You may be interested to include this article on your web site that I did for
the UK magazine ‘Down the Line’.
I have got the OK from Jim McCool & Sevan Garabedian to let you publish it.
by Hans to Tony,
Jim and Sevan !
Der Film über die Winter Dance Party 1959
The 1959 Winter Dance Party Film
You may have heard about a film, currently in production, about the 1959 Winter Dance Party tour and the concerts that starred Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The driving force behind this amazing project is Sevan Garabedian, from Canada, and Jim McCool, from the US.
The project was started back in December 2006 and was due to be finished by sometime in 2009. However, so much completely new and totally unexpected material was found by Sevan and Jim, including seven photos taken at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, as they travelled across the states and interviewed so many people, who were connected with the tour or attended the concerts, it is now estimated that the film will finally be released in late 2010.
Peter Gibson and I had the great pleasure of meeting Sevan and Jim in Clear Lake in February, 2009. Since then we have kept in touch and they have both been good enough to agree to answer some questions about this mammoth project that Peter and I have put together. We hope you enjoy reading their answers!
Tony Warran - London
Photo with kind permission of Nancy Dunshee.
Sevan Garabedian, Frankie Sardo & Jim McCool – Clear Lake 2010
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
Sevan. My nationality is Armenian but my father was working in Holland in the 70s and so my siblings and I were all born in Amsterdam. My parents didn’t want to raise us there so we moved to Canada when I was 2. I grew up in Montreal and still live there to this day. So, my nationality is Armenian, my citizenship is Dutch and I was raised in French Canada. It even confuses me sometimes...
Jim. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1974 and I still live there. It's in the middle of where the Winter Dance Party tour took place, so I know how brutal those winters can be. I first generated an interest in the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and other artists of that era when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I think the movie "La Bemba" was what sparked that interest. I have been a fan of the music ever since. I've worked in the aviation business for the past 11 years, and in 2005 I began researching the accident that took the lives of Holly, Valens, J.P. Richardson and Roger Peterson. I was fascinated not only by the circumstances surrounding the plane crash, but that whole tour as well. I kept reading and learning more and more about it and eventually amassed quite a library on the subject of the Winter Dance Party. In 2007 I made my first trip to Clear Lake, Iowa to attend the annual event at the Surf Ballroom commemorating the anniversary of the final concert by Holly, Valens and Richardson. I was hooked for good after that.
Mary Gerber with Jim and Sevan on stage of the Surf Ballroom, 2009
Q. How did you and Jim get together, and whose idea was it to make this film? Also when did you start this project?
Sevan. Actually, in December of 2006, I was on a Buddy Holly website (I believe it was the now defunct www.buddyholly.com) and I was posting on the message boards there. Jim also happened to be posting on the message boards there although we did not know one another. Interestingly enough, we both posted on a thread that was about the Dick Haukoos (2.2.59) Clear Lake photos and how we believed he should release them to everybody already. It seemed Jim and I were the only ones who believed that those photos were sacred and should be shared with fans worldwide. Everybody else seemed to think they are his photos and they are private and he can do whatever he likes with them. How ironic that exactly two years later, Jim and I would find the 2.2.59 negatives and purchase them from the woman who actually took (and owned) those photos (Mary Gerber). Life works in strange ways sometimes. Anyway, Jim posted on another thread mentioning how he would be making his first trip to Clear Lake in ’07 and asked others who were going to Clear Lake to stop by his booth and say hello. I made note of his booth number and went to say hi when I got to the Surf that year. That’s how we met. At some point during the weekend, Jim mentioned that he knew someone who had seen photos from the Winter Dance Party show in Milwaukee (up to that point, no photos from that city had been uncovered). We decided we would follow up on this upon our return back home (Jim is from Madison, Wisconsin). Soon after we both got back home, two photos of Ritchie Valens from the Milwaukee show were released and appeared on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We hadn’t even gotten a chance to start our search. In any case, this had made us both realize we have the same passion and interest in the Winter Dance Party tour. Jim emailed me and asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a Winter Dance Party-related project together, be it a book, film, documentary, whatever. I had been thinking the same thing! We decided on a documentary. The 50th anniversary of the tour was 2 years away and we wanted to do something special to pay tribute in our own way. Little did we know how far we would go and how much we would end up discovering. So, the project officially began in February of 2007.
