Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes aka “Ritchie Valens” was poised to become the first Latino breakthrough rock and roll star in America. Discovered in his hometown of Pacoima, east of Los Angeles, in the nape of the verdant San Fernando Valley, where migrant workers picked vegetables and fruits, had children and settled down, Valens was young and packed with talent. A gifted musician, he played multiple instruments as child and even learned how to play guitar right-handed despite being a southpaw.
The Valley was rife with musical influences, from mariachi bands to rockabilly, and they came through Valens’ sweet fusion of romantic ballads, like his smash hit, “Donna” and the fiery, “La Bamba.” Bob Keane of Del-Fi records discovered him and helped shape his sound, launching him into the collective ear with the infectious rocker, “Come On Lets Go.” He had earthy good looks, mad chops, a great voice and massive crossover potential. Ricthie Valens was on his way to becoming the Latino Elvis.
In 1959, rock and roll was really taking off. Record sales were hitting gaudy numbers as the devil’s music reached deep into the wallets of mainstream America. The whole concept of touring was taking off as well, but unlike today, where the logistics have become a science, it was catch as catch can as rockers barnstormed across the country, appearing in as many places as possible over as short a period of time.
Valens was on “The Winter Dance Party Tour” which was taking place in the Midwest, at a blistering pace of 24 dates in three weeks. He was touring with The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), Dion and the legendary Buddy Holly. They were traveling by bus, but the shaky bus had no heat and in the early days of February, on snow covered roads, heat was a necessity. However, it was a last-minute gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa that would ultimately be their undoing.
The organizers of the tour saw an open date and made a last minute arrangement for Valens and company to perform there. But Holly, who was obviously the alpha of the tour was getting frustrated, not only by the ragged touring coach, but by how long it was taking to get from place to place as snow delayed their efforts to make their dates on time. Holly decided to rent a small plane to get to the next show in Moorehead, Minnesota, but the plane wouldn’t hold all members of the tour. Dion and Holly band members, Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings (yes, that Waylon Jennings), did not get on the plane. The Big Bopper had come down with the flu and didn’t want to ride on the bus and had managed to convince Jennings to switch with him. Valens had never flown before and wanted to experience it. He flipped a coin with Allsup for the last seat on the plane. Valens won the toss. Holly told Jennings that he hoped the bus would break down. Jennings responded with wishing Holly’s plane would crash–words he would later regret.
Valens was a Taurus, but not just any Taurus, he had Sun, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus all in Taurus, from 18-25 degrees, so we’re talking fairly tight conjunctions and they were all in his 3rd House. It’s no coincidence that Valens was discovered in his hometown. The 3rd house is down the street, around the block and across town. It’s all about local flavor and his third was stacked. Not only did he have a herd of bulls grounded in his third, he also had Mercury in Gemini there as well, in it’s own house, Richie Valens was not only talented, but bright. However, notice all that heavy, earth bound and fixed energy rooted down there, in the local zone. These are aspects of someone deeply anchored in their locale. His 9th house, the house of travel is dedicated to 20 degrees worth of Scorpio and while it was un-aspected, on the night of Valens’ death, transiting Neptune in Scorpio was opposing his Black Moon Lilith also in Taurus at 7 degrees. Neptune was in Valens’ 8th house on that fateful night being so close to the 9th, we read it there as well, so Neptune in Scorpio, sex, drugs and rock and roll, was dancing between the house or travel and death.
Valens also had natal Sag Moon in the 10th. The Moon is classically interpreted as being a fluid aspect in any house, more colored by surrounding planets, angles and even phase, than any other planet. The Moon in Valen’s chart was waxing, having been full just two days before. It’s squared by his natal Neptune. Sag is travel. The 10th is career. On the day Valens died, the Moon was also in Sag and it was squaring his natal Neptune. In an odd admixture of luck and fate, Valens won the coin toss and got his wish, a seat on his very first plane flight, flying to a gig, using travel to further his career and yet, it was one of the most “unlucky” coin tosses in the annals of popular music.
There’s no guarantee what Valens’ career or life would have turned out like had he lost that coin flip. Jennings was haunted for the rest of his life by the night, when the music died. Had Richie Valens lived, he would have been seventy today, on May, Friday the 13th.
In an interesting twist of synchronicity, I will be joined on the Friday Farcast by Gary Moore, author of Hey Buddy: In Pursuit of Buddy Holly, My New Buddy John, and My Lost Decade of Music. It touches on the behind-the-scenes story of the death of Holly, Valens, Richardson and the pilot, 21 year-old, Roger Peterson.