Ritchie Valens

TrackSingle / Album
Come On Let’s GoDel-Fi 4106
DonnaDel-Fi 4110
La BambaDel-Fi 4110
Fast FreightDel-Fi 4111
In A Turkish TownDel-Fi 4114
We Belong TogetherDel-Fi 4117
Cry Cry CryDel-Fi 4133
Rockin’ All NightRitchie

Ritchie Valens Ritchie




Ritchie Valens playlist


Contributor: Dave Stephens … with assistance from Cal Taylor

Ritchie Valens. He was the guy who died in the plane crash in early ’59 along with Buddy and the Big Bopper and had a hit with La Bamba (which you’ll still hear on the airwaves). That’s what older readers will say. They might have forgotten, or never even known, that La Bamba wasn’t even the original A-side. That role was filled by Donna, a teen ballad but one to confound the image of typical songs from that somewhat derided form of fifties and sixties popular music.

Ritchie’s record career lasted from August 1958 to January 1959. The fatal crash of the four-seater Beechcraft Bonanza occurred in the early hours of the 3rd of February in snowy conditions not far from take-off near Clear Lake, Iowa. I am ever so slightly reminded of this by the overnight slightly unseasonal snow which I can see out of my kitchen window while I am writing these words on the morning of 8th March 2023.

That career wasn’t exactly packed with records: there were three only during his lifetime with the last consisting of a pairing of instrumentals credited initially to an ‘Arvee Allens’ coming out in January ’59. Donna/La Bamba was his second single with the debut platter comprising Come On Let’s Go backed with Framed, a Leiber & Stoller song originally recorded by the Robins, being the one that saw release in late summer 1958.

Not surprisingly, after the crash, Bob Keane, founder and very hands-on manager of Del-Fi Records, the label on which these records had been released, put into the public domain several other tracks from Ritchie that were ‘in the can’, some of which had seen LP release that January. Once again, not too surprisingly, none of these got that close to the distinctiveness of the first two singles so didn’t exactly result in mega chart success.

You could summarise the Ritchie Valens recording career in the four paragraphs above but you’d be missing out on something major. Those tracks in bold all deserve to be in any list of classic records from the first rock’n’roll era, a fact that I hinted at in the last sentence in para 4.

Let’s take them in order of appearance:


Come On Let’s Go

Where did it come from? Who were his influences? The obvious questions but the answers are a tad more difficult. Of all the ‘name’ rockers, Holly is really the only one to come to mind but in part that’s because of Ritchie’s hiccupy delivery in the climax to the middle eight; elsewhere he’s rougher and rather more in your face than Buddy; lesser tracks do show that he was certainly not unaware of Little Richard so there could have been a degree of blending of favourites’ attributes going on. Lyrically, the first verse emphasises the “let’s go” aspect of the title: “Well, come on, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, little darlin’/ And tell me that you’re never leaving/ Come on, come on, let’s go/ Again, again and again”. But while a considerably later verse mentions “dancing”, Ritchie’s enthusiastic vocal doesn’t in any way dispel the possibility of double entendre.

Rhythmically it’s a strongly guitar based medium tempo chugger in the key of A which Holly often favoured. The chord structure is a variation on the one that’s often referred to as the doo wop progression with the change being that it sticks to the opening major key chord for the second bar rather than dropping to the relevant minor chord. Intriguingly, Holly used this sequence for two songs, Listen To Me and Words Of Love. However, the pair are among the more intimate efforts from the man but are also perceived as him showing some Mexican influences. Perhaps ironically, intimacy is not a characteristic of the Valens record though the sequence is slightly evocative of the still to come, La Bamba.

What the Ritchie Valens penned song (and delivery) does have is a freshness that’s missing from the millions of tracks from wanna-be rockabilly heroes attempting to build a record career on emulation of the Presley Sun tracks (or at least hoping for their five minutes of fame). While we’ll never know whether Ritchie would go on to produce the degree of invention of, say, Eddie Cochran, this would have been a step in that direction. Eddie was a guitar-slinging rocker too and it shouldn’t be forgotten that Ritchie handled the lead guitar work on several of his tracks.

