The importance of Valensí short-lived career is largely symbolic in nature; he was the Latin recording artist to have an impact on the rock era charts. In his wake, would follow Dave "Baby" Cortez, Chris Montex, Sunny and the Sunglows, the Premiers, Cannibal and the Headhunters, and many others.
Born Richard Stephen Valenzuela in Pacoima (outside Los Angeles), California, Valens learned to play guitar guitar as a youth and formed a band, the Silhouettes, while in high school. He signed a contract with Del-Fi Records in spring 1958, and just missed the Top Forty that fall with "Come On, Letís Go" (Del-Fi 4106). He followed with a double-sided hit, "Donna"/"La Bamba" (Del-Fi 4110; 1958-1959), reaching numbers two and twenty-two, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Ironically, the latter track, based on a traditional Mexican wedding song, has proven to be his most popular recording (a 1987 biopic based on his life, and featuring the music of Los Lobos, was entitled La Bamba).
At this point in time, Valens was in great demand as a performer, appearing on national television programs and package tours. On February 3, 1959, a small plane carrying Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper (aka J.P. Richardson) crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa immediately following a concert. His studio recordings, which essentially fit on one compact disc, have been released in many editions since his death.
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