by Dan Price
John Mueller was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. But, based on his resume, his musical influences, and his uncanny resemblance, John was born to play Buddy Holly. It’s a role he’s performed many times for over 30 years, but his introduction to the music of Holly began in childhood. His siblings were much older, and as each of them grew up and left the house, they would leave John their hand-me-down records. He obtained a rather large collection of late 50s and early 60s rock albums. These records influenced his tastes and the music he would go on to write and play. Peggy Sue was the first song he ever played all the way through on the guitar! It was meant to be.
His Buddy Holly story began when he played Buddy Holly in Bep Bop A Lula, the avant-garde stage play, in Hollywood and then, a year later, in the regional theatrical production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. He has played this role in many productions of the play in cities including Kansas City, San Diego, Chicago, Toronto, and Miami, to name a few.
John decided to leave the Buddy stage production after his 4th run on the show, but took away some knowledge for the experience. “The reviews were always the same,” John said in a zoom interview with Celebration’s Zoe Frost in 2021. “The script was a little bit hokey… but the last 45 minutes were a lot of fun”. And what were those last 45 minutes? Why, the Winter Dance Party, of course. The famed rock tour that Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Mr. Buddy Holly headlined.
“So, I was like, it’s the 40th anniversary of the original tour (of the winter dance party) coming up, why don’t I get some of the best cast members I worked with, some of the best musicians, and we’ll go back to the original tour they did and recreate the tour in the same cities on the same dates.” John knew it would be historic to bring back the tour, and it would be a fun thing to do. On their first date in Green Bay, they had over 1000 people in the audience. The immediate response? “Are you coming back next year?” John laughed.
Within a couple of years, the tour grew from the small midwest leg during winter, but nationwide year-round. Each live concert performance includes over two hours of unbridled, high-voltage entertainment featuring all the hit songs of the 50’s era: That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh, Boy, Rave on, La Bamba, Chantilly Lace, and many, many more. And the crowds love it!
The Winter Dance Party show has performed in front of over 2 million people on national TV for the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and has toured extensively throughout the United States and Canada at theaters, performing arts centers, ballrooms, corporate events, casinos, and even for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with John Mellencamp, Marshall Crenshaw, and others.
The current line-up of the show features Ray Anthony as Ritchie Valens and Linwood Sasser as The Big Bopper. Ray Anthony bears a striking resemblance to Lou Diamond Phillips in the 1987 film La Bamba, a biopic about the career of Ritchie Valens. His performance is so spot on Ritchie’s own sister, Irma Valens, said that every time she sees Ray perform Ritchie’s songs, it brings a tear to her eye. Linwood Sasser has been playing The Big Bopper since 2008 and has perfected the role according to audiences around the country. He is thrilled to carry on the mantle that JP Richardson made famous.
John Mueller is living his dream; bringing the Winter Dance Party to life. He is also making dreams come true for audiences and fans who are nostalgic for a time in music when everything was new and fresh, getting kids to kick off their shoes and dance away the night to the music of Buddy and the gang.
It’s been a long time since the original tour, but thanks to John Mueller, you can watch this fantastic rock-n-roll extravaganza live at The Eisemann Center on April 16th at 2:00PM. Get tickets at eisemanncenter.com or click on the QR code with your phone.