CLEAR LAKE - Questions about who flipped a coin that sent Ritchie Valens on an ill-fated plane crash after his appearance at the Surf Ballroom in 1959 has resulted in a firestorm of anger, name-calling - even a request for a polygraph test.
Tommy Allsup, who lives in Oklahoma, has said for years that he lost a coin toss to Valens for a seat on the plane.
Valens, Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and pilot Roger Peterson, died on Feb. 3, 1959, when the plane crashed just north of Clear Lake. Allsup's band mate, the late Waylon Jennings, said he lost a coin toss to Richardson for a seat on the plane.
But Dion DiMucci, of Dion and the Belmonts, also at the Surf that evening, says he won a coin toss with Valens, but gave up his seat when the price - $36 - was too high.
DiMucci told his story on a Iowa Rock ‘n' Roll Hall of Fame-sponsored documentary during a luncheon as part of the Winter Dance Party in February.
He said he, Holly, Valens and Richardson gathered in a closed room at the Surf while Frankie Sardo sang on stage, and flipped a coin to decide who would claim a seat.
DiMucci's claim has infuriated Allsup, who was in Clear Lake that weekend.
Besides reportedly telling a packed Surf crowd that he would "kick Dion's a--," he later issued a challenge that has rocketed across the Internet.
Allsup challenged DiMucci "to end all your lies about flipping the coin with Ritchie Valens, and to end all your vicious character assassination of all the parties involved, people you never knew to begin with, I officially challenge you to meet me in Clear Lake, Iowa and submit to a polygraph test...NOW. "
Allsup also calls into question the character of Holly's widow, Maria-Elena and the Rock ‘n' Roll Hall of Fame.
"God will make his judgments," Allsup said, during a telephone interview with the Globe Gazette.
DiMucci has refrained from speaking at length about Allsup, who he told the Globe Gazette was "a wonderful musician."
"I am sorry he feels that way," DiMucci said of Allsup during a telephone interview on March 21. "I had the opportunity to tell my story and I told it. When we left the room (at the Surf), we knew who was on the plane. If something happened beyond that, I didn't know about it."
DiMucci also made claims that Peterson was not qualified to fly that evening, a fact that also angered Allsup and others.
There is another coin flip claim, too.
Bob Hale, who was the emcee that evening at the Surf, said he actually tossed the coin for Allsup, although Allsup does not recall it that way.
No matter, says Hale, who lives in the Chicago area.
In an email to the Globe Gazette, he admitted that there could be more than one version of a story.
He blamed journalists for having trumped up the controversy.
"That Tommy and I have differing views on who tossed the coin seems to be a big story for some people; they want to do some ‘journalistic digging and find the bad guy.'
"Two people involved in a highly emotional event can easily have two versions of the event ... That some folks want to make something sensational here is amateur reporting; that someone now claims to be involved in the event when he wasn't, well, that is pure hokum," Hale said.
Frankie Avianca, also known as Frankie Sardo was also on stage during Holly's last performance. He agreed with Allsup's version of events.
"I was standing right next to Waylon all through his conversation with J.P. ‘The Big Bopper' and the famous flip," he said in an email to the Globe Gazette.
"I was still standing with Waylon when he told Buddy that he lost his seat to J.P."
Valens' brother-in-law, John Lemos, has also disagreed with DiMucci's version.
Sevan Garabedian of Montreal and Jim McCool Madison, Wis., documentary filmmakers who plan to release a film about the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour, will also address the controversy in their film. They agree with Allsup's version of the events.
"We're not trying to take sides; we're just trying to look at the facts," said Garabedian.
He said there are four documented witnesses - Allsup, Sardo, Hale and the late Jennings - whose recollections largely agree with Allsup's.
"Tommy has no reason to lie," Garabedian added."We have to set the record straight."
Still, Hale said the dispute clouds the real tragedy following the Winter Dance Party performance on that snowy night 52 years ago.
"We lost four young talented professionals - snuffed out in the beginning stages of what would have been grand careers in show business and aviation," he wrote.
"Now, any chance we can let this needless issue rest, and get on with the more serious issues of today? God, I hope so."