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 plane crash at Ritchie Valens' school happened near Los Angeles, California on January 31, 1957. A DC-7 and an F-89 jet collided and broke-up in mid-air. The DC-7 landed on the playground of Pacoima Junior High School (now Pacoima Middle School) while students were outside at recess. Everyone on the DC-7 was killed. Several students died on the playground; 75 were injured. Valens was out of school that day, attending his grandfather's funeral. The crash caused Valens' fear of flying.
Before Lou Diamond Phillips auditioned for the role, his agent mistakenly told him that the film was about Frankie Valli. Phillips didn't think he was right for the part, but went to the audition anyway.
The Big Bopper and Waylon Jennings, who was Buddy Holly's bass player at the time, traded seats. The Big Bopper got on the plane, Waylon took the bus. Before the plane took off, Buddy said to Waylon, "I hope you freeze your ass on that bus". Waylon responded, jokingly, "Well, I hope your plane crashes". That remark haunted Waylon for years.
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.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
When Ritchie is interviewed by the radio station, the DJ asks listeners a trivia question, "What does the mystery guest have in common with the Vice President of the United States?" Dwight Eisenhower was President at the time, and his Vice-President was Richard Nixon. The VP and the mystery guest had the same first name.