The story of Ritchie Valens' life is tragic: right when the musical prodigy's career was taking off, the day "the music died," happened. A plane crash in Iowa claimed the lives of pilot Roger Peterson, Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson, and Ritchie Valens. Valens, who became a hit sensation with his track "La La Bamba" and was immortalized in the film of the same name, was only 17 when he died. His brother Bob Morales became a local legend in his own right, but what happened to him?
Ritchie Valens' mom, Connie Valenzuela, passed in 1987.
Ritchie's death left the world in shock. In fact, songs still reference "The day the music died" even today, leaving Valens' family to carry on his legacy. Connie's life wasn't an easy one: she was employed as a farm worker, a waitress, a bartender, and a house cleaner. Ricardo, aka, "Ritchie" would grow up in Central California farm camps and even labored in Campbell orchards to help his family make ends meet.
It was when Connie took her family to Pacoima, a suburb of Los Angeles, that Ritchie and the rest of his family's life began to change for the better. The young man joined a rock band in high school and they wrote songs that immediately caught the attention of record label executives and people all around the country. With hits like their rock-and-roll cover of "La Bamba," along with "Come On, Let's Go," and "Donna," Ritchie Valens was a bonafide star.
Connie was 72 years of age and according to her niece Diane Amezquita she would sometimes spend her days in the San Fernando Valley house that Ritchie purchased for her with the music earnings he secured in 1958. Her official residence had been in Watsonville since 1962, which is where her other son and Ritchie's older brother, Bob Morales, lived as well.
What happened to Ritchie Valens' brother, Bob Morales?
"La Bamba Bob" had a reputation for being a hardened, rough-around-the-edges type thanks to his portrayal by Esai Morales (no relation) in the La Bamba film. The man rocked a mohawk, wore tattered clothing and leather motorcycle jackets, and almost always had a joint in his hand, but his "tough guy" outer persona belied his true nature: he was all about affection, something he took to heart.
He passed away in his home at night in September of 2018 at 81 years of age. He was struggling with prostate cancer toward the end of his life and had multiple remissions. His wife, Joanie Morales, after his passing said that "He was a benefit-of-the-doubt-kind-of-guy." He met his wife at a Santa Cruz rehabilitation center, where they both worked.
"He had holes in both his knees of his pants. He had crazy hair. He was so creepy looking, but he was so sweet. He had a spirit like no other. We were lucky to have him as many years as we did." The two were married on Feb. 14, 1979 as a favor to Bob from a reverend at the addiction center. Bob had located a pipe organ from one of the clients who stole it from the reverend's church.
Valens' older brother was a mechanic with an affinity for cars and was a local legend for his charismatic personality and willingness to help others in the community at the drop of a hat. He loved speeding down California highways and despite not having a driver's license the last 25 years of his life, was never in a major accident. When cops would pull him over, once they discovered who he was, they'd let him off.
His daughter, Bly Morales, said that Bob was proud that none of his children ever went to prison, "He said, ‘That’s how I know I have succeeded as a father.' He put us through some major crap, but we held that man on the highest pedestal. We babied him. He was real. He never lied to us. He always said the truth needs no explanation."
Since Bob had a rough upbringing, living in a group home from 12 to 16 years, he commiserated with folks needing to get on their feet. His other daughter, Genevieve Diamond-Morales, said that he'd often bring strangers into their Royal Oaks home and he'd let them take a shower and give them a meal.
"Dad would tell us, ‘Oh, he’s just going to take a shower and get some food.’ He was just real. He never judged you. He loved us no matter what and guided us to rise above," Diamond-Morales said, as reported by The Mercury News.
Ritchie's younger brother, Mario Ramirez, was only 2 years old when the singer passed away, but he's carrying on the musical legacy left behind by the rock and roll icon:
"I wish I had been able to spend more time with him. But by dedicating my life to music, I struggle to honor him. Every time I walk out on the stage and feel the energy of the people and share musical energy with them, I get an idea of what it felt like for him," he said in a Daily Press interview.