Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. was born in Sabine Pass, Texas. The eldest of three boys his father was an oil field worker and driller. Jiles had two younger brothers, Cecil and James and the family moved to Port Arthur where they attended the local schools. Jiles (also known as Jape) graduated at Beaumont High School in 1949 then studied pre-law at Lamar College, where he was a member the band and chorus. Occasionally Jape played guitar with the Johnny Lampson Combo and also worked part time at radio station KTRM (now KZZB). In 1949 he left college and started working on the station full time. He spun a combination of hot jazz and country records and was voted ‘top DJ’ in 1952. He was called up in 1955 and after completing his military service he returned to the station where he worked as a DJ. He was asked to present a program and took the tile The Big Bopper after the popular dance, The Bop. He enjoyed writing songs and wrote White Lightening which gave George Jones a number 1 country hit in 1959.
He also wrote Running Bear for Johnny Preston which was a number 1 hit.
The Big Bopper was signed to Mercury Records but his first single under the name Jape Richardson was "Beggar To A King” but failed to attract much attention.
His second attempt "Chantilly Lace" was a top ten hit and that was quickly followed by The Bog Bopper’s Wedding which again sold well.
His chart success meant he had to tour to promote his records. He took time off from KTRM radio to join the “Winter Dance Tour” with Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Ritchie Valens and Dion & the Belmonts. The tour was scheduled to play in remote locations throughout mid-west United States, and the mid-west was suffering a harsh winter. The bus provided to the musicians had engine problems and no heating system. The weather was atrocious and the travelling schedule punishing so no surprise when The Big Bopper caught a dreadful flu. Buddy Holly had chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza small plane to take a party to the next gig. The Big Bopper swapped places with Wylon Jennings and Richie Valence who had never flown before was given a seat.
Early in the morning of 3rd February 1959 during a blinding snow storm, they took off from Mason City Airport. The plane crashed soon after killing the pilot, Roger Peterson and all the passengers. Conspiracy theories followed with the suggestion a gunshot was heard prior to the crash and reports the Big Bopper had initially survived the crash. A subsequent autopsy revealed no evidence of foul play.
Worth a listen
Chantilly Lace/ Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor (1958)
The Big Boppers Wedding (1958)
Little Red Riding Hood (1958)
White Lightnin (1959)
Running Bear (1959)
Jerry Lee Lewis
Chantilly Lace (1972)