I posed the question, “where did it come from?” a few paras earlier. A specific answer to that query resides in Cal Taylor’s copy of “Billboard’s American Rock’n’Roll In Review” written by Jay Warner but using actual Billboard reviews. The book states: “Valens’ first recording session featured a tune that did not yet have a lyric, so Valens made up the words as he went along. It became Come On Let’s Go.”

Intriguingly, Come On Let’s Go got picked as a selection for homegrown rocker Tommy Steele to sing in the UK, and I’m deliberately not using the term ‘cover’ because at that time the Valens original wasn’t available here; it was the Steele release which prompted Pye to put Ritchie’s record out on this side of the pond. (And I should add that Cal and I differ on whether that makes Tommy’s record a cover; he has a stricter interpretation than me and it’s a “yes” from him.) It has to be said too that the Steele record wasn’t bad at all (and it made the UK Top Ten). Another interesting aspect of Tommy’s disc was that the flip side, Put A Ring On Her Finger, was a Joe Meek composition using the alias of Robert Duke and the royalties on the single were of considerable help in financing his future career.

But coming back to the subject, and …



A ballad featuring the real doo wop chord progression and a totally different Ritchie Valens. Given that our lad would have been no more than 17 years old when Donna was cut, it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to drop it into that pop subcategory entitled teen ballads. Indeed, I have been guilty over time of saying (and writing) that it’s just a few records like this little beauty and Ricky Nelson’s Poor Little Fool that prove that you can’t just say that all teen ballads (or at least all the ones from this era) were crap.

The production is minimalist: an unintrusive backing chorale, short but telling phrases from Ritchie plus commentary from a sombre guitar and a sotto voce rhythm section. Ritchie is dignity and restraint but he’s holding it all back. I’ve written elsewhere about a major rock era ballad that came out in 1958 – My True Love from Jack Scott – that the record had presence. I’d say the same here.

I had a girl
Donna was her name
Since she left me
I’ve never been the same
‘Cos I love my girl
Donna, oh! Where can you be?
Where can you be?

According to various sources including Wiki, Ritchie wrote the song as a tribute to his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig.


La Bamba

Wiki has a fine piece on the song. Under the heading ‘Traditional Versions’ the author states:

“La Bamba is a classic example of the son jarocho musical style, which originated in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and combines Spanish, indigenous, and African musical elements. The song is typically played on one or two arpa jarochas (harps) along with guitar relatives the jarana jarocha and the requinto jarocho. Lyrics to the song vary greatly, as performers often improvise verses while performing.”

The title La Bamba is the name of a dance “… presumably connected with the Spanish verb ‘bambolear’, meaning ‘to sway’, ‘to shake’ or ‘to wobble’.”

The Wiki author goes on to tell us that the oldest known recorded version of the song came from Alvaro Hernández Ortiz on a 78 which saw release in 1937 or ’38. Ortiz used the name El Jarocho on the label, identifying him as an inhabitant of Veracruz. Over the years, the song moved from its folk origins into more popular culture in Mexico and beyond. It appeared in the Mexican film Rayando el Sol in 1946 and the MGM musical Fiesta in 1947. The more developed sound of the song around this time would have been along the lines of the version from the Huesca brothers, Andrés and Victor, who billed themselves as Hermanos Huesca. Note the presence of the harps and recognisable chordal riffs.

Again, according to the author (who names a source), Ritchie learned the song when still young from his cousin Dickie Coata. He recorded it along with Donna in the Gold Star Studio in Los Angeles. The backing team was largely his usual one consisting of an early version of the Wrecking Crew (though that name wouldn’t come into use about them until many years later). The team comprised: Buddy Clark (string bass), Ernie Freeman (piano), Carol Kaye (acoustic rhythm guitar – she didn’t take up bass guitar until 1963), René Hall (Danelectro six-string baritone guitar) and Earl Palmer (drums and claves).

Quite apart from being a downright fantastic record, Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba was also highly unusual in being a song not sung in English appearing in the US (and other) pop charts. It also lays claim to being the first folk rock record to hit the charts and the first world music record to do the same though neither of those categories had been dreamed up back then.

