Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died a few minutes after 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1959.

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa–At 1 a.m. Friday, a handful of people will gather under a waxing moon on a gravel road about 5 miles north of here.

 As they listen to Don McLean lament “the day the music died” in his 1971 song American Pie, they’ll walk, as they do every year, to the site of the plane crash where singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died a few minutes after 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1959.

At a memorial in a farm field, the fans will say a prayer and sing a couple of songs. “We give thanks for the lives of these people that brought us all together and thanks for the music,” says Paul King, 66, a retired businessman from Northampton, England. He is a member of the British Buddy Holly Society and has made 24 pilgrimages to Clear Lake, including 17 for anniversary celebrations.

The after-midnight procession is the culmination of an annual celebration of the legacy of the three young rock ‘n’ roll singers and the survival of the Surf Ballroom, the venue in this town of 7,777 where they performed their final show.

The Surf, built in 1948 — after its first incarnation across the street on the shores of Clear Lake burned down a year earlier — is a shrine to the 1950s and the early days of rock music. It has its original ticket window, wooden dance floor and booths and a meticulously restored seashore-and-palm-trees motif. Faux clouds still roll across the black ceiling.

The ballroom, which will be packed this week during the annual four-day commemoration of the Winter Dance Party that brought the three young stars to town 53 years ago, has been designated a historic landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was listed last year in the National Register of Historic Places.

It is, says Jay P. Richardson, The Big Bopper’s son, “a temple of rock ‘n’ roll. If you want to pay your respects to Elvis, you go to Graceland. If you want to pay your respects to Dad, Buddy and Ritchie, you go to the Surf Ballroom.”

Once a hot spot

Clear Lake is a summer vacation hub in the middle of farm country, a two-hour drive from Minneapolis or Des Moines, the closest big cities. It’s the sort of place that’s bypassed by many national acts now, but in the days before everyone had TVs, musicians regularly toured small towns by bus, drawing capacity crowds from miles around to places such as the Surf.

The original ballroom, built in 1934, hosted all the famous acts of an earlier era: the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Count Basie, Lawrence Welk. By 1959, the new Surf was rocking.

Karen Spratt, 69, grew up on a farm near Clear Lake. “We milked cows twice a day and had a radio in the barn,” she says. “We learned all the words and sang along. My idols were Buddy and James Dean.” She was barely 16 when the Winter Dance Party came to the Surf, but her mom said she could go. Admission was $1.25.

It was, she says, “a fantastic night.” When she heard about the crash the next day, “we all cried. How could they be gone?”

Holly, the headliner, Valens and The Big Bopper had been touring the Midwest by bus. Dion and the Belmonts and Frankie Sardo also were on the bill. Holly was not accompanied by the Crickets, his original backup band. Instead, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup shared the stage with him.

The lineup included some of the hottest performers of the day, Allsup says. “Elvis was in the Army in Germany, Little Richard had retired … and Jerry Lee Lewis was at the bottom of his career,” he says. “There weren’t that many rock ‘n’ roll stars running around.”

Holly’s hits Peggy Sue and Rave On were radio staples. Valens’ La Bamba was a Top 40 hit in 1958 and the Bopper’s Chantilly Lace was released that summer.

The Surf was sold out that night to its capacity of about 2,000. In his 2011 book Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth, Dion Dimucci described what happened. Holly, he wrote, decided he couldn’t take another night on the tour bus and chartered a plane to fly to Moorhead, Minn., for the next stop on the tour.

The small plane had four seats: room for the pilot, Roger Peterson, and three more. In the dressing room, Dimucci wrote, a coin was flipped to see who would fly with Holly and who would ride the bus. DiMucci and The Big Bopper won, but DiMucci opted out after he was told the flight would cost $36 each. “I said to Ritchie, ‘You go,’ ” he wrote.

The plane crashed minutes after takeoff; all four men were killed. Light snow was falling as the plane took off. Investigators concluded the crash was caused by poor weather conditions and pilot error.

‘Not a sad place’

Bill Wobbeking was at the Surf that night. He had just turned 18 and was attending college in nearby Mason City. After the show, he and a friend talked about Holly’s performance. “We kept saying over and over, he’s better than Elvis,” says Wobbeking, 71, a retired bank controller who lives in Urbandale, Iowa.

