Jay P. Richardson is adamant that he isn't doing an impersonation of his famous rocker dad, the Big Bopper, when he performs during the "Winter Dance Party" tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Bopper.
"The others are introduced as Buddy and Ritchie, but I make sure I'm introduced as the Big Bopper's son doing a tribute to him," says Richardson, who was born two months after his father died and grew up knowing him from his grandparents' stories. "I may look like him and I may sound like him. But there was only one Big Bopper."
Richardson, now 51, will be in Wichita with "Winter Dance Party" at the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday. The show is the brainchild of John Mueller, Wichita native and 1978 graduate of North High, who has been channeling Buddy Holly in various shows since 1996 and in his own specific tribute show since 1999.
Ray Anthony, a veteran of Las Vegas' "Legends of Rock 'n' Roll," brings Latin "La Bamba" star Valens to life. And Richardson, originally discouraged from a music career by his mother, joined about six months after the first tour launched 11 years ago, giving it a special and personal cache.
"My mother loved my father, but she thought that it was the music business that had taken him away from us," Richardson says. "There were no pictures of him in the house when I was growing up. She was too brokenhearted to talk about him."
"Winter Dance Party" re-creates the rockers' final concert in the Surf Ballroom at Clear Lake, Iowa, with about 35 songs, including Holly's "Peggy Sue" and "That's Be the Day," Valens' "Come On, Let's Go" and "Donna," and "Chantilly Lace" and "Little Red Riding Hood" from the Big Bopper (real name: Jiles Perry Richardson Jr.).
Although he's been performing the tribute act to his singer-songwriter-radio personality father for more than a decade, Richardson notes that he has no aspirations of a performing career in his own right. He says that he's financially set, mostly thanks to royalties from his father's breakout hit, "Chantilly Lace," and two songs his father wrote for others: "Running Bear" and "White Lightning."
"Keeping my father's legacy going is enough," says Richardson, who ran a nightclub in Houston before being talked into going on stage at age 40.
"My nightclub catered to 1950s-1960s music acts and Frankie Ford, who became famous with 'Sea Cruise,' overheard me singing along with one of my father's songs on the jukebox after the show. He said I looked and sounded enough like him that I should do a tribute act. It took me a year before I was ready to even consider it because all I had ever done was sing in the shower."
Although he occasionally allows people to call him "Big Bopper Jr.," Richardson insists that "It's all about my father. It's not about me.
"This tour has allowed me to research my father for the past decade so that I can be sure his flame shines bright. Dad, who was only 28 when he died, was so prolific that he's been honored in halls of fame in five disciplines, from songwriting to rockabilly to country music to radio. I don't think you'll find many other people like that."