Interview with Big Bopper Jr. (8-6-03)
By Ronnie

It's not easy to be the son of a bona-fide rock legend. Especially if you decide to pursue music - you will always be compared to your famous rock star father. However, Jay Perry Richardson, a.k.a. the "Big Bopper Jr." has taken a different approach. He didn't intend to get into music, it just 'happened' (as the interview will point out). Plus, Jay's emphasis is to perpetuate the legacy of the Big Bopper Sr., not to 'use' his famous name to promote his own music. And who better to do the ultimate Big Bopper tribute than Jay, who resembles his famous Dad, plus he has a very similar voice.

Jay is one of the most down-to-earth "stars" that I have ever interviewed for EAR CANDY, showing NO pretensions whatsoever. I felt like I was talking to an old friend about my favorite subject - music! As the phone interview ended, he encouraged me to call back anytime if I had any follow-up questions.

Jay wants to change most people's preconception of his Dad as "only the singer that did 'Chantilly Lace' and died in the plane crash with Buddy Holly" - and to get the word out that Jiles Perry Richardson was also a visionary. For example, he not only coined the word "music video" back in 1959 (this CAN be verified in an interview printed at that time), but he also recorded 3 of the first rock videos in 1958. I can't believe that nobody has written a book about the Big Bopper yet (hell, I would LOVE to write the book if only I knew more about book publishing), or that there has yet to be a movie about his life. Those that are familiar with his colorful exploits will understand that it would make an excellent movie, with out the factual 'embellishments' that were used in the movies of Buddy Holly or Ritchie Valens.

In my fascinating talk with Jay we discussed the career of his Dad, the possible upcoming movie and his attempt to get the Big Bopper Sr. enrolled into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame (in my mind, it is CRIMINAL that the Big Bopper is not a member yet!!). He also tells the very interesting story of how he came to perform tributes to his father and the great effort he places in making the shows as authentic as possible.

Right: Jay Perry Richardson a.k.a. "The Big Bopper Jr."

E.C.: First, I had a question about the status of the movie about your father. Where does that stand right now?

Jay: As a matter of fact I got an offer yesterday. I've been talking to some people for a few weeks here. And then we got up for a 'movie of the week' and we're talking to a couple of people right now about a motion picture. So it hasn't gone away yet…we just can't seem to put the deal together. You know, the right deal at the right time. Hopefully one of these will work out.

E.C.: Is there a screenplay written that they are looking at?

Jay: Well, we have three or four of those from different sources and we have our own idea for what we'd like to see done. Some of these things I think are kinda crazy you know? But, we certainly have our own ideas about how we'd like to see a movie done. And that make be some of the hang-ups, convincing some of these people that we have some good ideas, too.

E.C.: Is there anything specifically that you would like to show that wasn't shown correctly in the movies on Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens?

Jay: Well, those movies weren't about dad at all. All they had was this goofy character playing dad. So really, I don't know if there was anything as far as my memory goes - not so much incorrect about dad, but things not so factual about the rest of the movie.

E.C.: I was talking 'factually' about the story in general…

Jay: I think we have an interesting…dad was an interesting person and accomplished quite a few things that people aren't even aware of, that certainly need to be in the movie. The small things, if they can be factual and don't change the storyline - we understand that you are making a movie and you gotta put your Hollywood stuff in there. You gotta sell a movie, gotta sell tickets. But certain things that CAN be factual, why not get them right? Like I've been offered several, depending on which one of these three we are talking about, a role as helping them in the research. But also using some of my music in the film, my renditions of dad's music. Things like that, to kinda help perpetuate our career.

But, it kinda died down there for a couple of years, but here in the last few months…it's kinda like 'when it rains it pours'. All of the sudden we have three different ways, and I think two of them have good possibilities. And the third one, I just talked to these people for the first time last Thursday. That's just in the early stages.

E.C.: You mentioned things that most people didn't know about your dad - I read on the website that the video for "Chantilly Lace" was one of the first music videos?

Jay: Well that, "The Big Bopper's Wedding" and "Little Red Riding Hood" - we just found that out in the last three years. We have documentation to back it up from January of 1959 from an English magazine called DISC MAGAZINE.

E.C.: Was that the one that had your dad describe it as a "music video"?

Jay: Yeah, the heading on it said, "records will be filmed - Big Bopper revolutionizes the disc biz". And that came out, I think January 24th or 26th, just about a week or ten days before dad's death and he never saw the magazine. But I have a copy of it - I've had that copy for about twelve years. I just received all of dad's belongings back in '89 and in one of those boxes was this article. I knew what they were saying, but I didn't have the proof. The only film I had ever seen of my dad was on Dick Clark. Up to about 4 years go - that was when VH1 did a special. I don't know if you've seen "Behind the Music". They found these films and they sent me a copy of them. As soon as I plugged it in, I knew what I had. It was dad is a wolf's mask, singing "Little Red Riding Hood" and he had a mannequin in the "Big Bopper's Wedding" dressed up in a wedding dress with him in a tuxedo. Then on "Chantilly Lace", you see hand come up from the bottom of the screen and hand him the receiver for the telephone. And when I talked to mother, she remembered where it was done and filmed and all that kind of things. We're hoping that that will get dad inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame.

