Top 10 Facts

Ritchie Valens

10. Valenzuela

He was born as Ritchie Valenzuela in Pacoima, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, on May 13, 1941.His parents were Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes. Brought up listening to traditional Mexican mariachi music, flamenco guitar, R&B and jump blues, he expressed an interest in making music of his own by the age of 5. He was encouraged by his father to take up guitar at the age of 9 and trumpet, and he later taught himself the drums. One day, a neighbor came across Ritchie trying to play a guitar that had only two strings. He re-strung the instrument and taught Ritchie the fingerings of some chords. While Ritchie was left-handed, he was so eager to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right-handed version of the instrument. When he was 10, his father was killed in an accident.Valens attended Pacoima Junior High School (now Pacoima Middle School). By the time Valenzuela was attending junior high school, he brought the guitar to school and would sing and play songs to his friends on the bleachers.

9. The Silhouettes

When he was 16 years old, Valenzuela was invited to join a local band named 'The Silhouettes' as a guitarist. Later, the main vocalist left the group and Valenzuela assumed this position as well. In addition to the performances with The Silhouettes, he would play solo at parties and other social events.

8. self-taught

A self-taught musician, Valens was an accomplished singer and guitarist. At his appearances, he often improvised new lyrics and added new riffs to popular songs while he was playing. This is an aspect of his music that is not heard in his commercial studio recordings.

7. American Pie

The event, along with Buddy Holly's death, later inspired singer Don McLean to write his 1971 hit "American Pie," immortalizing February 3 as "The Day the Music Died." Valens' remains were buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, Mission Hills, California.

6. The Day the Music Died

After the February 2, 1959 performance in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly, Richardson and Valens flew out of the Mason City airport in a small plane that Holly had chartered. Valens was on the plane because he won a coin toss with Tommy Allsup, with the latter taking a bus instead. The plane, a three-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza, departed for Fargo, North Dakota and crashed shortly after takeoff in a snowstorm. The crash killed all three passengers and pilot Roger Peterson. At seventeen, Valens was the youngest to die on the flight.

5. Pioneer

Valens was a pioneer of Chicano rock and Latin rock, and inspired many musicians of Latino heritage. He influenced the likes of Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys and Carlos Santana as he had become nationally successful at a time when there were very few Latinos in American rock and pop music. He is considered the first Latino to successfully cross over into mainstream rock.

4."Come On, Let's Go" - "Donna"

"Come On, Let's Go" has been covered by Los Lobos, the Ramones and "the Paley Brothers" (the Ramones on guitar, bass and drums and The Paley Brothers on vocals), Tommy Steele, the Huntingtons, Girl in a Coma and the McCoys and in Australia by Johnny Rebb and his Rebels on Leedon/Canetoad Records. "Donna" has been covered by artists as diverse as MxPx, Cliff Richard, the Youngbloods, Clem Snide, Cappadonna, and the Misfits.

3. Ernie Valens

Valens' nephew, Ernie Valens, has toured worldwide playing his uncle's songs, including a new version of the "Winter Dance Party" tour with Buddy Holly impersonator John Mueller. This tour has taken place at many of the original 1959 venues in the Midwest.

2. Hollywood Walk of Fame

Valens has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6733 Hollywod Blvd in Hollywood, California. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Valens' mother Connie, who died in 1987, is buried alongside him.

1. With Two Hands To Play And One Mouth To Sing

"La Bamba" proved to be his most influential recording, not only by becoming a pop chart hit sung entirely in Spanish, but also because of its successful blending of traditional Latin American music with rock. Valens was the first to capitalize on this formula, which was later adopted by such varied artists as Selena, Caifanes, Café Tacuba, Circo, El Gran Silencio, Aterciopelados, Gustavo Santaolalla and many others in the Latin Alternative scene. Ironically, the Valenzuela family spoke only English at home and Ritchie knew very little Spanish. Ritchie learned the lyrics phonetically in order to record "La Bamba" in Spanish.

Because Ritchie Valens WAS the real deal. He was only starting, but in the time he spent in the business, he made big impact. I don't know if anybody could have made a bigger one. -Waylon Jennings

"Ritchie Valens." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

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