Buddy, Ritchie and Bopper live again at tribute concert.
WORCESTER - It's been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Saturday night at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, celebrity impersonators Brian Best, Ernie Valens and Scott Walker served up some very sincere flattery to honor early rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in a concert titled "Buddy, Bopper, & Valens: Their Last Show - 50 Years Later!!"
The show's title was a veiled reference to the Feb. 3, 1959, crash of a small plane that killed Holly, Bopper, and Valens as they were on their way to play a concert in Moorhead, Minn., as part of the Winter Dance Party tour. Singer-songwriter Don McLean forever pegged this tragedy as "the day the music died" in "American Pie," his 1971 hit.
Saturday's concert consisted of material that rock fans might have heard at a Feb. 2, 1959, concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, the last time that Holly, Valens, and Bopper performed together before the fateful plane crash that took their lives the next day.
With his shock of curly black hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and black outfit, a rail-thin Brian Best seemed to be channeling Buddy Holly rather than just impersonating him. Backed by a bare-bones band (guitarist Mike Ide, bassist Angelo Scopino, drummer Peter Chilosi, and saxophonist Randy Phelps), Best won over a crowd of about 1,500 early rock fans with some definitive renditions of some of Holly's best material.
Best showed his mastery of Holly's peculiar hiccupping vocal style on a perky version of "Peggy Sue" and contributed a deftly strummed guitar solo in the Holly manner for good measure.
He was equally as good on "Not Fade Away" as he churned out call-and-response guitar chords while singing fervent lyrics about an undying love.
Ernie Valens was just a toddler when his teenage cousin Ritchie Valens launched his career in rock. Ernie neither looks like nor sounds like Ritchie, but his tribute to his late cousin summoned up the spirit of what Ritchie Valens was all about. Ritchie was equally adept at out-and-out rockers and tender ballads, and Ernie sang both kinds of songs Saturday night.
Disc jockey J.P. Richardson called himself The Big Bopper when he made a successful transition from spinning records to making them. Scott Walker's Big Bopper tribute managed to capture some of the late Bopper's manic energy as Walker, wearing an outrageous leopard print jacket, leaped onto the stage for intense versions of "White Lightnin'" and "Running Bear," two hits that the Bopper penned for George Jones and Johnny Preston, respectively.
The crowd really got excited when concert promoter Harvey Robbins brought an old-fashioned rotary phone to the stage so that Walker could tear into "Chantilly Lace," The Big Bopper's best-known hit. "Hello, bay-bee," Walker intoned into the phone, and soon the audience was singing along to the lyrics that described the charms of Bopper's pony-tailed girlfriend known for "the wiggle in her walk" and "the giggle in her talk."
Only a concert-ending romp on Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" that featured Best, Valens and Walker drew more applause.
CUTLINE: Scott Walker imitated the Big Bopper at Saturday night's tribute program at the Hanover Theatre.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/MARK C. IDE