Carl Bunch

Carl Bunch, born on November 24, 1939 in Big Spring, Texas, was an American drummer, best known as the drummer for Ronnie Smith & the Poor Boys, as well as playing drums for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, Dion & the Belmonts and Frankie Sardo on the Winter Dance Party tour (1959). He was nicknamed "Goose" by Buddy Holly for repeatedly being skunked (tricked) while on tour.  

Carl grew up in west Texas, spending his early years in Big Spring then moving to nearby Odessa when he was nine years old. He knew early on that he wanted to be in show business, in fact he and his sister (Cathy) were doing quite well as a top dancing team. After a serious football accident at the age of thirteen, Carl was hospitalized with a bone tumor on one of his legs. He was expected to never walk again, however, the doctors successfully performed an experimental operation—chipping pieces off his hip bone to replace the cancerous leg bone. 

After spending a year and a half in the hospital, Carl was weak and bound by a wheelchair upon his release. It was his earnest intent to once again dance that he decided to take up drumming to get the strength and coordination back in his legs. Although he believed he would eventually go back to dancing, his life took another direction as drumming became a major part of his life.

When he was sixteen, Carl won a local talent contest playing the drums. It was this musical exposure that led him to begin playing regularly with Richard Porter's band called the Poor Boys. Ronnie Smith sang with the group and soon the Poor Boys were a local sensation. Carl also began to fill-in on drums from time to time with another local group—Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings, who were new and just getting their start.

Carl Bunch with the Poor BoysRonnie Smith (to right) and the Poor Boys
(Carl Bunch bottom right)

By 1957-58, Buddy Holly & The Crickets were recording in Clovis, NM at Norman Petty's studios. During this time, Carl was visiting the studio and met guitarist, Tommy Allsup, was also doing session work for Norman Petty—Buddy Holly had used him on some of his own recordings. In December of 1958, after splitting with The Crickets and needing money badly, Buddy Holly was looking to put a new band together and get back out on the road. He recruited friend and local DJ, Waylon Jenning, to play bass, Tommy Allsup as lead guitarist, and Carl Bunch (replacing Jerry Allison) on drums.

In preparation for the now famous tour, the Winter Dance Party, Carl headed to New York to rehearse with the band, who would not only play for Buddy Holly, but also back up all the acts on the tour — Ritchie Valens, "The Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson, Dion & the Belmonts and Frankie Sardo. The Winter Dance Party began Jan. 23 1959 in Milwaukee, WI. Criss-crossing the Midwest, the tour would soon become a nightmare to all involved. On Saturday, January 31, after a show in Duluth, MN the tour would experience one of many bus breakdowns. Stranded in the middle of nowhere with no heat, the performers faced the bitter cold. After trying to flag down help in waist deep snow, Carl soon discovered just how dangerous the Midwestern winters could be. Hours later as the others performers were rescued, he was taken to a hospital in Ironwood Michigan, unable to continue the tour. Due to the unbelievable cold, Carl had developed frostbite.

Carl Bunch with Buddy HollyCarl Bunch with Buddy Holly

On February 1, just one night later after a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly made the decision to charter a small plane for himself and Waylon Jennings to gain some time to sleep, launder clothing, and avoid the long bus journey to Moorhead, Minnesota. Since the plane could carry three passengers, Allsup and Valens tossed a coin for the extra seat, and Valens won. Jennings ended up giving his seat to J. P. Richardson, who was suffering from influenza and complaining that the bus was uncomfortable for a man of his size.

The small Beechcraft Bonanza took off about 1:00 am, February 3, from the Mason City airport and crashed minutes later killing all aboard. Still in the hospital, Carl soon heard the news of the plane crash. Crushed, he thought about fate and how he had missed the flight. Although he would rejoin the group a few days later, he would never forget the last days of the 1959 tour. Waylon Jennings and fellow Poor Boys member, Ronnie Smith, would sing Buddy's songs as the remaining members of the group (and the audience) wiped away tears.

The Winter Dance Tour soon ended in Chicago. Carl returned to Texas and continued drumming, working again with his good friend, Roy Orbison, and recording with Ronnie Smith (later changed to Ronny Smith by Imperial Records) and his new group, The Jitters, at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, NM. 

Carl Bunch

Bunch toured with Roy Orbison's band until "Uncle Sam" caught with him (summer 1959), which prompted a short stint in the army. In 1961, Carl won an All-Army Talent Show—an instrumental where he played piano, drums, guitar and bongos. After a honorable discharge, Bunchreturned to the music business, playing one-nighters through the South and Midwest for a variety of artists including Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Clanton, Fabian, Roger Miller, Marty Robbins, Charlie Pride, Faron Young, Bobby Vee, and Dotty West.

In 1967, while playing in Omaha, NE, Bunch received a call from Waylon Jennings who said that Hank William Jr. needed a drummer; Carl picked up and joined Hank in Nashville, TN.

In the 1980s, Carl left the music industry... inviting Christ into his life and later becoming a missionary, along with his wife Dorothy, for the Salvation Army. He earned a masters degree and later, his doctorate in clinical psychotheology from the Friends International Christian University.

In 2000, Carl rejoined the Winter Dance Party once again with John Mueller, and Jay P. Richardson Jr. as they helped to raise money for scholarships in the names of all three stars who died in the 1959 plane crash. In 2002, Bunch once again play drums with his old friend, Tommy Allsup, for the Rock & Roll Dance Party tour.

Until his death from diabetes on March 26, 2011, Carl Bunch attended Buddy Holly-related events, signing autographs as "The Frostbitten Cricket".

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