Ritchie Valens' family were so attached to Lou Diamond Phillips that when he was shooting the scene where Valens gets on the airplane that led him to his death, the family begged Phillips not to get on, fearing that he would die. The family was warned not to come to the filming the day that they filmed him getting on the plane but his sister ignored this and drove up to the set anyways. She cried, hugged him and begged him not to get on the plane
The 1957 plane crash at Ritchie Valens' Jr. High School which was referenced in this movie, occurred over the San Fernando Valley. A DC-7 and an F-89 jet crashed into each other over the San Fernando Valley. The two planes broke-up in the air, and the DC-7 plummeted from the sky onto the playground of Pacoima Junior High School. Valens did not attend school that day because he was at his grandfather's funeral. At the time of the crash, students were at recess on the playground. The crew of the DC-7 were killed, as were several students on the playground. 74 more students were injured. It was this plane crash that caused Valens to have a fear of flying.
At the first family party, the old lady sitting by Ritchie and the man is Ritchie Valens' mother, Connie Valenzuela. She died on October 18, 1987 at the age of 72, only three months after the film's release.
The band playing the traditional folk version of "La Bamba" at the club in Tijuana is, in reality, the band Los Lobos, who performed all of the Ritchie Valens music for the film. The guitar player next to the bass player is David Hidalgo, who provided the singing voice for Lou Diamond Phillips.
Before Lou Diamond Phillips auditioned for the role, his agent mistakenly told him that the film was about Frankie Valli (later the subject of Jersey Boys (2014)). Phillips did not think he was right for the part but went to the audition anyway.
The Big Bopper and Waylon Jennings, who played as Buddy Holly bass player at the time, traded seats. The Big Bopper goes on the plane while Waylon takes the bus. Before the plane took off, Buddy said to Waylon, "I hope you freeze your ass on that bus". In a joking response, Waylon said "Well I hope your plane crashes". A remark that would haunt Waylon for years to come.
When Ritchie is being interviewed by the radio station, the DJ asked a trivia question to the listeners of the station asking, "What does the mystery guest (Ritchie) have in common with the Vice President of the United States". Since it was the middle of the 50's that means that Eisenhower was President and his Vice-President was Richard Nixon, so both the VP and Ritchie Valens had the same first name.
A cafe in Bundaberg Australia named La Bamba as a tribute to the film operated for a number of years with 50's memorabilia and a phone booth similar to the one Richie sang to Donna in and set up like a 50's US cafe.
The patch on Bob's (Esai Morales) vest is that of the Galloping Goose Motorcycle Club. In 1947, the Galloping Goose was one of many clubs which descended upon the town of Hollister, California during the AMA Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally that led to a riot. However, the Galloping Goose were there by invitation and consisted of just over a dozen members.
Many people ask what the green guitar and amp are at the beginning of the movie. The guitar is a Harmony Stratotone 3/4 scale or Student Model from the early 50s. The amp is a Fender Champ, also early 50s. Both would have been less than 5 years old at the time.
In this movie, Jackie Wilson is played by Howard Huntsberry. Two years later, two versions of the song "Higher and Higher" would be used in the movie Ghostbusters II (1989); the first is the Jackie Wilson version in the toaster scene, and the other is a cover by Howard Huntsberry used in the Statue of Liberty scene.
Toward the end of the movie, when Ritchie and Donna are cruising down the road, Ritchie asks Donna if she'll wait to marry him. He says "Just till I'm 25 and I have a big, glass cabinet to keep all my gold records in". Lou Diamond Phillips actually was 25 during filming.
During the surprise party for Ritchie (Lou Diamond Phillips) after returning from his tour, his manager Bob Keanu says he's going to stay because of the good food. Just before the scene cuts, you can hear him ask someone, "What's this in the bowl?" "Menudo" is the response--a red Mexican soup or sauce, but also the name of a contemporary 1980s Mexican Boy Band.