In “The Heart Of Rock And Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”, Dave Marsh awards the Ritchie Valens La Bamba the splendid position of #92 and includes the following words on the disc:

“According to Del-Fi owner/producer Bob Keene (sic. see footnotes for variations on the Bob Keane name – DS), even though Ritchie Valens sang “La Bamba” for his friends all the time, he was reluctant to put this rock and roll arrangement on tape, because “he was afraid that recording it would demean his culture or something.” Valens was probably worried because he’d tampered with the song something fierce, both lyrics and music, so much so that those latter day folkies, Los Lobos, had to “correct” his interpretation when they had a hit with it in 1987. They did this so successfully that they dispersed all the manic energy of the Valens version – which for all we know may have been driven there by Ritchie’s fear that Mexican nationalists would stomp him for demeaning their culture.”



He was born Richard Steven Valenzuela on 13th May 1941 in Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. His parents, José Esteban Valenzuela and Concepción “Concha” Reyes were both from Mexico and young Richard grew up listening to the traditional music from that country in addition to jump blues/R&B and the strands of early rock and roll which were starting to emerge. This was particularly happening in L.A., with the city being a magnet for blues musicians and would-be pop stars from all over the country.

He was reportedly (Wiki) self-taught on guitar, trumpet and drums although the writer of the piece in the Los Angeles Daily News on 13th May 2016 celebrating the fact that L.A. had declared Ritchie Valens Day on the 75th anniversary of his birth, added the following:

“One day, a neighbor came across Valens trying to play a guitar that had only two strings. He re-strung the instrument, and taught Valens the fingerings of some chords. While Valens was left-handed, he was so eager to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right-handed version of the instrument.”

When Ritchie was 16 he joined a local band called The Silhouettes not to be confused with the Philadelphia doo wop group of that name who had a hit with Get A Job in 1957. While joining the band for his guitar skills it didn’t take long before he’d assumed the position of lead vocalist.

Word spread of Ritchie’s musical ability – according to the Wiki author, “kids knew the performer as ‘the Little Richard of San Fernando’” – and in March or May 1958, depending on what you read, reached the ears of Bob Keane, who we’ve come across already. Richard, as he still was, auditioned for Keane on 27th May and the latter was duly impressed. It was he, with some input from Richard himself, who came up with the stage name, Ritchie Valens.

The first recording session for Ritchie was held at the Gold Star Recording Studios, 6252 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA, on 18th June 1958. It yielded Come On Let’s Go, Framed and, possibly, Dooby Dooby Wah. (Information from PragueFrank’s Country Music Discography on Ritchie.)

The reader may or may not be aware of the Winter Dance Party and the tragic crash. For anyone who isn’t, I tell the story below:

It all started with Buddy Holly circa the tail end of 1958. His last two records hadn’t sold all that well, he was in dispute with Norman Petty over royalties and he needed money in order to settle in New York with his new wife, Maria Elena. Consequently, he was in need of both money and visibility. As a result, he agreed to headline a tour which was to be called The Winter Dance Party. It was scheduled to travel around the American North West starting on 23rd January 1959 and ending on 15th February. Due to a split from the other members of the Crickets in November 1958, Buddy had assembled a new backing band which consisted of Tommy Allsup (guitar), Waylon Jennings (bass) and Carl Bunch (drums). The other artists on the bill were Ritchie Valens, Dion and the Belmonts, J.P. Richardson aka The Big Bopper and Frankie Sardo.

Conditions on the tour were terrible. The temperature got down to 35 degrees below Fahrenheit and drummer Bunch had to be hospitalised (and lost to the tour) due to frostbitten feet. The bus(es) frequently broke down and had to be replaced and, due to heaters not working properly, the artists sometimes resorted to burning newspapers in the aisle to keep warm. In addition to all of that, minimal if any thought had been given to the mileage between locations often resulting in absurd distances having to be travelled in such intemperate weather.

In order to avoid some of the atrocious travelling by bus, Buddy organised a small plane to take himself and the band on to the next location after the performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on 2nd February. Some seat swapping followed ending with Ritchie and the Bopper getting the Allsup/Jennings seats respectively – the Valens/Allsup switch was apparently settled via a coin toss. The aircraft, a Beechcraft Bonanza, flown by 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson, left Mason City Municipal Airport (which served Clear Lake) at 12:55 a.m. in a blizzard. Radio contact was lost at 1:00 a.m. The plane was found the following morning having crashed into a cornfield less than 6 miles from the airport. All three passengers and the pilot were dead.

