Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses
You can’t keep a good myth down. Everyone knows February 3rd as “The Day the Music Died”, when Buddy Holly Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper all died in a plane crash. However, this day has some other strange occurrences and legends surrounding it. Legendary British producer Joe Meek was a huge Buddy Holly fan. He even produced a tribute to Buddy Holly for recording artist Mike Berry. (The excellent Tribute to Buddy Holly up above.) It was claimed that legendary British music producer Joe Meek warned Holly of his death:
During his successful tour of England in 1958, Buddy was startled to find a note delivered to him personally by legendary British recording engineer and producer Joe Meek. Meek had become fascinated with the occult and had graduated from his Ouija board to tarot card readings. During a tarot session in January of 1958, vocalist Jimmy Miller of Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues joined Joe Meek. Miller had enjoyed using his Ouija board as a method to help pick up girls. He noticed it helped break the ice, and many of his dates found the spooky readings to be fascinating. It just seemed natural that Jimmy would graduate to higher forms of spiritualism with Joe Meek, especially since Joe was the band’s producer.
According to Miller, on this particular night Joe Meek had invited Faud, an Arab friend and another dabbler in the occult sciences, to make up the third party, and the tarot cards were brought out into an appropriately darkened room. Miller recalled, “That was the first time I had handled tarot cards, and even now I am getting tingles down my spine.” These slight tingles would later turn to petrifying fear as the evening progressed. Meek told Jimmy to shuffle and cut the cards with his left hand. The right hand of each man securely gripped the left of the man sitting next to him. Joe placed himself in the middle and Faud’s right hand was kept free to write down on a writing pad any spiritual messages that might make their way through the veil. Miller recalls that the cards felt strange and that he became nauseated.
Slowly, he turned each card with his left hand. Halfway through the deck, Jimmy grasped Joe’s hand so tightly that the singer’s fingernails dug deeply into the producer’s knuckles, cutting into the flesh. Faud began slowly writing down individual letters that created the message now being obtained from the beyond.
When the cards were completely turned, Joe Meek screamed in pain and wrenched his hand free from the now equally terrified Miller. In horror the three men looked at the spiritual message that had been recorded by Faud. The message stated a date — “February the third.” The date was followed by the name “Buddy Holly” and “Dies.” “The whole affair was amazing because the message was written in what looked very much like my [Miller’s] own handwriting,” Miller said.
As Miller recalled it, Joe Meek was now a man filled with a terrible urgency. Not only was he a fan of Buddy Holly, but now he had only a few short weeks to get the message to Buddy to be extremely careful on February the third. Meek contacted record companies, music publishers, and any other inside sources that could carry the prophetic message of doom to the popular American singer.
When February 3, 1958, finally came and passed without incident, Miller said Joe felt relieved but still felt it was his responsibility to personally deliver the message to Holly when the singer and his backup group the Crickets arrived in Great Britain in mid-February to begin their UK tour. When Meek told Holly the incredible events of the tarot reading the singer very politely thanked Joe for his concern and promised that he would always be extremely careful in the future when February the third would come around.
In an interview with the BBC at the tour’s end, Holly remarked that his tour of England had been very strange. First, a fan threw a brick with an autograph book attached through his dressing room window, almost hitting him, and then he received a message telling him that he was going to die. If only Buddy Holly had remembered Joe Meek’s warning the next year when on February 3, 1959, Holly climbed into a small chartered airplane on a cold winter’s night in Iowa. Fate would not present Buddy Holly with a second chance.
There have been different versions of this story told, and no one is certain what exactly happened. However, there is no doubt that February 3rd would also feature heavily in Meek’s own life. Meek also took his own life, and the life of his land lady, eight years later to the day of Buddy Holly’s death:
On 3 February 1967 Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single-barrelled shotgun that he had confiscated from his protégé, former Tornados bassist and solo star Heinz Burt at his Holloway Road home/studio. Meek had flown into a rage and taken the gun from Burt when he informed Meek that he had used it while on tour to shoot birds. Meek had kept the gun under his bed, along with some cartridges. As the shotgun had been owned by Burt, he was questioned intensively by police, before being eliminated from their enquiries.
Meek was suffering from depression. He was accused of plagiarism, which was proved untrue after his death, which were adding to his financial problems. He had also been caught trying to perform a homosexual act at a time when being gay was still a crime in England. (Meek was very afraid of his mother finding out, whom he loved deeply.) Meek, probably bipolar, was also addicted to speed and other drugs that enabled him to work long hours, which greatly added to his depression at the end of his life.
There is also a strange connection to Del Shannon’s death, which occurred on the on February 9th. However, Shannon’s last live performance was on February 3rd at the same venue that Buddy Holly played before his plane crash:
Del Shannon hit the rock charts in the early 1960s. His classic hit “Runaway” filled the radio airwaves in 1961 and introduced what sounded like a Moog synthesizer, but was most likely a Musitron, an organlike instrument. Other Shannon hits included “Hats Off to Larry” and “Little Town Flirt.” Sadly, Del Shannon was doomed to be yet another victim of the British invasion during the mid-1960s.
In the late 1980s, Del Shannon was attempting a comeback. Tom Petty had worked with him and included the line “Me and Del were singing ‘Little Runaway'” in Petty’s “Running Down a Dream.” Even though Shannon’s career was about to be rekindled, he suffered from severe bouts of depression. His last performance came at the Surf Ballroom on February 3, 1990, the thirty-first anniversary of the Holly plane crash. His backing band that night was the Crickets. Del returned home and on February 9, 1990, took out his shotgun and took his own life. Shannon was unaware that he had been just been selected to take the late Roy Orbison’s place in the superstar band the Traveling Wilburys. Some medical experts claimed that the antidepressants Del was taking might have contributed to his death, while others remembered another night just thirty-one years earlier when three young rock stars soared into the heavens to gain rock and roll immortality. The last performance for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Del Shannon was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.