He has attended several reunions at the Surf and says it’s a joyful place. “My last memory of being in there that night was a happy time,” he says. But Wobbeking can’t bring himself to visit the crash site.

Bob Hale, who was a radio DJ in 1959 and emceed the Winter Dance Party, has tried to walk into the field to the crash memorial, but he had to turn back. At the Surf that night, he says, Holly asked if he could touch Hale’s pregnant wife’s belly. They talked about Iowa’s tough winters, and Holly promised he’d come back in the spring to perform and go water skiing and swimming.

“As he was getting into the car to go to the airport,” Hale, 78, who lives in Park Ridge, Ill., recalls, “he said, ‘I’ll see you in the spring.’ ”

Richardson, who was born a few weeks after his father’s death, first visited the Surf in 1988 and met Maria Elena Holly, Buddy’s widow, and Valens’ siblings. “I never realized my father had the impact he had until I went to the Surf,” he says. He first performed there in 2000 and will host this week’s events.

“It’s not a sad place to me,” Richardson says. “The Surf is the last place I know my father was having a good time.” He recently loaned some artifacts to the Surf’s museum, including his father’s brown leather briefcase engraved with the initials “J.P.R.” It was recovered from the crash site.

Restored to glory

The Surf went through difficult times after the events of 1959. A succession of owners and managers neglected it and some skipped town leaving unpaid bills, says Jeff Nicholas, president of the North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum, the non-profit group that has managed the ballroom since 2008.

Over the years, the iconic pineapple murals in the lobby — a symbol of hospitality — were covered by wood paneling and carpet. When it rained, trashcans were arrayed on the dance floor to catch leaking water.

The day the music died

Pilot Roger Peterson and three stars of early rock and roll died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959:

Buddy Holly Age: 22 Hits: That’ll Be The Day, Rave On, Peggy Sue Note: The Beatles’ name was inspired in part by Holly’s band, The Crickets

J.P. Richardson Jr., The Big Bopper Age: 28 Hits: Chantilly Lace; wrote White Lightning, Running Bear Note: Credited for coining the term “music video,” he recorded videos for his songs

Ritchie Valens Age: 17 Hits: Donna, La Bamba, Come On Let’s Go Note: The Beach Boys, Carlos Santana and Los Lobos cite Valens as an influence

In 1994, the Dean Snyder family, owners of a Clear Lake construction company, bought the ballroom and began restorations.

The Surf hosted 40 concerts and events in 2011, including shows by 16 nationally known artists, and the annual February commemoration brings about $2 million to the area, says Nicholas, who owns the farm where the plane crashed.

“There just seems to be a mystery and a magic” about the Surf and its place in music history, Nicholas says. He once encountered a man standing near the crash site with tears rolling down his face. “Lots of memories,” is all the visitor would say.

A few weeks after the crash, a pistol that had belonged to Holly was found near the site. In 2007, Richardson asked that his father’s body be exhumed to resolve questions about whether the gun was discharged during the flight and whether The Big Bopper, whose body was found further from the wrecked plane than the other victims, had survived and tried to seek help.

The autopsy found that The Bopper died on impact and found no evidence of gunfire.

Nicholas says he gets goosebumps every time he walks into the Surf, and executive director Laurie Lietz says, “I come in every morning and I say, ‘Good morning, boys.’ Every morning. The Valens family swear they feel Ritchie’s presence here.”

‘Beyond nostalgic’

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top felt the history of the Surf when his band performed here for the first time in October 2011.

“To see it and walk through it was really a treat,” he says. “It’s a period-perfect piece of unintended leftover architecture. There’s something beyond nostalgic about it. There’s something quaint that is a standing reminder of the way things were.”

ZZ Top left with a Surf souvenir, Gibbons says: a vintage candy-striped popcorn machine on wheels. “It’s now in our recording studio in Houston,” he says.

This year’s Winter Dance Party, which begins Wednesday,  features concerts, dance lessons, memorabilia and art shows and a bus trip to the memorial site. Allsup will perform, and Pat Boone is the headliner. King and other Surf fans who created a music scholarship fund in 1999 plan fundraising events.

“I can’t wait,” says Jack Dreznes, 63, a Chicago record store owner who serves on the scholarship board. “It’s the music and the camaraderie of the people who love the music. It’s fun music, it’s innocent music, it reminds us old-timers of our youth.”

Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, says everyone should visit the Surf. “It is living history,” he says. “The music didn’t die.”

Allsup, who stood beside Holly onstage that fateful night and will stand in the same place this week, agrees. “The music lived,” he says. “The guys died, but their music lives on and on.”

The Reckless Ones

“This ain’t the 50′s no more” snarls the young man behind the drum set. He follows it up by spitting directly behind himself. The aggressive contempt of youth was on full display during the Reckless One’s set. A level of punk energy that it took me right back to my early twenties, crawling in and out of “Oi” shows in Dallas, Texas dive bars. But this wasn’t Oi or even pop-punk. The Reckless Ones start out very simply with blues riffs, country licks, and the heavy back beat of early rock ‘n’ roll. This is rockabilly, no doubt about it. But as the Reckless Ones show, the fact of 21st century rockabilly is an evolving one.

So you guys are the Reckless Ones. Tell us the history of your band?


Before our first gig in 2009 we were in the studio recording the debut album “Make your Move.” and before the record was out we were shooting a music video. Before the records had time to cool from the presses we booked back-to-back U.S. and U.K. tours. And rather then rest, we got right back in the studio in 2010 to record their newest record “Set the World on Fire,” then did another week abroad playing festivals in Finland, France and Spain.

Who plays what?
Kevin O’Leary -Guitar/vocal
Adam Boatright-Upright Bass
Dylan Patterson-Stand-up drums

Listening to your stuff, I can’t help but notice some influences beyond typical rockabilly and psychobilly. I hear bits of the Doors and some post-punk/New Wave. Am I correct about this?

You are more clever than most interviewers!  This is all correct, but our influences span the whole history of Rock n Roll.  Normally people just look at us and say we’re a “Stray Cats” kind of band.  It goes a lot deeper than that.

What rockabilly and classic rock ‘n’ roll inspired you?
We love The Beatles, The Clash, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Carroll, Elvis, Stray Cats, The Cure, The Doors, TSOL, Misfits, Danzig, The Quakes, Dion

You guys are from Minneapolis, what’s the scene like there?
It’s our family.  Most of them come out to our shows and really make us feel at home.  It’s not the biggest scene but it will fill a house and turn a show into a party.  Minneapolis is our home!

Any Minneapolis bands you’d like to give a shout out too?

Violent Shifters, The Throbbing Hot Rods, Phantom Tails.

It’s been said the Reckless Ones could have an appeal beyond the rockabilly scene. Do you feel like that is true?

Maybe, but it’s not our place to decide.  We just want to keep playing the music we write.  What is Rockabilly?

You’re on tour right now. What cities should be on the lookout for the Reckless Ones?

err.. Every town in Finland

Name some of your favorite towns to play?

Chicago, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Kansas City, Sastamala, Finland

So you put out an album last year.  What was that experience like?

It was a great experience!  We liked it so much we just recorded another album almost 1 year later.  Recording has to be the funnest things next to playing live.  We really love working with our friend and engineer JB.  He has done both of our albums and put up with our shit, thanks brother!

What’s next for ya’ll?

With the recent release of our second album “Set the World on Fire” we plan to hit the road again.  In addittion to that we will be pushing our music to be heard all over the world.  We’re a band that believes in hard work done DIY style.  Check back with us soon!

A Season In Hell………..



 “A Season in Hell”, a spiritual and confessional autobiography. Arthur Rimbaud was a genius, his writings were a quest. A search for perfection, an attempt to find total freedom. At the age of nineteen, Arthur Rimbaud commited suicide, not of the flesh, but of the mind and the soul. It means he never wrote another word, and disappeared off the face of the earth. He was not seen nor heard from again for nearly twenty years, until he reappeared in a hospital within Marseille on his deathbed.

The innocence of the 50s was over and so was rock and roll as we knew it. We were entering a new age, an age of confusion, an age of passion, of commitment. Eddie Wilson saw it coming. “Season in Hell” is the total innovation for its time. It was a signal a greatness yet to come. Eddie Wilson was a step ahead of us and I don’t think we’ve caught up with him yet. Eddie’s been dead for almost 18 years, but his music is as alive today as the day he recorded it. For me and for everyone who listens to music, Eddie Wilson lives and always will.