Since the appearance of Don McLean’s record American Pie, the day of 3rd February 1959 has become known as “The day the music died”.



I’ve mentioned Framed, the flip side to Come On Let’s Go. The original had been cut (as a flip side) by the Robins in 1954. Whether it was Ritchie or Bob Keane who selected the song we know not but the latter would have been more likely. While Ritchie did a capable job of picking up the role of the Robins’ lead singer Bobby Nunn, the record as a whole didn’t match the more entertaining production (by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) on the original. But it was a flip and the A-side certainly compensated. And I should add that Framed, like most of the rest of the Robins’ records, didn’t get issued over here so those who bought the Valens version are likely to have been perfectly happy.

The usage of an alias for Ritchie on single #3 strongly suggests that Bob Keane was seeing a second revenue stream for himself and his artist but driven by the Valens guitar only, not his vocal. The emergence of Bill Justis’ Raunchy in ’57 was likely to have convinced a whole host of record label owners and producers that rock and roll instrumentals could and would sell. Many of those same people would have produced big (and small) band instrumentals in the late forties and early fifties and, yes, they often did sell. Bob Keane himself used to be an instrumentalist and band leader so would have been well aware of that relatively recent music scene. Hence Fast Freight from Arvee Allens, following up the Ritchie Valens hit with Donna/La Bamba.

It was a good axe-driven twelve bar rocker displaying a higher level of urgency than Raunchy but unfortunately missing the naggingly hummable riff of that record. I suspect too that Fast Freight just got lost in the events after the crash in early February; it didn’t see release at all in the UK. That said, I think I’ve already hinted that the tracks outside ‘the big three’ won’t be comparable in terms of quality. This track gets in because it’s the sort of thing rock instro lovers seek out.

In Footnote #8, I have put together a summary of what came out when, during the immediate months and years after Ritchie’s death. A goodly number of the tracks identified in the footnote give the impression that although they were products of the Gold Star Studio, unlike the singles released in Ritchie’s lifetime, they hadn’t been ‘worked on’ to anything like the same extent and probably hadn’t previously been viewed as candidates for release. A better view of the actual recording history can be gleaned from the PragueFrank Country Music Discography for Ritchie referred to earlier which also contains the demo tracks cut in Bob Keane’s own studio in May 1958, several of which titles would subsequently reappear in Gold Star versions.

There were exceptions in terms of production values. The ballad, We Belong Together, gives the impression of having been put together as lovingly as Donna and was probably planned as a future release targeting the same audience. It had originally been written and performed by black duo, Robert and Johnny – yes, that good old doo wop progression rears its head again. The Bob Keane/Wrecking Crew version eradicates all traces of warm R&B from the arrangement but still manages to make it work principally because it features Ritchie at his most tender. It remains a puzzle why the record didn’t attract a significant number of buyers at the time possibly including ladies wishing to reincarnate and mother the deceased singer. It (or its flip side, Little Girl to be precise) is listed – see MusicVF.com – as only reaching a measly #92 in the Hot 100. And yet the clip below has apparently had 6.8 million views. Time for a rerelease and some plugging perhaps?

In A Turkish Town is another song on which attention would appear to have been lavished; the heavy reverb guitar initially grabs the attention and then it’s the rhythm which manages to subtly change between verse and chorus (or is it middle eight/bridge?). It’s the most unusual track in Ritchie’s entire oeuvre with nothing else coming even close. Slow but with a more folkie feel than a typical fifties ballad with producer Keane evidently having told the Crew to ladle on some oriental mysticism. The A-side, That’s My Little Suzie, a far more conventional but still attractive rocker, is listed by MusicVF as having hit the position of #55. And there’s certainly one fellow out there who heard that flip side – see the footnotes.

There across the sea waits my fair one
In a Turkish town, waiting there for me
And I know that someday we will live in love
So the mystic Turks say, from the stars up above

As a contrast to both the above, Rockin’ All Night gives the impression that it could have been one of those demo tracks that Ritchie cut for Bob Keane before he got into any real recording activity. Instrumentally, it’s Valens solo carrying both rhythm and any added flourishes he deems necessary. There’s a very distant backing vocalist echoing Ritchie’s lines but that’s all. One visualises our hero in a corner of the Gold Star Studio with the other musicians taking a break but the tape still rolling. Lyrically, it echoes the theme of Come On Let’s Go – Ritchie evidently saw himself as one for the ladies. It’s a charmer. In spite of the title it’s relatively gentle and you really do get the impression that Ritchie was alone (apart from that phantom backing singer). Had the others popped out for a flat white? Had they heard of flat white in L.A. in those days?