Jim. Sevan has covered everything in his answer.
Frankie Sardo and Jim McCool, Surf Ballroom, 2010
Q. What do you hope to achieve by the production of the film, and once finished how you do intend to market it and publicise it?
Sevan. Larry Lehmer’s book The Day the Music Died, is our bible. It was the first thoroughly comprehensive book about the tour and not a year goes by that I don’t re-read it. It was such a thrill when I first got that book and learned all the wonderful little details about the tour that I was always wondering about. What we want to achieve with the film is take it one step further. We wanted to present to fans around the world, the opportunity to see and hear all the surviving members of the tour as well as dozens and dozens of fans who saw those shows back in 1959. We want to expand on Larry’s book, fill in the blanks, debunk some myths and clarify some truths. We want people to see how important and emotional a tour this was for the musicians and the fans. We want to take our audience by their hands and walk them through each city and each stop on the tour and present them with wonderful stories of how these fans interacted with the troupe members. We’ll present heartbreaking stories of what these kids went through upon learning of the deaths of their idols that they had seen perform just days before. What do Frankie Sardo, Carlo Mastrangelo, Freddie Milano, Carl Bunch, Tommy Allsup, etc. remember from those days and nights? You’ll find out in the film! But most of all, we want to show that beyond all doubt, the Winter Dance Party was the most significant tour in rock ‘n’ roll history. And when people see the film, they’ll understand why we believe that. As far as marketing and publicity goes, we hope once a film distributor and/or network is behind us, we’ll work with them to get word out to rock ‘n’ roll fans around the world about our film. Can you believe we have never even had time to set up an official website about our film? That’ll certainly be one of the first things we set up as soon as we get a chance to catch our breaths. The film’s title is presently: Gotta Travel On: The Winter Dance Party Odyssey. Might I add, I am looking terribly forward to Ryan Vandergriff’s book on the Winter Dance Party. I’ll be like a kid on Christmas morning when I first get my hands on it.
Jim. In addition to what Sevan wrote, we are hoping to shop the film around to film festivals once it is completed, or at least once there is a presentable rough cut of the film ready. With any luck, we hope to get interest from television networks or film distributors who want to take the film to the next level and help present it to the public.
Frankie Sardo and Sevan Garabedian, Surf, 2010
Q. Can you give us some idea of the statistics relating to the film – where and how far have you travelled; how many people have you interviewed; how many new things / photos etc have you found?
Sevan. We’ve travelled to the first 11 cities that the Winter Dance Party tour played at (up to and including Clear Lake) and save for a few exceptions (venues no longer there) we filmed the fan interviews in the original venues where the tour appeared. We haven’t filmed in Moorhead yet, but will get to that in 2010. We’ve easily interviewed over 60 fans so far, from all the cities. We have also completed interviews with two original emcees from the WDP tour: Bob Hale (Clear Lake) and Bill Diehl (Mankato, St. Paul). 2010 will be dedicated to completing the interviews with all the surviving musicians from the tour. This will take us to Florida, California, New York, Texas and Minnesota. We have found a minimum of 40 never-before-seen photos from various venues on the tour. We have also found plenty of photos from venues the tour played at after the plane crash. Never-before-seen newspaper ads and reviews from many of the tour’s stops will also be showcased in the film. There will be a few more surprises, but hopefully some of this is enough to build some anticipation for everybody. We travel by bus, car and rail, mostly. No flying yet. I don’t like flying and if I can help it, I won’t fly again.
Jim. Following up with what Sevan wrote, we just returned from Southern Florida where we interviewed Carlo Mastrangelo of The Belmonts. This project is taking us to virtually every corner of the United States so far. The other artists who were on the Winter Dance Party tour are scattered all over the country. I don't mind flying, personally, but we're travelling with a lot of expensive, fragile equipment and I don't trust the airlines to handle that stuff. I see how they handle baggage all the time! Trains are convenient and more fun, anyway.
Jim McCool, Dion, Sevan Garabedian
Q. In your opinion, what is the most important, or perhaps unexpected, fact or information about the Winter Dance Party tour that you have unearthed during your travels?
