once had brought him onstage on the ill-fated Winter Dance Party Tour with
Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J. P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, as well as with
greats such as Dion DiMucci, Roy Orbison, Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Clanton, Hank
Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings and so many more. But now the cheering fans and
brilliant moments were ragged remnants of a long-forgotten past.

As the clock neared midnight, the preacher, an old hills-of-Virginia evangelist,
handed out pieces of paper and asked the men to write down the things they
wanted most in life. Carl wrote without hesitation, “I want my wife and babies
back, and I want to sing again…for You, Lord.”

The men in the Salvation Army that night were then instructed to place the notes
in an old iron kettle, then given another paper to write what they would give God
in a trade for the things on the first paper.

This time Carl began weeping. In this exclusive interview for MyBestYears.com’s
fiftieth anniversary retrospective of “the day the music died”), Carl explained
what he did next.

CB: When the preacher gave out the second paper, it made me angry at first. I
didn’t have anything to trade. Finally out of desperation I wrote “Me.” I realized it
was all I had left.

That “Me,” Carl Bunch, was born into quite different circumstances over thirty
years before. He was James and Doris Bunch’s premature baby, weighing less
than three pounds. He was loved and showered with “first baby” attention.

DH: Tell about your childhood.

CB: I grew up in Big Spring, Texas. When I was nine, our family moved to nearby Odessa.
By this time I already knew I wanted to spend my life in show business. My sister Cathy and
I became a top dancing team.

DH: You appeared all over Texas, right?

CB: Right. My dad wasn’t so sure about it. He was a building contractor—big, athletic. But
my parents were pretty supportive of it.

DH: Growing up in West Texas, wasn’t there a bit of pressure to play football?

CB: Sure. In fact, it was a football accident when I was thirteen that changed everything. I
was hospitalized with a bone tumor on my leg. I ended up being hospitalized for a year and
a half. I was never supposed to walk again, but the doctors decided to try an experimental
operation. They chipped pieces off my hip bone to replace the cancerous leg bone. It was
very successful.

DH: How did that change the direction of your life?

CB: I was determined to lick the wheelchair when I was finally released from the hospital. I
was pretty weak and faced a real uphill battle. I decided to take up playing drums to help
me develop coordination in my arms and legs. I was still intent on dancing again
competitively, but this seemed like a means to an end.

Carl discovered that his dancing dreams
were to be completely overshadowed by his
drumming abilities. He won a local talent
contest and was asked to play drums for
area well-knowns, Ronnie Smith and the
Poor Boys, who were already recording on
Brunswick Records, a subsidiary of Decca.
This marked the beginning of an exciting
and hectic period. West Texas was then
becoming a phenomenal hotbed for rock
and roll’s upsurge. Another Odessa group,
Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings (“Pretty
Woman,” “Candy Man,” “Only the Lonely”)
borrowed Carl from the Poor Boys as a fill-in
drummer from time to time.

DH: What an exciting time it must have been to be in the middle of everything beginning to
break nationally for so many people you knew.

CB: It really was. I was exciting enough just to be playing on local television, recording
sessions, dances, concerts—whatever came up—but it was such an explosive time. None
of us really knew how big it really was, I don’t think. Hanging out with guys like Elvis
Presley, I guess we had an idea, but it all seemed more like a lark that probably wouldn’t
last. It was just fun and we all hoped to keep doing it as long as we could before we grew
up and had to get real jobs.

DH: Getting “real jobs” would have to wait because of something that happened with
another rising West Texas artist. Tell us how the Winter Dance Party Tour came together.

CB: I had recorded and played with Tommy Allsup. He called me out of the blue and said
that the original Crickets Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin had split up with Buddy Holly, and
that Buddy wanted to put a group together real quick for an upcoming tour.

DH: By this time Buddy had already struck gold again and again with songs such as
“Maybe Baby,” “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” Jumping on a plane for New York to
join up with Buddy and a powerhouse tour had to be a bit surreal, right?

CB: It was. I was only 17, a kid, so it all seemed a little overwhelming. Still, I had played with
some really good performers already, so I felt I could stay up.

Tommy Allsup (read his exclusive MyBestYears.com INTERVIEW SPOTLIGHT),
another up-and-coming West Texan named Waylon Jennings and Carl joined the
bespeckled rocker for the early 1959 Winter Dance Party national tour. Other
headliners included Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Sardo, Rickie Valens and
J. P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson.

DH: What was it like to be onstage
with some of the biggest names in
rock and roll?

