Explore Buddy Holly’s legacy 50 years later, part 1

Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, not pictured, became friends with Buddy Holly in high school. Allison remembers Holly being humble and confident. Photo: Courtesy of Universal Music Archives.

If not for Charles Hardin Holley, known the world over as Buddy Holly, rock ’n’ roll certainly would be very different.

If not for Holly’s work, with and without The Crickets, the lives of many people would be very different, too. Fifty years after the legend’s untimely death, five such individuals recently shared their Holly-related experiences and memories.

Jerry Allison

Appropriately enough, one of Jerry Allison’s earliest Holly recollections is music-related. Allison, who was a grade behind Holly, remembers seeing him and classmate Bob Montgomery perform the song “Too Old to Cut the Mustard” during a junior high school assembly in their hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

“He was right on tempo and right on key,” Allison says. “He impressed me like the first time I saw Elvis Presley.”

Allison and Holly became friends in high school, and Allison remembers him as humble and confident, with talent beyond music.

“In school, they used to teach leatherwork — how to make saddles, wallets, belts or whatever,” Allison says. “And Buddy was real good at that — in fact, he made Elvis a pink-and-black wallet that said ‘Elvis.’ He dropped it off at his manager’s office in Memphis, but we never knew if Elvis got it or not.”

Allison was the drummer in what he calls a “cowboy band” when he and Holly played together for the first time. By 1956, Allison was a mainstay in Holly’s circle of musicians, and he ultimately became the drummer for The Crickets. Holly definitely was the leader, Allison says, but he was open to suggestions. Collaborations with group members and producer Norman Petty were common, and songwriting often was an informal process.

Allison cites the 1957 hit “That’ll Be the Day” as a primary example. One day he was at his parents’ house with Holly, who suggested they write a song together. Allison responded with the title, which they first heard used in the John Wayne movie “The Searchers,” and off they went.

When Holly moved to New York in 1958, Allison says the original plan was for him and Crickets bassist Joe B. Mauldin to join him. But Petty talked them into staying behind, says Allison, and eventually they did some recording as the Crickets and with others at Petty’s studio in Clovis, N.M.

On Feb. 2, 1959, Allison says he, Mauldin and guitarist Sonny Curtis tried calling Holly to discuss a possible Holly/Crickets reunion, but they couldn’t reach him. Years later, Allison had an interesting conversation with Waylon Jennings, Holly’s bassist in early 1959 on the Winter Dance Party tour.

“Waylon told me that Buddy was talking about getting us to do a tour of England with him,” Allison says, “so he was thinking about the same thing.”

On the morning of Feb. 3, 1959, Allison remembers it was Curtis who broke the news to him about Holly’s death.

“He came and beat on the bedroom door and said, ‘Hey man, get up — Buddy Holly got killed.’ And I said, ‘It can’t be.’

“Of course, I’ll never forget that.”

What do other musicians and historians have to share about Buddy Holly? Stay tuned for Part 2!

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