Texas Music

Four Outrageous Texas Music Myths and Legends

Texas has played an enormous role in the history of rock music, and in our continuing series of rock myths and legends, we thought it would be interesting to look at some of the strange music stories with a connection to the Lone Star State. 

Rock and roll was still young when it suffered one of its first tragedies: A small plane full of Texan rockers crashed in an Iowa cornfield on February 3, 1959. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and the plane's pilot were all killed on impact minutes after takeoff. The tragic incident has become known as "The Day The Music Died" and has inspired songs and films including "American Pie" and The Buddy Holly Story.

Back in those days, touring wasn't nearly as comfortable as it is nowadays; popular stars would traverse the country in old buses with no real temperature controls. Holly and his band the Crickets were traveling across the Midwest on a "Winter Dance Party" tour along with Valens and Richardson, and after becoming frustrated by the conditions on their bus, Holly chartered a small plane to reach their next venue. At the time, fellow Texan Waylon Jennings played bass in Holly's band, and at the last moment, let Richardson have his seat on the tiny aircraft. The future outlaw superstar exchanged jokes with Holly, who reportedly told his bassist, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up," to which Jennings fatefully replied, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes."


The tragic date also kicked off events some people claim are a "Buddy Holly Curse," in which many people who had connections to Holly met untimely demises. A singer named Ronnie Smith, who was hired to replace Holly on the Winter Dance Party tour, committed himself to a mental institution immediately following the last show and eventually hung himself. Holly's wife, Maria, miscarried their child shortly after Holly's death, and a member of the Crickets died in another plane crash after embarking on a solo career. Some folks claim the curse also led to the deaths of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, who both had ties to Holly, and even to the death of Keith Moon, drummer for The Who. Moon apparently died on the same night he'd gone out to watch The Buddy Holly Story, and the date of his death also fell on Holly's birthday. Coincidences or not, it sure seems as if a lot of people who were in some way connected to the rock pioneer died tragically and young.

Eric Clapton is a lot of things — blues-rock master, a guitar icon once compared to God, a xenophobic Englishman and we can add one more to his long list of achievements: He might be some sort of dark harbinger of death for musicians about to die.

According to sources, "Slowhand" was scheduled to meet up with Jimi Hendrix at a Sly and the Family Stone concert the night Hendrix died. Clapton had even brought a present — a specially built left-handed guitar for Hendrix, which was something of a rarity at the time. Unfortunately, Hendrix didn't show up, and instead died of a drug overdose that night. Years later, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble opened for Clapton at an August 1990 show in Wisconsin, even sharing the stage with Clapton during the concert's finale. After the show, Vaughan was among those killed instantly when the helicopter they were in crashed into the side of a mountain, bringing a tragic end to the Texas rocker's life.

While it could just be a sad coincidence that Clapton was associated with both guitarists right before their deaths, it's a creepy one. Maybe Jimi doesn't like the song "Little Wing," and hexes anyone who plays the tune, or maybe this Clapton death curse isn't anything other than bad luck. I'd still suggest turning down invitations to hang out with Eric Clapton if you're a guitarist who wants to live to a ripe old age. Just in case.

Anytime a famous musician dies young and tragically, rumors that exchange fact for sordid fantasy begin to spread among some of his or her fans, percolating into the cloud of myths surrounding that performer's life and death. When Selena Quintanilla was shot by the leader of her fan club in 1995 and subsequently died, fans of the Queen of Tejano Music were understandably shocked and horrified.

Not long after the murder, stories began to surface claiming that as a Jehovah's Witness, Selena hadn't received potentially lifesaving blood transfusions after arriving at Corpus Christi's Memorial Medical Center. Other rumors attempted to assign blame to Selena's father, Abraham, saying that he had prevented doctors from administering those blood transfusions, since it was against his beliefs. These sorts of tales usually come out after a star dies, but in this case there is no truth to them.

The bullet that killed Selena tore through a major artery, causing massive blood loss, and she was essentially dead upon arrival at the hospital. After a doctor was able to temporarily revive a feeble heartbeat, emergency measures were performed including blood transfusions, but they weren't able to revive her. Abraham Quintanilla arrived at the hospital after the transfusions had been given, and after being told by doctors that they'd been performed, he reportedly protested. But it was all after the fact.

There are few Texas rock bands as famous as ZZ Top, and the group has seen its share of rock and roll excess over the decades. However, when I began to hear stories that they'd once toured with live rattlesnakes slithering around loose onstage as part of their show, my bullshit-o-meter began to redline.

It turns out my instincts were wrong. Kinda.

For their mid-'70s "Worldwide Texas Tour: Taking Texas to the People" shows, ZZ Top apparently trucked about 75 tons of equipment and animals native to Texas around parts of the country. The stage was shaped like Texas, and part of the set decoration and show featured animals such as a bison, a longhorn steer, buzzards and rattlesnakes. Yes, rattlesnakes. The animals were handled by experts, and the venomous serpents were housed in cages. While this spectacle of all things Texas must have been quite impressive to mid-1970s audiences, it had to have been a logistical nightmare. And according to sources, during one show, the bison stumbled onto the snake cage and damaged it, accidentally releasing around a dozen rattlers.

The band prudently left the stage while handlers rounded up the free-roaming snakes, before going back on to finish their set; and so another rock-concert legend was born. So while it's not true that ZZ Top ever played a show with rattlesnakes roaming freely as part of their standard stage production, parts of the story are true.

And there you have it: four music myths and legends with a connection to our state. Some are strange, others sad, and one is just excessive and ridiculous. 
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.