The 1983  film Eddie and the Cruisers referenced Rimbaud’s inner turmoil in a story about a musician that was trying to complete the perfect album and disappeared when the record company rejected it.

 Eddie Wilson, the lead character in the story, is introduced to Rimbaud by a young man who joins his band. In an argument among the band about a song that Eddie doesn’t think sounds quite right and can’t exactly explain why, the young man quotes the English translation of Rimbaud’s long form poem, demonstrating an example of a Cesure, or meaningful silence, which puts into words the explanation that Eddie cannot.

 The album that is rejected by the record label, which Eddie was inspired to make after being impressed by Rimbaud’s work, is called “A Season In Hell.” After a fight with a record label executive, Eddie tears out of the studio angrily, ends up driving his car over a bridge guardrail and is presumed to be dead.

This leads to rumors that he faked his death, effectively shunning his art as Rimbaud did.

Bob “The Mad Scientist” Stiegemeier

I owe Bob “The Mad Scientist” Stiegemeier 

a gratitude of thanks for everything he did for us on the Merc! If it was not for Bob we would of never made it that maiden voyage of 270 plus miles to Decatur for the final Hunnert care pile up! If you haven’t seen a chassis dyno in action, here’s the deal. There is a lot of setup time, the actual testing is brief but exciting, and the resulting power numbers are usually numbing-but not in a good way. Invariably, Greasers and hot rodders alike think their vehicles make much more power at the wheels than they really do.

A chassis dynamometer measures power delivered to the surface of the “drive roller” by the drive wheels. Modern chassis dynamometers can do much more than display RPM, horsepower, and torque. With modern electronics and quick reacting, low inertia dyne systems, it is now possible to tune to best power and the smoothest runs, in realtime. In retail settings it is also common to “tune the air fuel ratio” , using a wideband oxygen sensor that is graphed along with RPM. Because of frictional and mechanical losses in the various drivetrain components, the measured rear wheel brake horsepower is generally 15-20 percent less than the brake horsepower measured at the crankshaft or flywheel on an engine dynamometer.

Now I have no clue what are motor made on a dyno as we did not test it.

The mad scientist does more than just chassis dyno work. Bob’s facility also does:


Stiegemeier Porting has taken the latest in engine air flow techniques and applied them to Eaton superchargers with great success. Testing done with a flow bench and a DynoJet chassis dyno.

Racing Heads

Stiegemeier Engine Air flow has been a leader in cylinder head development for the past 25 years. Call for stage options, flow numbers, and pricing details. They specialize in aluminum cylinder head repair.

Dyno Tuning

Stiegemeier Dyno tuning was the first Midwest Dyno Jet chassis dyno shop – installed in 1996. Featuring a NASCAR quality DynoJet 248x we have the experience you want and expect!

Maintenance Program

Maintenance packages designed to keep your Stiegemeier Ported Supercharger up-to-date. Rebuild and Repair They are a full-service supercharger rebuild and repair facility. In addition they are now an EATON authorized remanufacturer. They also never outsource their repair work.

Fuel Injector Service

They clean, rebuild, calibrate, and flow-test fuel injectors. Show Polishing High-quality and car show ready! We polish superchargers. Other parts possible – call for a quote.

Typical turnaround time is 1-2 weeks.

Stiegemeier is without a doubt the most skilled and reputable supercharger porting service in the industry. With over 2000+ supercharger ported you can be assured that you’re getting the best performance money can buy.

The mad scientist also has some new killer products for 2012:

Venom Coolers

Venom Coolers Venom Coolers greatly reduce front drive temperatures, keeping them equal to that of the back of the case – increasing reliability of bearings and seals and eliminating heat soak issues. Available Now! .

Lightweight Rotors

New Lightweight Rotors for Eaton Superchargers

            As I finish this post out I have to add Bob’s 32 Ford. This is one of the nicest 32’s I have ever had the chance to ride in. Let me tell you if you are one of the lucky choose ones to get a ride the pure adrenaline rush will last for days not to mention the headache comes free as well. This car is ridiculously load and fun as hell to ride in. Enjoy the pics guys and Bob if you ever need a co-pilot you can call me anytime.


 Once again THANK YOU BOB for everything!



