Bel Air's 'Big Bopper'

"The Big Bopper," a.k.a. Bel Air's Gary Baker, poses in his garage full of 1950s memorabilia. The rock 'n' roll performer is a 2014 inductee to the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame. (BRYNA ZUMER | THE AEGIS, The Aegis / May 15, 2014)

Hello, Bel Air, this is the Big Bopper speaking...

Actually, it's Gary Baker, the face behind an entertainer who has spent 20-plus years serenading Harford County and beyond with old-time rock 'n' roll.

Since the 1990s, Baker, a Bel Air resident, has been making the musical rounds as his 1950s alter ego, "The Big Bopper," the late Jiles Petty Richardson, a Texas DJ and songwriter who crafted one of the early Rock 'n' Roll Era's most enduring novelty acts.

The Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame, in its third year, recognized Baker among 20 inductees for 2014.


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"I was very surprised and honored," Baker said about the award, presented to him May 4 at the UAW Hall in Baltimore.

Baker explained he does not try to look the real Bopper, who became famous for the 1958 song "Chantilly Lace" and was killed in the Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash along with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, later immortalized as "The Day the Music Died," in the song "American Pie," by Don McLean.

Baker said he mostly just tries to capture the spirit of the era.

Traveling via a van emblazoned with "Shake, Rattle and Roll," he continues to dress up in a fedora, colorful blazer, gold chain and sunglasses, as he performs from a repertoire of more than 300 classic rock 'n' roll songs.

"When I think of 'Bopper,' I always just think of the oldies," he said.

"It seems everybody in the audience likes it, too," Baker said about the allure of 1950s-ara music and his act. "We play to mostly sellout crowds."

Baker, 62, is always joined by his wife, Buttons, who arranges his music for him and, he said, is the brains behind his operation.

"We have always been entertainers," he explained.

Buttons and The Bopper met in a Harford band called The Infrareds, which disbanded in 1967. Buttons had been playing the drums, and her future husband was then a bass player.

The couple put their instruments to bed after they married, but Baker wanted to keep playing 1950s and 1960s music, and did so with bands like Nostalgic Revue and Daybreak.

He and Buttons retired from their jobs with a utility company four years ago, but they wanted to make sure rock 'n' roll was there to stay.

"This is pretty much all we do," Baker said about his traveling act as the Bopper.

The two stay devoted to their rockin' past with a house filled with posters, records and 1950s memorabilia. Their garage has an old-time phone booth, a flashing "Big Bopper" sign and a Betty Boop figure perched atop a 1950s-style dinette set.

Although he is not trying to look like the real Big Bopper, Baker said his signature song is "Chantilly Lace." Buttons noted he brings along a telephone that he dials at the start of the song, just like the Big Bopper did during live concerts and television appearances. (For more on The Big Bopper, who also wrote and sang backup on the 1960 number 1 record "Running Bear," visit http://www.bigbopper.com

They also make sure to sing the old Danny and the Juniors song "Rock 'n' Roll Is Here to Stay." Baker then reminds the audiences that rock 'n' roll really is here to stay.

With his performances still going strong, they won't forget anytime soon.

This is an upated aritcle with a correction from an earlier editing error that omitted the relationship between the "The Day the Music Died" and the song "American Pie."