Profile: The Big Bopper

The Big Bopper
The Big Bopper. source:


Jiles Perry Richardson on October 24, 1930 in Sabine Pass, TX; died February 3, 1959, Clear Lake, IA


Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Country and Western, Novelty



Contributions to music:

  • One of rock's first "novelty" artists, and one of the first DJs to cross over into rock stardom
  • His 1958 hit "Chantilly Lace" remains a classic of the era
  • Wrote hit songs for George Jones and Johnny Preston, among others
  • Showed signs of morphing into a witty rockabilly mainstay before his death
  • A pioneer in the development of music video
  • Will be forever immortalized in the plane crash that took his life as well as those of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens

Early years:

The son of a Texas oilfield worker, the man born Jiles P. Richardson grew up with the nickname "Jape" (due to his first two initials) and dreamed of becoming a lawyer, enrolling at Lamar College. A natural musician, he also hosted a country music show on Beaumont's KTRM; when that station hired him fulltime, his college dreams were immediately pushed aside. After getting the afternoon slot, Richardson decided to pursue a rock format, retooling himself as "The Big Bopper" to capitalize on the latest slang and to match his imposing physical frame.


Like many influential DJs of his time, Richardson also got into other areas of the business, penning a song called "White Lightning" that George Jones would eventually take to #1, and another song, "Running Bear," that he recorded with Johnny Preston (the "Indian" background chanting is done by Richardson and Jones). Yet only when Mercury PR man Harold "Pappy" Daily took interest in Jape did he think of becoming a recording artist. His first hit was his biggest: "Chantilly Lace," a salacious one-sided phone call that rocketed up the charts. Soon, the Big Bopper was a star.


Richardson joined up with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts for a miserable "Winter Dance Party" tour that found the musicians practically freezing to death in their tour bus. After a gig in Clear Lake, IA, Holly decided to charter a warm plane to get to their next gig in Duluth, MN; Richardson, who had come down with the flu, petitioned Waylon Jennings (a then-unknown in Holly's band) for his seat. The plane crashed, killing everyone aboard. Richardson had written 20 more songs to record, and had also made plans to invest heavily in what he saw as the future of the business -- music videos.

Other facts:

  • Set a world record as a DJ in 1957 by playing 1,821 records nonstop for over five days -- during which time he reportedly began hallucinating and visualized his own death
  • Reportedly based "Running Bear" on a story he'd heard from Native American friends
  • Actress/bombshell Jayne Mansfield recorded an "answer song" to "Chantilly Lace" entitled "That Makes It"
  • A notorious bad-check passer who kept checks pinned to his DJ booth
  • The Bopper's son, Jay Richardson, was a professional Bopper impersonator
  • Jay had his father's grave exhumed in 2007 to dispel rumors that he was shot before the crash or had initially survived it


  • Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1997)
  • Texas Country Hall of Fame (2004)
  • Texas Radio Hall of Fame (2008)

Recorded work:

Top 10 hits:

"Chantilly Lace" (1958)


"Chantilly Lace" (1958)

Other important recordings: "Big Bopper's Wedding," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Walking Through My Dreams," "Beggar To A King," "Crazy Blues," "White Lightnin'," "Bopper's Boogie Woogie," "That's What I'm Talking About," "Pink Petticoats," "Monkey Song (You Made A Monkey Out Of Me)," "It's The Truth, Ruth" "Preacher And The Bear," "Someone Watching Over You," "Old Maid," "Strange Kisses," "The Clock," "Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor," "Teenage Moon"
Covered by: Buddy Holly, Joe Barry, Cat Mother & the All Night News Boys, Roy Clark, Shorty Long, Trini Lopez, R. Stevie Moore, The Nashville Teens, Bruce Channel, Jerry Lee Lewis, Louis Prima, Sha Na Na, Bill Wyman, Mitch Ryder, Glen Campbell