Musical Memories: Eau Claire native recounts rubbing elbows with music royalty

Marie Anthony, photos by Andrea Paulseth

FAMOUS FRIENDS. Author and music historian Don Larson just published his memoirs full to the brim with photos and stories of meeting some legendary musicians.
FAMOUS FRIENDS. Author and music historian Don Larson just published his memoirs full to the brim with photos and stories of meeting some legendary musicians.

“I never met him, but I always wonder, ‘What if I had gone to Sammy’s pizza that night?’”

Don Larson recalls the night of Jan. 26, 1959 – The Winter Dance Party – as if it were yesterday. He watched while Buddy Holly sang his all-time favorite song, “Peggy Sue.” It was also the night he could have had pizza with the man he so admired. He and his buddies usually ended a night out at Sammy’s Pizza; but after the last note played, Larson decided to head home. He had school the next day and thought it best to pass on Sammy’s this time. The next day, his friend excitedly told him about Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper stopping in for pizza after the show. “I couldn’t believe it! I almost fell to the ground,” Larson said. “But, I’ve never changed my story. I could lie and tell everyone I met Buddy Holly, but why tell a story that’s not true?”

“I could lie and tell everyone I met Buddy Holly, but why tell a story that’s not true?” – author Don Larson

As a music historian and a Buddy Holly expert, the truth is of utmost importance. Larson wants to share Holly’s story and clear up fallacies surrounding the infamous plane crash that resulted in what became known as “The Day The Music Died.” Larson admits he put off writing his memoirs for years, but realized he should pen his memories while they remain clear. This book of precious recollections isn’t just for Larson. “I want everyone to know the people behind the music,” he said. “To me they were just my friends.” (In fact, the book is titled, To Me, They Weren’t Stars, They Were Just My Friends.)

As Larson recounted his stories, Fournier’s Ballroom came to life, as did the Tattered Cover Book Store, where Larson spoke with John Denver for the last time before he died. We were skiing down mountain slopes with Bobby Vee and chucking with Waylon Jennings as he told his mother: “Mom, if you ever wanna know anything about me and Buddy Holly, you just ask Don ‘cuz there’s nothing he doesn’t know.” 

While he’s had fantastic encounters and kindled friendships with some of the most well-known musicians of our time, Larson is full of gratitude for all of his experiences. Tears welled up in his eyes as he remembered a fond moment with Ella Pauline Drake Holley, Buddy’s mother. “You probably think I’m a crybaby,” he half-joked. “I’ll never forget the day she took me aside and said, ‘I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for my son; to keep his memory alive.’ That – to me – is worth millions.”

Larson’s book, To Me, They Weren’t Stars, They Were Just My Friends, is available for purchase at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St.  Larson will host a book reading and signing at the Volume One Gallery on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 3pm.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.

Volume One presents - Best Night