.) The Bopper also wrote "White Lightning" for George Jones. Jape was soon discovered by Harold "Pappy" Daily. It was in 1957 when Jape recorded his most famous song, "Chantilly Lace", which became the 3rd most played song of 1958. It still gets a lot of play today on oldies stations and jukeboxes in honkytonks. That is how J.P. Richardson is most known today for a cheap little novelty record called "Chantilly Lace," from which the immortal introduction "Hellooo…baby!" came. Richardson cut the record as The Big Bopper for the D label of Dallas, and it attracted attention locally. The record was a basic production; rhythm section, rocking saxophone, Richardson half singing and talking the vocals in his deep, radio-trained voice. Bells were used to simulate the ringing of a telephone. This record was not a big-budget session. Yet it was picked up by Mercury Records in the summer of 1958 and pushed to the top ten nationally. Richardson followed the record with another novelty song, "Big Bopper's Wedding," but it was only a moderate hit by January, 1959.
Throughout '58, Jape signed onto many tours to promote his records, his last tour being the Winter Dance Party of 1959. The tour was scheduled to play in remote locations throughout the midwestern states, in what was a very harsh winter. The bus provided for the musicians had engine problems and no heat. For this last reason Jape had caught the flu. When the tour rolled into Clear Lake Iowa, Buddy Holly chartered a plane to fly his band to the next gig. Jape approached Buddy's bass player, Waylon Jennings, and asked for Jennings seat on the plane, so that Jape could get some rest and make a doctors appointment. Waylon agreed and gave his seat to Jape, a decision that saved him, but killed the Bopper. Waylon would feel guilty about this for some time. The plane took off from Mason City Airport around 1:00 the morning of February 3rd, 1959, and crashed 8 miles after takeoff, killing Jape, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the pilot Roger Peterson. Ice on the wings. At the time of his death, Jape was 28 years old. His wife, Adrian, was pregnant with their second child. Jay P. Richardson would be born 84 days after his father's death. Jape's body was flown back to Beaumont by private plane. After his funeral the streets were lined with fans watching the long procession of cars moving to the cemetery.
The plane crash would be immortalized as "the day the music died" when another singer/songwriter, Don McLean, wrote and recorded American Pie in the early 70's.
J.P. Richardson was 28 years old at the time of his death. Today the Big Bopper's son tours as a singer. A tribute is held annually at the Surf Ballroom, the site in Clear Lake, Iowa where the Big Bopper gave his final performance. 2007 GATOR