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Ritchie Valens

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The first Hispanic rock star, Ritchie Valens will forever be known as one of the two musicians (along with the Big Bopper) who perished with Buddy Holly in 1959, when their private plane crashed in the midst of a Midwest tour. At the time, Valens had only recently established himself as one of the most promising young talents in rock & roll, just barely missing the top of the charts with "Donna," a number two hit, and pioneering a blend of rock and Latin music with the single's almost equally popular flip side, "La Bamba." Like many rock stars who died prematurely, it's difficult to assess his unrealized potential; he was only 17 at the time of his death, and had just barely begun to make records. Nevertheless, Valens' music has endured for decades. Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes was raised in a Mexican-American household in the San Fernando Valley. He played several instruments as a child and eventually devoted most of his focus to the guitar, learning a right-hand version of the guitar despite his own left-handedness. Valens' musical influences were diverse, running the gamut from Little Richard and rockabilly to traditional Mexican genres like mariachi, and his talent on the guitar earned him a spot in a local band, the Silhouettes, when he was 16. Valens eventually became the band's frontman. While playing at a local movie theater in 1958, he was discovered by producer Bob Keane, who signed Valens to his Del-Fi label and convinced him to shorten his surname to "Valens," claiming the abbreviated version had broader appeal than "Valenzuela." Under Keane's wing, Valens entered a Los Angeles recording studio in July and emerged with "Come on Let's Go," which climbed to number 42 on the national charts. By the end of 1958, Valens had quit high school in order to focus on his career, which had skyrocketed after his second single, "Donna," climbed to number two. Also enjoying a good amount of popularity was the single's innovative flip side, "La Bamba," a rocked-up Mexican folk song performed entirely in Spanish. "La Bamba" featured some fierce guitar work, as well as the thick sound of the Danelectro bass, which gave the instrument more electric presence than it had previously enjoyed on any rock & roll disc. Valens was subsequently hailed as one of rock & roll's teen idols, and he hit road in early 1959 alongside Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Dion & the Belmonts, and Frankie Sardo. Billed as "the Winter Dance Party," the tour was originally scheduled to hit 24 Midwestern cities over the course of three weeks. The musicians all shared a single bus, whose heater broke several days into the tour, worsening the long drives between each show. By the time the Winter Dance Party rolled into Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2, Buddy Holly had grown tired of the chilly conditions and decided to book a plane in order to fly to the show's next stop. After that evening's show at the Surf Ballroom, Holly boarded the plane along with Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. The aircraft crashed several minutes after takeoff, though, instantly killing pilot Roger Peterson along with all three of his passengers. Ritchie Valens was 17 years old. Valens only had about two albums' worth of material in the can, as well as some lo-fi live tapes of a gig at a local junior high, before his death; undoubtedly, some (or many) of these were demos or unfinished tracks. Other singers emulated Valens' Mexican-American brand of rock in the following years, most notably Chan Romero (originator of "Hippy Hippy Shake," who also recorded for Bob Keane's Del-Fi label and used some of the same musicians who had backed Valens) and Chris Montez. In the 1980s and 1990s, the L.A.-based Latino rock band Los Lobos were often cited for reflecting Valens' influence, and groups like Los Lonely Boys carried the torch of Chicano rock into the 21st century. Meanwhile, the 1987 film La Bamba (whose soundtrack heavily featured Los Lobos) gave his story a glossy Hollywood makeover, exposing Valens' legacy to millions even as it introduced the usual distortions and factual errors in its dramatization of his brief life. ~ Richie Unterberger & Andrew Leahey
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Albums by
Ritchie Valens

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    11 songs

    On Air

    12 Grandes Rock'n'roll

    11 songs

    On Air

    12 Greats Rock 'N' Roll

    22 songs

    On Air

    23 Éxitos

    12 songs

    On Air

    Ritchie Valens

    16 songs

    On Air

    The Very Best Of Ritchie Valens

    11 songs

    On Air

    Ritchie

    31 songs

    On Air

    Ritchie Valens + Ritchie (Bonus Track Version)

    5 songs

    On Air

    Rhino Hi-Five: Ritchie Valens

    62 songs

    On Air

    Come On, Let's Go

    32 songs

    On Air

    Ritchie Valens/Ritchie [Bonus Tracks]

    15 songs

    On Air

    La Bamba

    19 songs

    On Air

    The Ritchie Valens Story

    16 songs

    On Air

    The Best of Ritchie Valens [Rhino]

    12 songs

    On Air

    In Concert at Pacoima Jr. High

    19 songs

    On Air

    Grandes Éxitos

    10 songs

    On Air

    Rock Lil Darlin'

    22 songs

    On Air

    Donna

    22 songs

    On Air

    Rock & Roll Hits

    15 songs

    On Air

    Ooh, My Head

    12 songs

    On Air

    Gold-Rush

    15 songs

    On Air

    Reflections

    16 songs

    On Air

    Donna

    22 songs

    On Air

    The Ritchie Valens Story

    25 songs

    On Air

    One & Only - Ritchie Valens

See All Albums

Top Songs by
Ritchie Valens

  1.   Song
    Popularity
  2.   La Bamba
  3.   Come on, Let's Go
  4.   Donna
  5.   We Belong Together
  6.   That's My Little Suzie
  7.   Framed
  8.   Ooh! My Head
  9.   Oh Donna
  10.   In a Turkish Town
  11.   La Bomba
  12.   Fast Frieght
  13.   Malaguena
  14.   Blues With Drums
  15.   Come on Let's Go Little Darlin'
  16.   Donna Commercial
  17.   I Got a Gal Named Sue
  18.   Para Bailar la Bamba (De "La Banba")
  19.   Ritchie's Song
  20.   Bonie Maronie
  21.   Ritchie Valens
  22.   La Bamba
  23.   Spoken Promo
  24.   Dooby Dooby Wah
  25.   Spoken Introduction by Bob Keane
  26. See All Songs

Stations & Shows Featuring
Ritchie Valens

    On Air

    '50s Hits

    On Air

    '50s Deep Dive

    On Air

    Vintage Love Songs

    On Air

    Chicano Old School

    On Air

    Oldies

    On Air

    Kids Classic Hits

    On Air

    Dive Bar Jukebox


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