CB: I thought I was prepared, but it
was like I suddenly woke up in a
different world. I had always wanted
to be in the big time, and in just a few
days I went from being a local kid
playing in a very good band to
playing in front of 8,000 screaming
fans and getting my clothes torn off.
It was wild.

DH: And fun?

CB: Out of this world. All of us on the tour, even though the rest were older than me, were
still really a bug of big kids. It was pretty clean compared to the image people have of rock
musicians. For starters, there wasn’t much time for getting into trouble, especially with all
the travel in the buses. Guys like Tommy and Waylon were a little older than me, so they
took me under their wings.

DH: Who were you closest to?

CB: I spent most of my time with Ritchie Valens. The two of us were the youngest on the
bus. We got along well. I was really impressed with him as a performer. What a great
command of the audience he had. He would be just another guy off the stage, but when  
the spotlights hit him and the music started, he simply exploded. We talked a lot about all
the things that had happened in his life and what he wanted to do in the future.

DH: Books and movies have been written about that legendary tour, yet you are saying
that it was mostly just a fun time.

CB: Oh, there were problems, especially with the buses and being so cold, but it was a fun
time to be with the guys on the tour. The time we spent on the bus was miserable because
of the condition of the buses, so everyone seemed to use humor to take the edge off. We
always had funny nicknames for each other. We called Dion’s group, “Moron and the
Bellhops.” They called us “Bloody Holly and the Rickets.” Buddy had names for everybody.

DH: Is that where “Goose” came from?

CB: Yeah, from Buddy. I don’t even remember where it came from, except one time he
used it and it seemed to stick.

DH: So it was a lot of fun…

CB: For some reason one of the funniest things that happened was one night when Dion,
with his thick Brooklyn accent, tried to sing country music. It came out, “I nearly died when I
thot youze had left me.” We all were rolling on the floor.

DH: The stories about Dion are legendary. What was it he did about skunking people?

CB: You skunked someone by getting them to do or say something so obvious that it was
lame to everyone but you. Dion would say things like, "Hey Carl." I'd say, "What?" Then
there would be no reply. A few minutes later he'd do the same thing. He would continue
doing that until he'd finally yell "Skunk!" I'd feel like a fool for getting suckered. Another
thing he'd do when we'd stop at a gas station, especially when it was one of these Mom-
and-Pop places, Dion would buy a Coke out of the machine, then stand there acting like he
couldn't figure out how to get the bottle top off. Almost every time he would make such a
show of it that the fellow pumping fuel would finally come over, take the bottle, open it, then
hand it back to Dion. At that point everybody would just roar, but gas station attendant
would have no idea why, nor that he'd just got skunked by one of the biggest rock and roll
stars in the world.

Then on February 3, 1959, tragedy struck. Following a show in Clear Lake, Iowa,
Holly chartered a private plane to the next stop on the tour—Moorhead,
Minnesota. Two other performers, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, joined him.
Their plane left the Mason City, Iowa, airport at one in the morning and crashed in
a cornfield a few minutes later, killing all aboard. Buddy Holly was only 22 years
old at the time of the crash. More than ten years later Don McLean would
immortalize the words “the day the music died” in his classic song, “American

DH: What happened to you when you heard the news?

CB: I was in the hospital with frostbitten feet when I heard the news. Our rickety tour bus
had heaters that didn't work. After the January 31 show in Duluth, Minnesota, I had to be
admitted into a hospital. So when Buddy rented the plane after the Clear Lake show, I was
lying in a hospital bed and pretty delirious from the pain. I can’t even tell you what it felt like
to get the news of the plane crash. My Mom called and told me that she had just heard a
report that they were dead. I just couldn't understand how it could be true. She was crying
and repeated that they were dead. I guess I was mostly in shock. Some fans came to visit
me in the hospital, and we all cried together. Still, I don't think it became real to me until I
was on the plane headed to Sioux City to rejoin the tour and had a stack of newspapers
that recounted all the details of the tragedy. Sometimes it's still not real. Sometimes I still
cry when I think about it. Sometimes I think the whole world of music still cries. Anyway,
Tommy Allsup paid for my airplane ticket, and I rejoined the tour at Sioux City. Jimmy
Clanton, enjoying his first big hit with “Just a Dream,” had been brought over from another
tour. Ronnie Smith flew in from Odessa to sing Buddy’s part with our group. Ronnie and
Jimmy met me at the airport and took me to the hotel. Frankie Avalon had joined the tour
for a few days and Fabian was to join us in a day or so. Sadly, we had no time to grieve.
We weren't even allowed to go to the funerals. We were promised a big bonus if we would
finish the tour, but we never got a dime of it. That time seems like a blur, even today. It was
like my world ended, and yet it had to go on. Somehow, we had to pull it all together and go
on with the show. We were still under contract to complete the tour, and the producer
seemed really intent on cashing in on the tragedy. Everyone tried to make the best of it,
but it was like the lights had been switched off and we were stumbling around in the dark. I
remember playing on most of the rest of the tour, but there were times that my feet still
wouldn't work well, so sometimes Dion’s drummer filled in for me. It was horrible in so many
ways. Everyone broke down in the middle of Buddy’s songs. Even Waylon was torn to
pieces. And the crowds came to memorialize the three stars who weren’t there anymore. It
was like a wake, but we had to keep playing rock and roll, trying to get past our grief. Most
of us, except for Tommy, were just kids, yet we all faced the aftermath of the tragedy and
somehow kept it together long enough to finish the tour.