E.C.: You mean he hasn't been inducted yet?

Jay: No, there is a website. People can go on it, and we have book to sign, a petition. We've been in touch with the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame and they are aware that there are copies of the film and the articles. We don't want dad inducted because he died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. His number one record as a writer was in the country field with "White Lightnin" and "Running Bear". Everyone remembers him obviously from "Chantilly Lace". Even in the article he [Big Bopper] says, "won't be good enough just to be good just vocally, you'll have to look good visually". I mean, he had the vision. That's the man that had the vision for where "every artist will have to do it". Twenty years after that MTV comes along.

E.C.: I wasn't aware that he did three videos…

Jay: Yeah, they were all three done in one evening. Mother even remembered going to pick up with mannequin for him. Of course his buddies had thought he had lost his mind, there wasn't even such a thing [videos]. He had this vision of what it would be. We have those films; they've been returned to us. So we do have the original films.

Besides, setting the worlds record for broadcasting. He's up this year for nomination into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. I think it's recognized by Guinness, because there are certain criteria that had to be done, but dad did a show for 103 hours and 8 minutes.

E.C.: And that was the 'Jape-a-thon' that he received the engraved watch for? That he was wearing at the time of the plane crash?

Jay: Yep, sure was. The 'Jape-a-thon' or the 'disc-a-thon'. He sat right in front of the local movie theater in Beaumont and they set up a place for him to spin his records. It wasn't like he was in some back room hiding, right there in the front lobby where people could come by anytime and see him.

E.C.: I just finished the book, THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED. Are there any biographies exclusively on your dad?

Jay: We put out one back in '89, through the Port Arthur Historical Society. I'm not sure if they have any books left or not. I think they do. What you'd have to do…this is Port Arthur, Texas, the Museum of the Gulf Coast. You'd have to call them and see. What we did…it's more of a 'photo history'. It's an 8x10 book with 60 illustrations, each page has an illustration. From dad as a young child through pictures of the plane crash. It chronicles everything between. And it is about 8 or 10 pages of text, it give you the 'nuts & bolts' about dad. I signed them all and we numbered them 1 through 1000. We did it through the Port Arthur Historical Society to help them raise money for the museum that now exists.

Right: Jiles Perry Richardson a.k.a. "The Big Bopper"

E.C.: I want to ask a few questions about your music. What led you to sing under the name "Big Bopper Jr.", was it mainly to continue the legacy of your dad's music?

Jay: Well, I kinda strong-armed into it at the beginning. I spent my whole life trying to stay out of the business, that's not something mother wanted me involved with because of what happened to dad. I wasn't raised in the business, anywhere near it or around any of the artists or anything like that.

Back in September of '96, almost 7 years ago. I owned a club - it was the first time I'd ever performed. I owner a club here in Katy [Texas] and I used to bring in the '50s and 60s acts and that kind of thing. One evening Frankie Ford had played my club and his manager - we used to, at 2 o'clock lock the doors and heck we'd hang around a couple of hours and have a few sodas or whatever we might be drinking. Play a little pool and 'chew on the fat' as we say down here. Dad came on the jukebox and I started singing along with it, about half-cocked, not thinking too much of it. And he said, "You know, you outta do something with that?" And I said, "what do you mean?" and he said, "well you sound like your dad, you look like him - you outta get out and do his music".

I thought he was crazy and for the next two years in a row he called me and he'd say, "come on man, come do this thing out in North Carolina". Fabian hosted it, for MIA POW's, a fundraiser they did and they had like 18 acts on the bill and everybody just did two or three tunes. I said, "look -call me next year", this was in '95, "next year I'll be ready". I had never just sung with just music, I'd always sung with his records. So I kinda figured that would be the end of it. The next summer he called me in about July and he said, "I've got your ticket". By the time I had opened my mouth to go "what tickets?" it dawned on me, it was plane tickets. I called a business partner of mine, Mike Franklin. He has a studio still today and anyway, I said, "look, I need you to 'Chantilly Lace' & 'White Lightnin' - just the music down for me if you don't mind". I'd never been to Florida, that's where Mike lived. I said, "I wanna come down and you tell me what you think, if you think I can do this". I trusted his judgment; he's been in the music business all his life. He said "yeah" and we set a date for a couple of weeks later. I said, "Hey if he thinks I suck, we'll just go fishing". I love to go bass fishing, so it was a win-win situation. If I got down there and he thought I couldn't do it, it wouldn't be a lost trip.

