Information surfaces on Winter Dance Party co-host Ed Auxer:
Ed Auxer, the smiling WLIP Disc jockey who worked as co-host of the January 24th, 1959 Winter Dance Party alongside ABC-TV's Jim Lounsbury, died in Milwaukee on August 21 of 2004, according to the Rootsweb.com database. His tenure is unknown as unfortunately no records survive of his career at WLIP, but his Social Security application originated in Pennsylvania. His birthplace is likewise a mystery, but his birthday is December 19th, 1909. He would have just turned 49 the month before the event.
Nine days before the music died amidst the twisted wreckage of a Beechcraft Bonanza in a frozen Iowa cornfield, it was very much alive in the downtown Kenosha Eagles Club ballroom.
Fifty years ago on the evening of Jan. 24 it fell on a Saturday in 1959, just as it will this year Kenosha photographer Tony Szikil was impatiently glancing at his watch. He had been booked for a wedding at what was then known as the Eagles Ballroom on 58th Street, but the current of what would endure as timeless music was fiercely tugging at him.
One floor above where the then 24-year-old Szikil was wrapping up his wedding assignment or so he thought he was Buddy Holly was strumming his Fender Stratocaster guitar to an audience of 1,500 energized kids. Distinguished by his large black-framed glasses, red polka-dot ascot and hiccuping, drawling singing voice, the 22-year-old Texan had indelibly carved his name among the pioneers of rock `n' roll with timeless classics the likes of "That'll Be The Day," "Peggy Sue" and "Oh, Boy!"
In terms of popularity, he was second only to Elvis Presley. But unlike Presley, Holly wrote most of his songs songs that would one day be covered by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, among countless others.
What was billed as "The Winter Dance Party" had kicked off in Milwaukee the previous night, but there was little glamour on this tour. Joined by musicians that included 17-year-old sensation Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (better known as "The Big Bopper"), Waylon Jennings and Dion DiMucci and the Belmonts, Holly would be putting himself through a grueling series of dates in the Midwest during the depths of a cold winter.
Their tour bus was a frozen relic that frequently broke down during all-night treks through dark country roads. And the tour itself was a logistical nightmare with performances scheduled haphazardly throughout the Midwest for several weeks with no off days. So miserable were the traveling conditions that drummer Carl Bunch had to be hospitalized with severely frost-bitten feet.
There was no sign of the strain that would set in as Holly triumphantly was wrapping up his set that night in Kenosha. Szikil, who worked for Sterelczyk Photo in Kenosha, lobbied for this assignment among four other weddings that day with the hope of seeing these young stars perform.
It would prove to be a struggle.
"It was the worst wedding I had for that year," said Szikil, a life-long Kenosha resident. "I was in the mezzanine right below the ballroom and, at 9 o'clock, I went to the bride and groom and said, `Can I go upstairs for 15 minutes? I want to take some pictures.' And they said, `No, your contract calls for 10:30.'
"So I waited around until 10 and I went back and said, `I'll give you two free 8x10's for your book if you let me go upstairs for 15 minutes.' And they said, `No your contract calls for 10:30.'
"At 25 after 10, I took the bride and groom for one last shot and I kept checking the time. And then they said, `One more picture' and I said, `No!' and I walked away because it was 10:30. They pushed me to 10:30 and it was past 10:30."
Just as Szikil entered the mobbed ballroom, Holly was wrapping up his set with what Szikil believes was "Peggy Sue." Aiming the Speed Graphic camera he still owns above the crowd, Szikil took a far-away shot that turned out to be the only image he would get that night of Holly performing (he later had it enlarged to an extent that Holly is far more
By this point, the four other photographers from Sterelczyk Photo who had been shooting weddings that day joined Szikil. All five men were wearing matching clothes from their studio, which proved to be vital that night as they tried to get close to the stage.
"The people in front of us thought we were a group and parted," Szikil said. "We walked all the way up to the stage. And then Jim Lounsberry, a WGN DJ, said, `Hey you with the camera, come on stage.' That's when Ritchie came on the stage. That's why most of my shots are of Ritchie.
"After the show, Jim Lounsberry introduced me to Buddy, Ritchie and The Big Bopper."
Szikil remembers Holly as having a firm Texan handshake, Valens as having a soft teenager's grip and the flamboyant Big Bopper welcoming him with a rowdy "give-me-some-skin" persona.
WLIP DJ Ed Auxer is seen in the middle of the musicians alongside Lounsberry, grinning the widest.
Nine days later, those three young stars, so full of life and promise that night in Kenosha, were killed just after 1 a.m. Feb. 3 when their light plane crashed five minutes after takeoff following a show in Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly, weary of the endless all-night bus rides, chartered the plane for $108 so he could get to Fargo, N.D., early and get some laundry done for the next show.
"I found out about 12 or 1 o'clock that day," Szikil said. "My wife told me. She said, `Did you hear on the radio what happened?' I felt hurt. I just sat home, watched TV and did nothing. And I reminisced.
"I still think about what I could have done that day and how much I appreciated being there."