DH: What was it like for you after the tour ended?

CB: The tour broke up in Chicago. There were attempts to record more songs as The
Jitters, but the group had little promotion by Brunswick Records and subsequently had
three consecutive bombs. I joined Roy Orbison’s new band and went back out on the road
with him until Uncle Sam caught up with me and I wound up in the Army. Tommy Allsup
went on to become one of the most prolific producers in the recording business. Waylon, of
course, became a country superstar. Ronnie went to pieces and eventually committed
suicide in a Texas mental institution. Each of us dealt with the tragedy in our own ways. A
lot has been written about those of us who were survivors of that tour, but I think it's safe to
say that we all went through a lot trying to get past what had happened. It was probably the
hardest for Tommy and Waylon, since both had given up their seats to Richie and the
Bopper. Sometimes it's hardest for those who are left with a lot of questions like "Why was I
left here?" and "What if...?"

DH: What was it like in the army after all you had done?

CB: In some ways it probably saved my life at that time, because I kept busy and didn’t
have too much time to think about what had happened. I was just another G. I.

DH: Maybe not just another G.I. You were still the talented drummer who had played with
the best.

CB: There were high points,sure. In 1961 I won an All-Army Talent Show—an instrumental
with me playing piano, drums, guitar and bongos). Then after my honorable discharge, I
ended up playing one-nighters through the South and Midwest for a variety of groups.
Finally, in 1967, Waylon heard I was playing in Omaha. He called and said that Hank
Williams, Jr., needed a drummer, so I joined Hank right after that in Nashville.

The time spent in Nashville proved to be an oasis in an otherwise restless
desert. During the year and a half with the Cheatin’ Hearts, one of country music’
s tightest bands, Carl once again reached the spotlight that had eluded him since
“the day the music died.” He had songs published, made an MGM movie,
A Time
to Sing
, and more importantly, met Dorothy, his lovely wife (daughter of Rosalie
Allen, the “Queen of Yodelers”).  When Carl and Midge were married on March
19, 1969, WGM’s Ralph Emery quipped, “The last of the Cheatin’ Hearts has bit the
dust!” What followed after made Emery’s words almost prophetic. A dispute with
Hank’s manager ended time with the Cheatin’ Hearts. He spent six months in New
York with Terry White and the Nashvillians, then headed for Phoenix to play with
Waylon Jennings’s group, but through a mix-up, when he arrived someone else
had already been hired. Thus began the turbulent Seventies for Carl and Dorothy

DH: No job, no prospects, far away from Texas or Nashville…what happened next?

CB: We moved to California. I sold my drums and gave up performing as a musician. I had
hopes of becoming a writer and actor, so I studied at the Theatre of the Arts (where soon-
M.A.S.H. headliner Larry Linville was a teacher). I did what I had to survive, learn my
craft and sustain me until that “big break” came. One of the things I did was driving for
Hugh Hefner's Playboy Limousine Service.

DH:  What was that like, from being a star to driving stars around?

CB: I had never thought of myself as a star, even during the top years. I was mainly along
for the ride. But it was still pretty weird going from hanging with the top rock and rollers and
country singers to driving famous people around.

DH: Who are some of the people that you chauffeured?

CB: People like Goldie Hawn, Steppenwolf, Little Richard, Bill Bixby, Bill Cosby, Henry
Kissinger, Carroll O’Conner, Sonny and Cher…

DH: These were the days of free love and drugs. How did that affect you, driving so many
people around who could have whatever they want, any time they wanted?