More typical of Ritchie’s rock and roll output is Cry Cry Cry, on which he shows his liking for a driving riff usually from his own guitar. His choice of covers like Summertime Blues (from the Concert At Pacoima Jr. High set – see footnotes) and Larry Williams’ Bony Moronie ram the point home.

Mention of riffs prompts me to say that the Come On Let’s Go/La Bamba riff does see more action within the Valens output. It crops up on Dooby Dooby Wah – love that title – and a few others. One of them, Hurry Up was penned by someone named as Shari Sheeley who many of us know better as Sharon Sheeley, sole or joint composer of Poor Little Fool, Somethin’ Else and many more. Ms Sheeley, of course, would also be involved in another famous rock and roll crash, this time of a car (in the UK) not a lot more than a year later. This was the one that killed Eddie Cochran but Sharon herself survived as did Gene Vincent; they were all in the same vehicle.

A couple of these songs deserve some more attention. Certain readers will be aware of Bluebirds Over The Mountain via the 1968 Beach Boys version but will be totally unaware that the number was originally cut by its author, Ersel Hickey, a decade earlier – for that story see my Toppermost on Ersel. Within the Topper I refer to that original as conveying the “impression of a Holly sound-alike, but not too much, singing a simple country flavoured tune streaked with melancholy (like Holly’s often were), over an unusual rhythm which had some similarities to early ska.” According to Secondhandsongs, Ritchie Valens was the first to cover “Bluebirds” having cut it in 1958. But what Holly influence I noted in his Come On Let’s Go doesn’t appear here which might not have been a bad thing in terms of Ritchie’s own vocal development.

For the second song, we go to the site NurseryRhymes.org which states: “This Old Man is an English nursery rhyme that was published in 1906. But it is still very popular.” Wiki also has a piece on the song – their term rather than rhyme –within which the author states:

“In 1948 it was included by Pete Seeger and Ruth Crawford in their American Folk Songs For Children and recorded by Seeger in 1953. It received a boost in popularity when it was adapted for the film The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness (1958) by composer Malcolm Arnold as The Children’s Marching Song, which led to hit singles for Cyril Stapleton and Mitch Miller both versions making the Top 40.”

Ritchie’s Paddiwack Song is, of course, This Old Man given a generous helping of electricity. Bearing in mind the Pete Seeger response to Dylan going electric in Newport, 1965, one wonders what his reaction would have been to this record if he ever heard it. Billboard gave it a positive review though – see quote below – and I’m grateful to Cal Taylor for it since the source was also his copy of “Billboard’s American Rock’n’Roll In Review”.

“The late artist rocks and rolls exuberantly on Paddiwack Song, a rocking treatment of The Children’s Marching Song.”

Was this the second folk rock record ever? (After La Bamba of course.)



1. Bob Keane was born Robert Verrill Kuhn in 1922 in Manhattan Beach, California. Although he later used the surname Keane (or sometimes, Keene), Kuhn appears on some of Ritchie’s song credits along with Valens. He played a clarinet in his youth and achieved his ambition of becoming a band leader by the age of 16. The band leading role didn’t last but Bob continued to get various musical jobs in Los Angeles. In 1955 he met a man called John Siamas who persuaded him to set up a record label with him. The Wiki feature on Bob goes on to say:

“The label would be known as Keen Records, with Bob working as an A&R man. He was given an acetate of two songs by Sam Cooke, who at the time was using his original surname, Cook, and singing in a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers. On the acetate was “Summertime” and “You Send Me”. Sam Cook was signed to a three-year contract with Keen, his surname changed just as Bob’s had been, and the songs were subsequently pressed and released as the first single on Keen Records.”

