LANCASTER, CA – The musician who kept the beat and suffered the worst from the brutal cold during of one of rock ‘n roll’s most infamous tours is dead.
Carl Bunch, 71, of Lancaster, California died on Saturday of unknown causes.
In recent years he had battled diabetes and was nearly blind, but with the caring assistance of his wife Dorothy, he graciously honored requests to talk about his experiences and the Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959.
He missed only a few dates on the tour due to frost bite. One of them was the now legendary show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa that was followed by a small plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, Ritchie Valens and pilot Roger Peterson in the early morning hours of February 3rd, 1959.
Bunch started drumming as a teenager. His former band mates, who played with him in a group called Ronnie Smith and the Poor Boys, are confirming the Big Spring, Texas native’s death.
In a Saturday posting on his Facebook page, former Poor Boy member Richard Porter wrote, “My best friend of 55 years died this afternoon. It is an extraordinarily tough blow since our bass player, Bob Hardwick, died suddenly two years ago. Please keep his family in your prayers.
Former Holly guitarist Tommy All sup also posted this tribute to Bunch on his Facebook page early Sunday morning, “Carl was one of the sweetest, kindest gentlemen I ever had the privilege of knowing. And we sure had some fun, memorable times together! A man of decency, integrity and a great sense of humor…a rare combination to say the least. May God bless his soul and may he rest in everlasting peace with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In late 1958, Allsup helped recruit Bunch and bass player Waylon Jennings as Buddy Holly put together a band for what was to become known as the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour.
It turned out to be a haphazard collection of show dates in several places in the upper Midwest in January and February of 1959.
Most involved long rides through bitterly cold conditions on buses with little or no heat, that were prone to breaking down.
Following their show in Duluth, Minnesota on January 31st, the troupe’s bus broke down in Northwest Wisconsin as they made their way to a date in Appleton.
During an interview at his home in September of last year, Bunch recalled that the bus just froze up and stopped.
It was late at night and they waited for hours before successfully flagging down a passing motorist for help.
In the hours before the group was rescued, Bunch had to relieve himself. He described walking off the bus and into waist-deep snow. He dusted himself off after getting back on board the bus, but despite his best attempts to stay warm, Bunch ended up with frostbite on his feet. It landed him in a local hospital and forced him to miss a couple of tour dates.
In the true spirit of ensuring the show must go on, fellow performers Carlo Mastrangelo (The Belmonts), Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly took turns filling in for Bunch during his absence and recovery.
Holly’s time at the drums is visually documented in the only known photos of the 1959 stop in Clear Lake and those images currently hang inside the entrance of the Surf Ballroom.
Holly playfully nicknamed Bunch “Goose” because of how he carried himself and after the percussionist accidently left his tailored outfit behind following a show on an early date in the tour.
Allsup said that incident prompted Holly to double check on details before leaving after other show dates.† The guitarist recalls how Holly sent him back into the Surf following their February 2nd performance to ensure nothing had been left behind.
Allsup said his return gave Valens an opportunity to ask him once again if he would give up his seat on a small plane that Holly had chartered to fly to Fargo, North Dakota. Allsup maintains he settled the issue with a coin flip he lost and that is how Valens ultimately ended up on the fateful flight.
Bunch said that Allsup was the one who called him while he was recovering in the hospital and told him his fellow performers desperately needed him as they dealt with their sorrow and the demands of the tour following the crash.
Following the tour, Bunch returned to Texas, joined the U.S. Army in 1959 and after his discharge he eventually ended up playing drums with the Bob Osburn band.
He moved to Nashville, where he backed Roy Orbison and Hank Williams Junior.
The woman who would become his third wife recalls going with her mother to a show in the New York City area. Her mom was a popular disc jockey at a Country Music radio station. Dorothy Bunch said her mother pointed out Carl who was playing drums in the band; she predicted that her daughter would marry him.
The couple eventually settled in Southern California, where Carl operated a ministry and worked as a substance abuse counselor.
He returned to Clear Lake in 2009 to join the 50th anniversary events surrounding Holly, Richardson and Valens’ final appearance at the Surf.
At this time there are no details available about memorial arrangements.