So, I got down there and he put on "Chantilly Lace" and I sang the first verse and he turned the machine off and he looked at me and it was the strangest look. And I thought "we're fixing to load the boat up and go fishing" and he said, "You can do this!" I said, "really?" and he said, "yeah!" So I said heck, let's do it.

So we went and did this thing in September of '96. I did two songs, scared to death. I mean literally, I'd never been so scared in my life. Over four thousand people, sold-out house. I went from my living room rehearsing with a candlestick and my youngest son to four thousand plus people. It wasn't like I graduated from the living room to the garage, bar or lounge scene. Anyway, it worked out great.

From that point, we had a gentleman that said, "Hey, you need to record some of your dad's music" and we were talking about a movie then.

E.C.: Was your CD just your dad's songs, or were there any originals of your own?

Jay: No, this was all dads, it was 14 tunes. With the help of James Burton, played lead guitar. Ace Cannon plays sax on a couple of tunes. Matter of fact, the one song that dad never recorded, "Running Bear" - dad wrote it and originally did the backing vocals for Johnny Preston on the original record. Well, Johnny Preston does all the backing vocals for my version, which was really neat. The Jordanaires sing background on a couple of tunes. The original Crickets play on a couple of tunes. We just had a bunch of special guests and for me it was really just a neat project that all these people would get involved. But we basically did it for soundtrack purposes. To kinda upgrade the music a little bit and have all these named artists from that era. It worked out great; we shot a music video of "White Lightnin".

Like I said, it's just a matter of us trying to get this movie deal together. We have some material, yeah we wanna go back in but without creating a market for it, it's really no sense. Obviously with a movie and the publicity that goes with it, we have some stuff that's ready for release on the heels of that. We have 23 songs that dad had written lyrics to, that were found in his briefcase when he was killed, that didn't have music. We refer to them as the 'lost songs of the Big Bopper' and they've all had music put to them now, they've been published. We wanna do a tribute album; we'd like to have some artists do a tribute album that would also be released with the movie. Like I said, it's creating that market first.

You asked about 'the Big Bopper Jr', that wasn't me [who came up with the name]. Somebody just came up, "well, you're the Big Bopper Jr." It didn't matter to me. We were out there singing the music and people were enjoying it. I don't even remember who decided to introduce me one time as the 'Big Bopper Jr.'. It just kinda stuck.

E.C.: Frank Sinatra Jr. plays Vegas, have you ever played there?

Jay: Well, Vegas no. We've played plenty of casinos. Last year I did over 100 dates. One tour I did 46 shows in 39 cities in 51 days with Bobby Vee, Chris Montez, the Chiffons and Brian Highland. Vegas is a place where they get just inexpensive entertainment, they don't really care about authenticity I don't think.

I work with a group of guys, we go around and we bill ourselves as "The Winter Dance Party". We have a guy, John Mueller that does Buddy Holly. Ray Anthony is Ritchie Valens. We do a recreation of the last show; it's over 2 hours, 40 some-odd tunes. We travel the country doing that. We also recreate the tour every winter; we have for the last 5 years. We're billing this as possibly our last go around this January and February for the 45th anniversary. We go all through the Midwest, a lot of the same town. I've played the Surf Ballroom for the last 5 years. We even play the places; you know dad and them were about halfway through the tour when they were killed. We've done all the places that they have played and the ones that they didn't make. That was really crazy, the travel was unbelievable. Whoever figured that schedule out [the original Winter Dance Party tour] couldn't read a map!

E.C.: Are you aware that there are new groups today playing your dad's music?

Jay: Who?

E.C.: Dash Rip Rock…

Jay: Dash Rip Rock? What are they doing?

E.C.: They do a version of "White Lightnin" that's real popular, and it's on their live album.

Jay: I've never heard it. I've heard of Dash Rip Rock.

Oh yeah, well BR549, which is a great rockabilly band - I went to see a show of theirs and they did it just for me, they did it as their final song. They did a great job on it. That's a song I open all my shows with, is "White Lightnin". (laughs) It's an easy song for the band to vamp me out on, get started with. I don't even know how many times a lot of those tunes have been recorded [cover versions]. I know there are some bands, they use some of dad's lyrics and things. Van Halen I know did, several years ago, with 'oh baby you know what I like'.