Adding Product Offerings to Meet Customer Demands


Posted By Ace Eckleberry, December 9, 2011 in Interior, Rod Shops

Small shops have to adapt and follow automotive trends in order to survive. It’s very easy for us in the aftermarket to get stuck in our ways and keep revisiting the same styles, methods and materials. Many one-time great shops have faded into the background by not embracing modern automotive trends.

My shop is primarily based around making baby boomer street rod dreams reality, but over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed that the next two generations have started stepping up and spending money to have cars built to suit their personal tastes. Many more muscle cars and modern autos have been rolling though my shop lately thanks to these younger customers.

To adapt to the demand of the next generations coming into the hot rod scene, we’ve been trying to concentrate a little more on offering products and services that fit the newer trends and younger generations’ car desires, even if they fall outside of our traditional offering.

Our first venture outside of our comfort zone has been stepping into mobile electronics. ACE Custom Upholstery is primarily an interior-based business, and any new products and services we add need to also complement the demands of our already-established customer base. Most street rods we’ve dealt with have some entry-level sound system, but the new crowd seems to want several steps above entry level when it comes to mobile electronics. We recently added a wide range of mobile electronics to our offering. This addition complements our main line of business and gives new and existing customers the option to upgrade their entry-level sound equipment to a much-higher-quality component.

The past few months have proven the mobile electronics products have an audience, and this addition has positively impacted our sales. To take full advantage of the new customers and sales our mobile electronics offering is attracting, this coming year the facility will designate square footage to a showroom, dedicated electronics install bay and some level of stock warehousing. Our show trailer will also stock some products to sell at the events and shows we attend to help offset the expense of the expansion.

In past articles, the shop tow rig served as a mule for step-by-step installs of several of the components we now install. Having the products in my own personal vehicles gives potential customers a higher comfort level with the product. My hope is that they’ll think, “If a pro has it in his personal rides, then surely it will be of a high-enough quality for me.”

To expand upon the addition of the mobile electronics components, we’re adding new materials and types of fabrication to our offerings this coming year as well. I’ve received several requests from the upcoming generations for fiberglass fabrication and installs.

Although it has been used in the past in-house, fiberglass fabrication has never been a staple in our shop, so more space, materials and demo pieces will be added throughout this upcoming year to meet the demand for fiberglass fabrication. For example, many younger customers are requesting their custom-fit subwoofer enclosures be a fiberglass fabrication, or at least have a fiberglass fascia.

To capitalize upon the demand experienced by the new product lines, we’re now offering a wider variety of installation methods. Sometimes this type of expansion is harder for a shop to add, especially when these new methods don’t follow along the personal tastes of the one pushing the venture. Remember, though, business isn’t about offering what you personally like or want for your own vehicle, it’s about offering what products and installs potential customers are willing to pay for.

One of the challenges to adding the mobile electronics component sales has been increased traffic, which has demanded that I dedicate more and more time to the venture. By year’s end, we hope to add two new employees to compensate for the time demands.

The last growing pain planned for the upcoming year is the addition of an exclusive high-end interior facility that’s separate from our existing shop. The past year’s growth and massive interest has forced me to separate the levels of interiors we offer.

The 73,000-square-foot main facility will still offer all the interior and rod shop services it always has, while the 5,000-square-foot secondary facility will cater to a growing list of higher-end clients and will be centered more around efficient interior innovations. The controlled environment will allow for a higher level of concentration and attention to detail on these special projects.

Shop owners, as the new year begins, put yourself in the position to ensure the highest likelihood of your ongoing success. One way to do this is to make sure every square foot of your facility is profitable, as we’ve tried to do with our new products and services. Continually adapt your offerings to consumer demand and expand accordingly.

Ace Eckleberry is the owner of ACE Custom Upholstery & Rod Shop in Fairfield, Illinois. In upcoming Interior Insights columns, he’ll discuss technical processes, procedures and sales techniques. For more information on Eckleberry, visit his website, www.acerodshop.com .

Viper Blue….

Sorry guys I have been busy and away from the blog for some time, but I promise I will be back at this strong and posting new stuff weekly. I have started on the interior and I just got the car back from the paint shop where we sprayed the inside.

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So now we are waiting our turn to get into Ace’s shop down at Ace Custom Upholstery

Greaser Alley 2011 In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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