Richard Steven Valenzuela died in a plane crash in Iowa in February 1959, aged 17. Also on board were Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. The day later became known as The Day the Music Died.
Born outside of Los Angeles in 1941. Richie taught himself to play a number of instruments gaining experience performing with a local high school band.
Following a tip about the young performer, Bob Keane, the owner of Del-Fi records asked Richard to audition in February 1958 and signed him straight away. Keane recommended that he change his name to Ritchie Valens in order to widen his appeal.
In the winter of 1959, Richie was traveling the Midwest on a rock and roll tour called “The Winter Dance Party.” The tour conditions were miserable with performers driven between venues on unheated school buses in the bitterly cold Midwest weather with one performer reportedly hospitalised for frostbite.
The schedule meant the performers often had to travel overnight in below zero conditions. Buddy Holly asked his manager if a plane could be chartered to the next show in Fargo, North Dakota. Richie flipped a coin for the final seat.
Richie’s mother filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the owner of the aircraft, Jerry Dwyer. His insurance company settled for $75,000.
As Richie was only 17 he didn’t have a Will – under the laws of most states a person needs to be 18 or older to execute a Will or sign any other legal documents. However as the heirs of Richie’s estate, his mother should have controlled the rights in Richie’s music. Bob Keane claimed that under the contract that Ritchie signed he retained the vast majority of the music rights. In a common story facing many young artists it has been claimed that Richie didn’t read the agreement he signed with Keane and as he was a minor the contract should have been void.
Richie’s mother claimed that “Keane’s business partner called me and said to sign a contract just in case anything might happen to Ritchie; otherwise, I wouldn’t get anything. So I did. I got an insurance policy on his life.”
Keane retained nearly everything –however in 1987, all music publishing rights for Valens’ compositions went to Richie’s mother. Interestingly Keane owns Richie’s recordings “in perpetuity”.
In 1979 Led Zeppelin were sued by Keane as their song “Boogie with Stu” (from their album Physical Graffiti) which had used lyrics and music from Ritchie’s song “Ooh! My Head”. Half of the settlement went to Keane, the other half to Ritchie’s mother.