CB: The worst part was that I went from sampling the drugs that were offered by a lot of the
stars, to developing a taste and love for the drugs, then a heavy habit.

The downward spiral continued for the once-famous drummer, and a final
crushing blow came in 1971, quite literally, when after driving Ann-Margaret in
the limousine, he returned the car to the company garage. A broken garage door
spring caused the door to smash on Carl’s back. For the next two years, he could
not work.

CB: It was the worst time. Dorothy and I had started our family, but we were both also
dropping deeper into drug habits.

An amazing set of 1973 “coincidences” happened. A change glance through what
he thought was a science fiction book called
The Late Great Planet Earth (written
by Hal Lindsey) cause him to start reading the Bible. Then one Sunday morning he
happened to watch evangelical television preacher Jerry Falwell.

CB: As I flipped through the channels, he was suddenly there on the screen, pointing at me
and saying, “I don’t care who you are, you could be a deacon in my own church, but if you
don’t know Jesus Christ, you are lost.” I knew, deep inside, that word was for me. I was
suddenly on my knees praying, “God, don’t let me die! Don’t let me die! Save me!”

That was admittedly the beginning of the two worst years in his life. Carl wanted
to follow God and accept the Bible at face value, but the craving for drugs
persisted. His wife gave birth to their second child. Finances continued to
deteriorate. Finally, their house was repossessed and they were evicted.

CB: We lived in our Oldsmobile station wagon—my wife, our two kids, two dogs, and three
cats—waiting for one more welfare check so we could go back to Alabama where Dorothy’s
mother lived. When the check came, we took off in the wagon, but in the middle of the
Arizona desert, the wiring caught fire. We were in a real mess, totally stranded. I was crying
out to the Lord to help us. We got the fire out, and I was trying to scrape off the burnt
wires. Two men drove up—they only told me their first names, Gordon and Richard, which I
will always remember—and they asked, “Can we help you?” I said, partly desperate and
partly joking, “Can you rewire an automobile?” They replied, “Yes, we can!” They had all
the tools and rolls of wire right there with them, re-did everything, patched the damaged
battery, started it, then followed us all the way to Odessa. That was the most unbelievable
thing to me, and kind of eerie, too.

It wasn’t the end of Carl’s troubles. They were able to raise enough money in
Odessa to continue to Alabama. Then another fire in east Texas left them
stranded once again. A kindly Methodist minister bought tickets for Dorothy and
the kids to go on to her mother’s home in Alabama.

CB: I planned to follow as soon as I could get the car fixed. This time it was the fuel pump
that had caused the fire. In my heart I knew that Dorothy and the kids would be better off
without me. I had become a total bum, even using the kids to get sympathy. I looked at
myself in the mirror and never believed I could get so low.

Carl eventually left the damaged car and began hitchhiking toward Alabama,
staying when he could in rescue missions. All he had left was his guitar and them
memories of the last time he had traveled through the Southland as a member of
Hank Williams, Jr.’s band. He had been reduced from signing thousands of
autographs to scrawling his name on tattered house registers.

DH: That’s when you ended up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the preacher asked
everyone to write on one piece of paper what you wanted most in life, then to write on
another piece of paper what you were willing to give God for what you wanted, right?

CB: Yes. It was New Year’s Eve, 1975. All I truly had left in the world was a piece of paper
with “Me” inked on it. But when you finally reach the bottom, the only way left to look is up.
This is what happened to me. I finally gave up. I stopped trying to make deals with God.
When I did, some good things started happening. Within three days I had a job cleaning
and painting houses with the Mississippi Housing Authority. In three weeks Midge and our
two kids rejoined me in a tearful reunion. Not long after that, I began singing and
ministering for the Salvation Army. Then I was asked to be a chaplain in Monroe, Louisiana.

Then the craziest thing happened. Carl's mother-in-law, who had also recently
become a Christian, saw Terry White, Carl’s friend from Nashville and New York
days, who was singing on a Christian television program.

CB: When I was told about Terry talking and singing about being a Christian, I said, “You’re
kidding. There’s no way!” I remembered the old Terry. But I was curious, and I wrote him in
care of the television network. I found out that after he got saved, he immediately began
praying for me. He asked what I was doing and invited me to visit him in North Carolina.