I know he's had some influence along the way. But I think there was so much more to dad than "Chantilly Lace". Had dad lived, in my opinion, "Chantilly Lace" would have been long forgotten. I think most people think that's his greatest accomplishment and that so far from the truth as it is. But, that's the only thing they know him by. They don't know the road he was on with the videos and his songwriting abilities. And his producing in which he wanted to go into and radio, which he wanted to continue. And get out of the music-performing end of it. He was an innovator but he didn't have a chance to implement these ideas. I mean thank god for "Chantilly Lace", don't get me wrong. But had dad lived, he was onto such bigger things and had such a bigger vision of the music world, and where it was headed and where it needed to go. You probably would have had "Bopper Vision" before you had MTV. I mean he would have had a music video channel before MTV ever did. "Chantilly Lace" has endured 45 years and people still appreciate it. I know when I do it, its amazing the reaction.

E.C.: In the book THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED, it was mentioned that the Big Bopper just wanted to stay in the singing business long enough to get money to buy his own radio station…

Jay: That's what dad wanted to do, mom says he wanted to buy a station in Denver to start with. For some reason he wanted to move to Denver.

The performing side of it, dad was really a shy kind of guy. When he put on that jacket or got behind a microphone, he was a character. People say, "Boy, your dad must have been a crazy guy". And, he really wasn't. I mean my dad. Now the Big Bopper, yeah he was a nut. That was part of the act. That's what I tell people. It's just like anybody you see on TV today, that's their 'character'. The Big Bopper was a 'character'. That was not my dad…distinguish the two. My dad was a laid back, intellectual thinking kind of guy trying to move forward in the music business and had all these ideas and knew where he wanted to go. The 'Bopper' was the thing that he created for his radio show. And they just took it into his music. Just so happened the first song that he recorded - "Chantilly Lace" was the flip side of "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor". It just so happens that it took off. I tell mom that if dad were alive today he would die to know the way people react to his music today. He had no idea back then. I wasn't born, but I've certainly done everything I can to find out about my dad. I believe that my dad just would not believe that here he was just trying to make a living to support his family - and that 45 years later we would still be selling out theaters to hear his music.

There are so many bad tributes out there. I mean you've got so many bad Elvis's. I mean you've got some good ones, but you've got so many bad ones. When people think of 'tributes' they think "ahhh" (moaning sound). What we do is very authentic, the guys really put their heart and soul into it, not just going through the motions. Even down to the amps and the guitar strings. The guy John, who does Buddy, plays with flat wound strings, just like Buddy. I mean down to the last detail, it's just so authentic.

That's the problem we have, once we get in there and they see what it is, they say "damn, that's good". And then we don't have a problem getting back in. Sometimes, it's just convincing people that this isn't your normal kind of deal here. This isn't your regular, everyday 'bad' tribute show. But people have to see it. It's one thing to send a promo, but to see how the crowd reacts, how the show flows. And those kind of things and it makes a believer out of you. You don't get any more authentic, I mean you're not gonna get closer to dad than me.

E.C.: The pictures I see of you two, it is amazing the similarities...

Jay: Well, what I tell people is that when I was 28, I looked like dad. Now that I'm 43, I tell people that this is what dad had looked like if he had lived to be 43 if you see me now. I guess the similarities are still there to people. Once you have the leopard skin on, the phone in your hand and you kick into character, I guess it's close enough for people. I've had grown men cry on my shoulder, to know what dad meant to them, and then they see me and not expecting that it may not be as good as they hoped - cause I always do 'meet & greets' after the shows, and I've had literally several, not just ladies but men come up and cry on your shoulder and say "it's like seeing your dad". Those are the neat things that come out of what I do. To see that you move people and to know that dad meant that much to them.

E.C.: Are there any live recordings of the Big Bopper?

Jay: As far as music? Not that I'm aware of, there are some radio sound checks which my godfather kept. But as far as him doing some commercials…that's it. But these were live from the radio, they did most of their commercials live. He just happened to have a tape with dad doing 4 or 5 commercials, local companies in Beaumont. Other than that, I'm not aware of any. I won't say they don't exist, I'm just not aware of any.

E.C.: If the movie deal doesn't come through, have you ever considered a documentary?

Jay: We had a group of people that did one, and maybe it will be coming out in the next year that a group from Perdue did. It was a graduate class, like a thesis for their radio & film division. As a matter of fact, I'm supposed to be getting a copy of it. They came down and interviewed everybody, people that were still alive. They came to the Surf Ballroom this year when we performed and got their last bit of footage there. They talked to people that were there at the original show and that kind of thing. They interviewed mother.

The thing is, the movie will pan out in the sense that even if we don't get a feature movie, we have options for television. That's kinda my last resort. I mean, I'd like to see a feature film. I pretty much have a standing offer for a television movie, because they are pretty cheap to produce. We were under option with the company that made the film "Selena" 3 or 4 years ago to do a movie about dad and they couldn't get it worked out. A year later he called me and wanted either VH1 or MTV doing their original pictures and wanted to do one about dad. We kinda wanna hold out here, we'd like to see a feature film. I wanna see it on the big screen. If it's good enough for Buddy and Ritchie, I think dad outta have one too.