Sevan. That’s a hard one to answer. The most important, to me, would be the continuous testimonies of the fans who saw those shows and the excitement they still have when they talk about the night the Winter Dance Party came to town and marked them forever. The incredible shock and sadness from what was to happen later also comes through in their interviews. To me, that’s the most important thing. It’s important to me because it shows that Buddy, Ritchie and J.P. did not die in vain. They are remembered every single day in the hearts and minds of all these hundreds and hundreds of teenagers who have lived full lives since, but still remember the night they saw Buddy Holly and Co. as one of the happiest moments of their lives. Maybe this wasn’t unexpected, but when you see and hear these men and women turn back to clock to January and February of 1959, it’s magical what happens to them. It’s sweet and sad and everything in between. This was not just an ordinary rock ‘n’ roll tour. If anything, that will come through in the film. Every time we finished our interview with a fan, from whatever city we were in, they came up to us and thanked us. They thanked us for allowing us to let them tell their story and delve into this tour with our film. We should have been thanking them...and yet they were thanking us. If that doesn’t illustrate the importance of this tour to these fans, nothing will. And I think all of this comes through in the film...and that is very important. I don’t want to get to specific about other details, that fun we will leave to the film.
Jim. I would have to say that the stories from people who attended the WDP shows are always fascinating; their own individual experiences and memories from the concerts. Little things like Buddy Holly giving a fan a couple of guitar picks, or Ritchie Valens going bowling after one of the concerts. Since neither of us were around back then, it's kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle for us. We know what the picture looks like as a whole, but each person's story is one piece of that puzzle and it really gives an identity to the tour and everyone involved.
Q Who was the person that you were most excited to have found and interviewed? Is there anyone who has proved totally elusive?
Sevan. Frankie Sardo...period. Not only has Frank been true and loyal to our production from the very beginning, but he has also been invaluable to us in terms of the advice and guidance he has given us from his perspective as a film producer. We are as excited today as we were the first day we found him. I’ll have to give Jim McCool full points on finding Frank –his perseverance paid off big time on that one! We have worked hard on our film and we have also been very blessed with some of the people and items we have found (we feel honored to have Bob Hale as a friend). Many times we have been at the right place at the right time and other times hard work has gotten us big results. Either way, we have both felt from the very beginning, that nothing will stop us from making this film. It is something we both feel we were meant to do. Although Frank was elusive, there was still enough information about him out there to begin a legitimate search. So, the most elusive person from the tour would have to be one of the nameless backup musicians from the tour (saxophone, piano and trumpet). So, you can imagine how incredibly excited we were the day we found the saxophone player! We will be interviewing him in 2010 as well. We are still trying to find the tour’s road manager, Sam Geller. We believe he is still alive but have had no luck so far in locating him.
Jim. I agree with Sevan on that. Frankie Sardo. Definitely.
Sevan, Jim and Bob presenting Mary Gerber's photos, Surf 2009
Q. How long do you think the finished film will be?
Sevan. Feature-film length - close to two hours. We plan on having hours and hours of cool special features on the DVD as well. There will be tons of stuff we will be forced to leave out of the finished film, but fans will be able to see the full interviews with fans, emcees and musicians, on the DVD.
Jim. Yes, about two hours. The DVD version we expect will have many hours of additional features.
Tommy Allsup, Mary Gerber, Jim McCool, Sevan Garabedian, Surf, 2009
Q. Is there anything else you can tell us about the film to whet our appetites even further, and keep us saving our money as we await its release?
Sevan. We’ll be chatting with Jerry and Barb Dwyer in the film. We want to know about Roger Peterson, their friend, their employee and their pilot. We want to know about them, the wonderful and loving couple married over 50 years and still greatly in love. They are two of the most genuine people we have had the pleasure to meet during this project. The way they have led their lives following the terrible tragedy and all they had to endure afterwards is inspirational. We want our audience to get to know them and learn from what they have to share.
Overall, this documentary will be like nothing you have seen before. You’ll see faces and places that you have only read about in books up to this point. With this documentary, the Winter Dance Party comes alive...
Jim. Expect some surprises.
Photos sent in by Tony Warran, if not otherwise mentioned.
Thank you for this fine information about the forthcoming documentation !