Tell me all you know about Ritchie Valens! … umh … “La Bamba” right? … Airplane crash … and that’s about it! Well, there is a story to tell about Ritchie Valens and a new DVD from Whirlwind Media tells it all!
Born Richard Valenzuela in 1941 in California, he was the first of a series of Latin rock’n’rollers that included Chan Romero, Chris Montez and the ever-popular Cannibal and the Headhunters. He started playing guitar as a child and formed his own band while attending Pacoima High near Los Angeles. It was the spring of 1958 when Del-Fi Records released his first hit “Come On, Let’s Go.” In 1959 Ritchie hit again, reaching #2 on the charts, with the 2-sided single “Donna” b/w “La Bamba.” While on tour with Buddy Holly, Valens accepted a ride on a small plane to get to the next gig. That plane crashed in a snowstorm, killing Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper, and the pilot. This was February 3, 1959, “the day the music died.”
In eight short months Ritchie Valens achieved what some musicians only dream about for a lifetime! His life has been the subject of a major motion picture (La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips) and the songs he recorded have been endlessly repackaged. The group Los Lobos began their recording career covering “Come On, Let’s Go” and later turned a renovated “La Bamba” into a hit again; they’ve been clear all along about the debt they owe Ritchie. Ritchie Valens, with only a handful of recordings has had a lasting impact on American music. It’s fitting then, to have this program that both tells his story and allows a new generation to assess his work.
The Complete Ritchie Valens is packed with information. It includes 161 minutes of material! From Del-Fi Records, recorded in “delphonic sound” we are presented with the complete Ritchie Valens studio masters. All 28 songs, including a couple of demos and alternate versions, every master take ever recorded by Ritchie, each one digitally remastered from the original masters, are here in sparking audio. Ritchie has never sounded better! The hits, “Donna,” “La Bamba” and “Come On, Let’s Go” are surrounded by more obscure tunes like “Ritchie’s Blues” and “Dooby Dooby Wah” for a three dimensional look at his music.
There is also an interactive program that allows the viewer to browse through a scrapbook of rare photos and memorabilia. You can reuse posters from various stops along the way from the Winter Dance Party, which was the fatal tour, or read a letter from Ritchie’s Mom; scan dozens of photographs or read contemporary news clippings. Check out the original 45s, or get a look at the real Donna! This is a gold mine for the rock’n’roll historian.
The piece de resistance, though, is the video program – a new 95 minute documentary entitled The Ritchie Valens Story: Viva Ritchie! This film includes interviews with family members, musicians and colleagues, rare home movies, rehearsal footage and much, much more. The interview segments have a low budget look; static camera, low lighting, but somehow that adds to the poignancy of their remembrances. This fellow was killed when he was only 18 years old, and his family and friends loved him. That is clear!
The loss of Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly, deprived us of seeing their development through the years. True, their impact may have diminished had they lived on to experience a few major failures, but the “joie de vivre” expressed in their songs continues to excite and invigorate us. When we look at the current crop of Latin musicians one can’t help but look back at the one who started it all. He wasn’t afraid to adapt a traditional Mexican song and rock out with it. Viva Ritchie! And Viva Whirlwind for this outstanding tribute to his life and career!
(Whirlwind Media, 2000)