And, after You Send Me had become a massive hit:

“At this point, despite Keen Records having earned over $1,000,000 from sales of “You Send Me,” Bob had only an oral contract with Siamas. Upon asking when the corporation was to be formed and when he was likely to receive stock certificates for the company, he received a letter asking for him to invest $5000 (which, of course, he did not have) into his own company should he wish to remain a partner. He realized that he had been tricked into finding a hit record and then pushed out of the company.”

Bob kicked off legal proceedings but, if you look up You Send Me and/or Keen Records, his name doesn’t appear which strongly suggests that such activity was unsuccessful. However, he was undeterred in terms of founding record labels and set-up another one himself, Del-Fi Records, initially with a partner who he later bought out.

The early success with Ritchie put Del-Fi on a good financial footing enabling Bob to record other artists including Chan Romero (the Hippy Hippy Shake man), Little Caesar and The Romans, Brenda Holloway (She cut an early version of Every Little Bit Hurts for Del-Fi/Donna but it wasn’t released), several surf bands, some early Frank Zappa (on the Donna subsidiary of Del-Fi) and The Bobby Fuller Four.

2. I was being a little coy about whether or not the Steele Come On Let’s Go was technically a cover or not. In fact several UK record producers and A&R Men (as they were termed) did develop a habit of regularly scanning the US Pop Charts in order to identify records starting to amass sales prior to UK release in order to get a head start over the relevant US record when (or if) it did see such release, and/or over other UK producers aiming at covering the US single, such was the sophisticated state of the UK covers industry at the time.

3. There is an extremely tenuous connection between La Bamba and Bob Dylan. In 1953, an American folk singer named Cynthia Gooding recorded the song and it appeared on an Elektra LP from her, entitled Mexican Folk Songs. This is what it sounded like. To quote Wiki, in 1962, that same Cynthia Gooding “conducted the first radio interview with Bob Dylan before his first album was released.”

4. There is actually a closer connection between the Blessed Bob and Ritchie: see the para below which appears in “Chronicles (Volume One)”. If you don’t have the book then I can assure you that the para (and more) appears in various places on the net. This site which is headed “We Are All Bob Dylan: Turkish Dylan” and dated 5th October 2007, is one such.

“My grandmother’s ancestors had been from Constantinople. As a teenager, I used to sing the Ritchie Valens song In A Turkish Town with the lines in it about the “mystery Turks and the stars above,” and it seemed to suit me more than La Bamba, the song of Ritchie’s that everybody else sang and I never knew why.”

5. The Dylan connections don’t stop there. In his speech after receipt of Album Of The Year for Time Out Of Mind at the Grammy Awards in 1998, he said:

“I just want to say that when I was 16 or 17 years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him … and he looked at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was – I don’t know how or why – but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”

The occasion would have been the Winter Dance Party scheduled stop at the Duluth Armory on 31st January 1959, only a few days before the crash. Bob would of course have seen the others on the show including Ritchie.

6. Dave Marsh also included Come On Let’s Go (as #757) in “The Heart Of Rock And Soul” and used his mini-essay to speculate on what might have happened had the plane stayed in the air and reached its destination. He pictures the later Ritchie as a “300-pound session guitarist and mostly invisible to the rock and roll world, working jingle dates and living in East L.A., where he was a legend to the few who knew the whole story and respected as the best guitar teacher in the community. Offers to make records he greeted with a shrug, though he made one nice duet LP with Carlos Santana.”

7. The Robins were effectively the precursors to the legendary Coasters although the group had been in existence a long time before the Coasters came into being. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote for and produced the Robins in their later days and two members of the Robins formed part of the Coasters which was very much the Leiber & Stoller group.

8. Bob Keane/Del-Fi released four posthumous Ritchie Valens singles plus some EPs before the label’s effective closure in 1965/66; it did see later revival but that’s not pertinent to the Valens story. The singles were:

1959: That’s My Little Suzie/In A Turkish Town
1959: We Belong Together/Little Girl
1959: Stay Beside Me/Big Baby Blues
1960: Paddiwack Song/Cry, Cry, Cry

The UK (in terms of record labels) wasn’t as generous in its posthumous support for Ritchie. Indeed, there seemed to be a degree of wilfulness in not following what Del-Fi did. This was started by Pye when they coupled Come On Let’s Go with Dooby Dooby Wah (see below) rather than Framed. UK representation for the US label then switched to London instead of Pye. London gave us Donna/La Bamba within a week or so of Del-fi. They followed this in June 1959 with That’s My Little Suzie but backed it with Bluebirds Over The Mountain rather than In A Turkish Town. This was followed by an EP which contained 4 tracks from the Ritchie Valens LP which London issued in 1961. Finally, in 1962, London reissued La Bamba but coupled it with Ooh, My Head (which had also been on the EP just mentioned). And that was about it until 1967 when we got a rerelease of Donna/La Bamba on the President label etc.