That led to moving to work with the ministry, then eventually a move to California
where Carl eventually earned his doctorate (not bad for a guy who quit Odessa
High School to go on the Winter Dance Party Tour; he got his GED while in the
Army, then eventually got a Bachelor of Science in Theology, a Master's Degree
in Biblical Counseling, and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychotheology). He became a
counselor, and for years co-hosted a national call-in radio program with a leading
Christian psychologist. After retiring several years ago, he and Dorothy live in
Southern California. A stroke several years ago left him paralyzed and blind, but
he has battled back, with the Lord’s help. Today, though his sight is still limited,
he is able to walk again. He and Dorothy continue to hold marriage seminars,
including a very special one that was part of the 2009 Winter Dance Party reunion
tour in Clear Lake, Iowa, where numerous couples attended and ended up
renewing their vows.

Today, lots of people continue to ask him about “the day the music died,”
especially with the increased attention of the fiftieth anniversary of that tragic
airplane wreck on a frozen Iowa field. Carl Bunch shares about that day, but he is
also quick to point out that a lot of things have happened since that time when a
17 year old West Texas boy first heard the news about the death of Buddy, Richie
and the Big Bopper.

CB: I’m so happy that more people than ever are remembering and honoring the pioneers
of rock and roll like my friends who were on the tour. It seems like that music means a lot,
even to younger people who keep discovering the great music Buddy and all the rest made
when they were alive. But what I’m especially glad about is that it gives survivors like me a
platform to share what happened to me when all the fame, fun times, money and “things”
were gone. When I tell my story, unvarnished as it is, there is no denying that God truly
was able to take the “filthy rags” I had made of my life and turned it into something good.
When I quote 2 Corinthians 5:17—
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!”
—I am living proof. I did it all wrong. I made all the
mistakes a man can make. Still, God’s love was bigger and stronger. And that’s all that
1975. Glimpses of the past flashed back in Carl
Bunch’s turmoil-filled mind. He as now just
another faceless hitchhiker spending New Year’s
Eve in the Pascagoula, Mississippi Salvation
Army. As he sat in the required church service (if
he wanted a meal and bed), he kept thinking
about bittersweet memories of his career as a
rock and roll drummer who had touched the
highest echelons of public acclaim—a career that
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…The Last Tour and Beyond
Ronnie Smith (top right) and the
Poor Boys (Carl Bunch bottom right)
Drumming behind "The Big Bopper" (center)
with Waylon Jennings (left) and
Tommy Allsup (right)
January 27, 1959—Montevideo, Minnesota
Carl Bunch (left),
Buddy Holly (center)
and Tommy Allsup (right)
January 30, 1959
Fort Dodge, Iowa
LEFT PHOTO: Waylon Jennings (left), Buddy Holly (center),
Carl Bunch (barely visible on drums at the bottom), and Tommy Allsup (right)
RIGHT PHOTO: Buddy, Carl and Tommy
January 31, 1959
Duluth, Minnesota
(These photos were taken just before frostbite from that night's frigid bus ride
forced Carl Bunch into the hospital. It would the last time he would share the
stage with Buddy, Richie and the Big Bopper.)
Rosalee Allen, "Queen
of the Yodelers," Carl
Bunch's mother-in-lw,
who was a top disc
jockey with her half-
hour program, “Prairie
Stars,” on New York’s
radio station WOV, with
guests who included
Eddy Arnold, Hank
Williams, Roy Rogers
and Dale Evans. She
also had a NBC
television show,
appeared in the first
country music program
at Carnegie Hall in 1947,
and recorded such hits
for RCA as “Guitar
Polka,” “Never Trust a
Man,” “Yodel Boogie,”
“Tennessee Yodel
Polka,” and a Dale
Evans composition,
“Aha San Antone."
Rosalle was the first
woman inducted into
the Country Music Disc
Jockey Hall of Fame.
Read exclusive
Tommy Allsup,
Jimmy Clanton
John Mueller
(Performs as Buddy
Holly on current Winter
Dance Party Tours)
This was one of the
last features written
about Carl Bunch
before his passing on
March 26, 2011, and
will hopefully stand as
a lasting legacy to a
remarkable man,
minister and musician!
"Sometimes it's
hardest for those
who are left with a
lot of questions like
`Why was I left
here?' and `What
"In just a few
days I went from
being a local kid
playing in a very
good band to
playing in front of
8,000 screaming
fans and getting my
clothes torn off."
Exclusive Interview
and feature for
by bestselling author
Darryl Hicks