By Felicia Naoum
Don McLean sings about it as ‘The Day the Music Died’ in his 1971 hit song ‘American Pie.’
It’s a tribulation that confounded the music world on Feb. 3, 1959, when rock and roll legends died in a plane crash. The only fully endorsed act to keep the spirit of that music alive is John Mueller and his tribute band who bring back Winter Dance Party Tour – the tour that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were on with Dion and The Belmonts on that day in 1959… ‘The Day the Music Died.’
John Mueller who portrays Buddy Holly – the mid-‘50s rock musician known for hits like ‘Peggy Sue’ (1958) and ‘That’ll Be the Day’ (1957) with the band The Crickets – grew up in a musical family. Mueller’s father played piano in a rhythm and blues band, and Mueller’s siblings played instruments as well. In fact, his siblings passed down their music records to Mueller including The Beatles, Chuck Berry and yes, Buddy Holly. Mueller took his love for music to the stage and was cast in a musical called ‘Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story,’ and from there he found his calling he says.
Of all performers why Buddy Holly?
The answer: pure and simple happiness in music.
Moreover, an escape from the political messages of the past and even the ever-so-present present. Mueller references Holly’s music as ‘before rock and roll had a political message.’
Further, Mueller explains that he thrives on the participation and energy of the audience. Another factor Mueller appreciates about Holly is that he wrote his own songs and performed with his own band. Mueller states that Holly was the first ‘rock and roller’ to tour with his own band. Colossus performers like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones modeled themselves after Holly which is another conspicuous reason (in rock and roll culture) why Mueller continues to pay musical tribute to Holly.
On a deeper level, I ask Mueller what he thinks Don McLean means when he sings about the tragedy of Holly and his band dying in a plane crash as ‘The Day the Music Died.’
“In 1958, Elvis went into the army, Little Richard left rock and roll to preach, and Jerry Lewis married his much younger cousin. A lot happened. The topper or the end was the plane crash. This was the worst of all the bad things happening in rock and roll,” says Mueller.
Even though true music died in 1959, Mueller performs to keep a piece of the long gone but never forgotten musicians alive and has the only endorsement from Buddy’s wife, Maria Holly, to perform as Buddy Holly.
“I’ve never endorsed anyone doing Buddy, but I was really impressed with John. John is the only one who did it exactly like Buddy did. He’s a great musician in his own right,” says Maria Holly on http://www.winterdanceparty.com.
Buddy’s wife is not the only one who marvels at Mueller’s performance. Buddy’s brothers call it ‘the best’ and ‘one of the best’ they’ve seen. And Niki Sullivan, an original member of The Crickets says, “John is a reincarnation of Buddy. He is that good.”
I asked Mueller if ‘being that good’ as someone else makes it challenging to keep his own identity. At first, Mueller struggled with identity, but he records and produces his own original music. And like anything else – practice makes perfect. As a matter of fact, Mueller shares that there is a piece of himself that remains in his act. “The more I’ve been doing this over the years, the more myself comes out and my portrayal rather than me trying to imitate and become a caricature of Buddy Holly.”
Wisdom can certainly supervene experience, so I asked for Mueller’s. What words of advice do you have for someone pursuing big dreams like the entertainment business?
Mueller shares that it must be fun and money cannot be your sole motivation.
“If it’s not fun if you don’t feel the joy of what you’re doing, then look for something else or different music.”
Mueller expands his thought by sharing that many young people seek any options in the entertainment business to survive and make money. Initially, he says that’s fine, but it’s still important to not do work that just sells the marketplace. Rather, do work that feeds your soul.
The bottom line is you must pursue your passion. When you do, I think that will sell itself. Kind of like The Winter Dance Party Tour at Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park February 18.
Mueller says to expect a very high-energy show. With Mueller and his band, perhaps the music didn’t really die, you just have to go see the show to see that the legends are really ‘’still alive.”