Del-Fi issued three Valens LPs with the first two appearing in 1959. The first, entitled Ritchie Valens, contained four tracks not previously seen elsewhere: Boney Maronie, Ooh, My Head, Bluebirds Over The Mountain, Hi-Tone plus Dooby-Dooby-Wah (which had seen release in the UK – see above). The second, entitled Ritchie, had five tracks not seen elsewhere: My Darling Is Gone, Hurry Up, Now You’re Gone, Ritchie’s Blues and Rockin’ All Night. The third LP which saw the light of day in 1960, claimed to be Ritchie Valens In Concert At Pacoima Jr. High although in fact only the first side was devoted to the concert tracks and even that was sightly bowdlerised – see the Wiki piece on the album. Ritchie was accompanied only by a drummer and the tracks were recorded on a portable tape recorder. Summertime Blues gives a flavour of the tracks. Presumably due to lack of recorded material, the LP needed filling out so the second side was given over to some of the demo tracks plus an introduction from Keane.

9. In terms of current or current-ish releases of Ritchie’s music there aren’t many that stand out. For a time he was included within the Ace UK catalogue and, given their more thoughtful approach to artists than that of most other labels, their output was/is worth recommending. Within it was a 2xCD set entitled The Lost Tapes which takes the listener through the development phases of several of the songs and includes most if not all of the rare tracks. I don’t own the set but, based on other Ace UK purchases, I have no hesitation in recommending it to those who want to do some digging. As a more vanilla alternative (although I can’t say that I’ve checked the presence of every track), I suspect that La Bamba – The Definitive Collection might be what it says on the tin.

10. Dave Marsh was less than complimentary about Los Lobos’ version of La Bamba which was cut in 1987 to tie in with the Valens filmed biography which was released that year. I should put on record the fact that I have no objections whatsoever to their interpretation and indeed would classify myself as a fan of the band.

11. A book could probably be written about the songs/records that La Bamba spawned. Honourable mentions have to go to Twist And Shout, Louie Louie and Get Off That Cloud but there are a heck of a lot more.

12. On 31st January 1957 there was a collision between a Douglas DC-7B (which was on a flight test) and a US Air Force Northrop F-89 Scorpion which resulted in the Scorpion going down in La Tuna Canyon in Verdugo Mountains and the Douglas crashing into the schoolyard of Pacoima Junior High School. All four crew members of the Douglas were killed as was the pilot of the Scorpion though the radarman was able to bail out and parachute down – he survived but suffered heavy burns.

At the time, 220 boys from the school were on outside athletics activity. The wreckage showered into the yard causing fires due to the planes’ fuel tanks smashing. Three boys were killed and an estimated 75 were injured to varying degrees.

Ritchie was attending the funeral of his grandfather that day so was not at school. Reports have stated – see Wiki on the subject, plus other sites. – that he had recurrent nightmares about the crash and that it brought on a fear of flying though the latter was overcome after his music career got going.

13. Apart from the nugget contained within the final footnote, I think the preceding footnotes and the main text have covered most of the facts/people/stories of relevance to Ritchie Valens. However, there is one burning question which I hear people asking: just who was Frankie Sardo? He was on the Winter Dance Party tour – though sometimes gets ignored in pieces on that subject – but never had a record released in the UK. According to his Wiki write-up, he was the opening act on the tour befitting his position as the least famous/experienced artist. He was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, New York to an Italian-American family. Prior to the tour, he had had three record releases, all in 1958: May I/My Story Of Love, Let’s Go Rock/Midnight Stomp (neither side available on Youtube) and Fake Out/Class Room. As the reader will have gathered he did not get a seat on the plane so survived the tour and, according to 45cat, released 8 more singles in the US. From the fact that none of those singles saw release here you can draw the correct conclusion that none of them made any significant waves in his home country. In the sixties, Frankie moved into the film business where he would seem to have operated with some success. He died from cancer in 2014.

