Childhood pal recalls Ritchie Valens as ‘sweet,’ ‘tough’ from California home

Bob Munson got in touch to tell me that he and Ritchie Valens had been pals back in junior high. Not only did Munson have stories, he had photos.

Days later, I was in Munson’s kitchen in the Murrieta Hot Springs neighborhood of Murrieta, looking at snapshots.

There was Valens in a dark suit for eighth grade prom at Pacoima Junior High, standing behind a girl in a dress, arms around her waist from behind. In fact, there were three similar photos, with three different girls.

“Ritchie had no problem finding a date,” Munson says with a chuckle. “He was very popular with the girls. They all loved him…I don’t know which one he took to prom.”

Another photo has Ritchie seated behind a snare drum, looking at the camera, drumsticks in his hands. That was taken in the Munson living room in Panorama City, adjacent to Pacoima.

Murrieta resident Bob Munson, 79, shows his personal photographs of his junior high and high school friend Ritchie Valens Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 which were taken in the spring of 1957. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG) 

Munson’s dad, an electrician who had been in a band, had a full drum set in the garage. The snare kit was in the house, because Bob played. Ritchie noticed it and sat down for a lesson — more about that in a minute.

Another photo has Ritchie standing next to a car at the Munson curb. The final photo has Bob in the foreground walking into his junior high graduation ceremony, Ritchie right behind him.

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The photos were developed in June 1957, according to the stamp on the border.

Munson had a Brownie camera, a boxy model with a built-in flash that was the starter camera of the era. He thinks he took all the photos except for the one at graduation, which his mother shot.

At the dedication of Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima in the 1990s, Munson brought his photos to show Valens’ sisters, whom he hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years. He gave them copies and the negatives but kept his originals. Smart man.

Valens, of course, was the pioneering Chicano rocker who managed to write and record “La Bamba,” “Come On, Let’s Go” and “Donna” as a high school sophomore during a career that lasted only eight months. The 17-year-old died in a small plane crash in Iowa on Feb. 3, 1959, along with Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and the pilot.

As a fan of 1950s rock who happens to cover the Inland Empire, I’ve been delighted to discover that Valens performed twice in Pomona, subject of one recent column, and that two Pomona High students got to meet and interview him, subject of another. To hear from someone in Riverside County who had known Valens was a kick.

Munson is 79, the same age Valens would be today. A retired firefighter and water plant operator, Munson has lived out here since the mid-1970s.

He and Ritchie met in seventh grade. “We were both 15 …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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