The Big Bopper, Hellooo... Baby!
The Big Bopper

He came wailing out of Texas, singing "Hellooo...Baby!" Yes, this was The Big Bopper speaking. Jiles Perry Richardson (called Jape by his friends) was born in Sabine Pass, Texas, on October 24, 1930. When his family moved to Beaumont, Richardson took an interest in entertainment, and eventually received a diploma from a technical school in radio and television broadcasting. After a stint in the U.S. Army as a radar instructor, Richardson returned home and got a job at KTRM radio as a disc jockey. He later earned the coveted 3-6 p.m. shift and took the name The Big Bopper. His program, "The Big Bopper Show," fared well, and he was also appointed program director of the station. He was a wild radio man. In 1957, he set the world’s record for continuing broadcasting by playing 1,821 records during six days and nights. The 240-pound Bopper lost 35 pounds but gained much publicity for his "Discathon." But Richardson was not happy with being only an air personality. He wrote songs and sang, and he wanted to achieve some success with them 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.

For all his writing, however, J.P. Richardson is most known today for a cheap little novelty record called "Chantilly Lace," from which the immortal introduction "!" 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 "Big Bopper’s Wedding," but it was only a moderate hit by January, 1959.

Richardson, meanwhile, took a leave of absence from the station to perform in The Winter Dance Party with several other rock stars, including Buddy Holly. The group of rock performers sang at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the night of February 2, 1959. When they had finished, Holly arranged for a local pilot to fly several performers to Fargo, North Dakota. Richardson had been feeling ill and didn’t want to endure the long bus ride, so he asked to fly. J.P. Richardson died that night in a plane crash, along with Holly, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson. One of The Big Bopper’s biggest hits as a songwriter, "Running Bear," was successful after his death. His son was born after his death, too. But The Bopper’s musical history lives on as an example of novelty rockabilly done energetically and enthusiastically.

We Wanna Boogie, Randy McNutt

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