Frankie avoided the annual show that took place at or around February 2nd each year usually in Clear Lake, in memory of the Winter Dance Party tragedy. However, he eventually changed his mind about attending. This is a portion of what was reported on the Music Master Oldies site:

“On the 50th anniversary, in 2009, Frankie finally agreed to make an appearance. He signed autographs on Saturday afternoon, then spoke on a panel on Saturday evening in the E.B. Stillman Auditorium at Clear Lake Middle School called “The Last Tour” where Frankie Avianca (Sardo), Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, Bob Hale (the MC … DS), Carlo Mastrangelo (of the Belmonts … DS), and Freddie Milano (also Belmonts … DS) recalled good memories, horrible weather conditions, and shared stories about the last show. It was at this panel where the world learned why Frankie had been avoiding the Surf Ballroom for 50 years. He admitted that survivor guilt kept him away. He had always felt the anniversary gathering was commercializing the tragedy. After finally returning, Frankie’s feelings changed. ‘This showed me how wrong I was about how I conceived it to be. I thought it would be some commercial thing, one of those morbid sad things; milked. But it wasn’t that at all. It’s quite the opposite, really.’ Instead of sorrow, what Frankie recalled during his return was the kids who came to see the show and their laughter and joy.”

14. In the main text I made the comment that a couple of “the other” songs deserved some more attention. In fact, there was another that I could have included. Have a listen to the apparently Valens-composed song Ooh, My Head (below) and, if you’re a student of fifties rocknroll, you might spot that a bit of borrowing might have been going on. Apparently, Ritchie was jamming on Little Richard’s Ooh My Soul one day and this song emerged. While not condoning the activity I think it’s relatively mild compared with the things that record label owners and pop music management in general got up to at that time. And we do have a bonus in that the song was chosen to be the one that Ritchie ‘performed’ as in lip synched in the Alan Freed film Go, Johnny Go! which was released in 1959. Anyway, here is Ritchie plus a couple of shots of Chuck Berry with Freed in the same clip. Also in the film were Eddie Cochran, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Clanton and the Cadillacs.



Ritchie Valens poster 2


Ritchie Valens poster 1



Ritchie Valens official website

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens discography

Ritchie Valens biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson and Otis Redding.

The Stephens/Taylor toppermosts include Johnny Ace, Arthur Alexander, Ray Charles, Cyril Davies, The Falcons, Guitar Slim, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Elmore James, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Johnny Otis, Junior Parker.

TopperPost #1,060


  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 1, 2023

    Running out of superlatives for these Stephens-Taylor collaborations but this is yet another great one. Found this piece interesting – it talks a bit more about the African origins of ‘La Bamba’.

    • Dave Stephens
      Apr 2, 2023

      Thanks for those kind words. Thanks too for that article you forwarded regarding the African origins of “La Bamba”. I admit to having been surprised to have seen the relevant words in the Wiki piece on the song but your article puts it all into context (even while, as I note from some of the comments, such claims are not entirely unchallenged).

  2. Steve Paine
    Nov 16, 2023

    A bit(!) late, but I wanted to express my appreciation for this fine article. And thanks to Andrew for the background info. Coming of age in SoCal in the ’60s, “La Bamba” was ubiquitous, and not just Ritchie’s version. Much more recently, I visited the grave of a friend in San Fernando. Returning to my car, I almost stumbled over Ritchie’s modest grave marker.

    • Dave Stephens
      Nov 20, 2023

      Thank you very much Steve. With hindsight I think that the Valens Topper was an attempt to repeat the level of detail, and perhaps intensity, that I think Cal and I might have got close to on our previous essay, the one on Sonny Boy Williamson II. And this for someone who many might see as but a bit player in the history of rock. In particular I’m well aware that I strayed into more general territory in the footnotes e.g. by the focus on the Winter Dance Party though I justify this by not having included the topic in the Holly Topper.
      However I don’t share the “bit player view”. Anyone who could have come up with La Bamba in 1958, several years before terms like folk rock, world music or fusion had entered our vocabulary. Valens was important, really important. Maybe our essay could have been trimmed a bit, but …

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