On Oct. 7, 1995 Waylon Jennings returned to Clear Lake Iowa the same way he left 36 years before – by bus. More than 2,000 fans packed the Surf Ballroom to see a world famous performer, initially made famous by not being on the plane that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. It was something that Waylon had avoided doing for more than three decades.
It seems that planes and musicians don’t mix very well. The Freebird went down and killed most of the Lynard Skynard band. Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, Ricky Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn were all stars that fell from the sky. But the really big one that made the biggest impact was only a four-seater and one of those seats had belonged to Waylon Jennings.
The Big Bopper had the flu and he asked Waylon if he could have his place on the little plane because he couldn’t sleep on the bus. Waylon being the low man on the totem pole agreed and so they sent him off to buy some hotdogs. When he got back, Buddy Holly was sitting in a chair, leaned back against the wall and grinning from ear to ear.
‘So I hear your not going with us on the plane tonight?” he said as Waylon handed him a hotdog. “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up. It’s 40-below out there and you’re gonna get awful cold.” So Waylon turned to him and said the last words he would ever say to his close friend,
“Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”
The next day Waylon found out the same way the rest of the world did. The tour group left him stranded in Wisconsin and he had no way to get home or even go to the funeral. He spent several days sitting in a diner looking out at the cold hard winter and wondering what he was going to do. It was a devastating loss that shook every fiber of who he was.
That’ll Be The Day
So In 1995, Jennings returned to the Surf Ballroom, an authentic country legend and performer. He walked out onto the stage in his old age and long hair, remembering his youth and crew cut from 1959. The music was different and so was he. It was a big deal.
“The last time I was here I stood right over there,” he said to the crowd on the night of his return, pointing to the left side of the stage. Jennings asked for the audience lights to be turned on, and the people cheered.
“I recognize this place and I recognize backstage. The last time I saw Buddy, he was leaning against the wall, thinking. Buddy did a lot of that.”
“This is kind of a special night for me,” Jennings said. “I lost some great friends that night. You should have known Buddy, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. They were great. That’s all I’m going to say about that,” he said, as he broke out into “Me and Bobby McGee.”
That concert was more than a performance by a musician; it was about a man coming back to face one of the most tragic events of his life.
True Love Ways
What I really like about this story is that Waylon went back to the Surf Ballroom not as a victim, but as an overcomer. It hadn’t been easy but somehow he went from a struggling bass player that lost a career in one tragic night to a country music legend that every body wanted a piece of. He went back to that place but not as the person he used to be and that is the difference between his and a lot of other people’s stories.
I don’t know if Waylon was a Christian but these are the kinds of stories attached to victorious Christian people. I think God will eventually lead us back to those places where we were once defeated and have us stand there as the bad motor scooter He has made us to be. He makes us grow up. There is a healing for Christians I think that only comes from our journey in Christ where God will have us make friends with those terrible things that used to haunt us.
Not because we have to but because we have become so confident in who we are as victorious people, we can go through those places without being victimized.
As it is written, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Romans 8:36 & 37