Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly And The Crickets Drummer and Songwriter, Dies Aged 82
The Lubbock, TX-born drummer also co-wrote hits including ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and ‘Peggy Sue.’
Jerry “JI” Allison, the drummer for Buddy Holly and the Crickets (a.k.a. The Crickets), who is credited as a co-writer on influential rock ‘n’ roll hits “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue,” has died at age 82, according to a post on the Buddy Holly Foundation’s Facebook page.
“JI was a musician ahead of his time, and undoubtedly his energy, ideas and exceptional skill contributed to both The Crickets, and rock n’ roll itself, becoming such a success,” the post reads. “Buddy is often heralded as the original singer-songwriter, but JI, too, wrote and inspired so many of the songs that would go on to be eternal classics.”
Born on August 31, 1939, in Hillsboro, Texas, Jerry Allison attended the same middle school as Holly in Lubbock, Texas, but the two didn’t become friends until high school, when they formed a band and began playing gigs at roller rinks and other local venues.
“Buddy got us a job backing Hank Thompson and George Jones and others for two weeks. We traveled 6,000 miles in two weeks,” Allison recalled in an interview with Texas Music Monthly. “I couldn’t stay in college.”
Crickets start chirping
Alongside bassist Larry Welborn (subsequently replaced by Joe Mauldin) and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan, they later found success as The Crickets, scoring their first hit with “That’ll Be the Day,” recorded during a February 1957 session with songwriter and producer Norman Petty in his Clovis, N.M., studio (a country-leaning version of the song had previously been released by Decca during Holly’s short-lived stint in Nashville).
Co-written by Allison, Holly and Petty, the 1957 version of “That’ll Be the Day” was released by Brunswick Records and slowly picked up steam on radio before hitting the peak of the Billboard Top 100 (the progenitor of the Hot 100) in September of that year.
Allison explained to Texas Music Monthly how their breakout hit came to be. “My bedroom in Lubbock was real big — in fact, it had a piano in it. Buddy and I rehearsed for hours, day after day. We’d been to see the John Wayne movie The Searchers. Wayne kept repeating the line, ‘That’ll be the day.’ Buddy said, ‘Let’s write a song,’ and I said, ‘That’ll be the day!’ We worked on it for about half an hour.
Though they never scored another No. 1 hit, The Crickets followed “That’ll Be The Day” with a string of successful singles including “Oh, Boy!”, “Maybe Baby” and “Think It Over” – the latter co-written by Allison. “Peggy Sue,” on which Allison was also credited as a co-writer and which was named after his then-girlfriend and future wife Peggy Sue Gerron, hit No. 3 on the Top 100 later that year as a solo single for Holly.
‘It was a lovely, lovely time’
Of “Peggy Sue,” Allison said in an interview with Classic Bands, “[Buddy] had it about half-finished. We were riding around Lubbock and he had it written up as sort of a cha-cha beat or a rumba — a Latin feel. I said, ‘Let’s change the beat.’ I was dating Peggy Sue or had dated Peggy Sue at the time. There were some Cindy songs out at the time, but there weren’t any Peggy Sue ones. Peggy Sue probably helped. Whatever it was, Norman Petty’s engineering, Buddy’s guitar playing … it would’ve been hard to have been more commercial. It was a lovely, lovely time and people liked it and we were really pleased they did.”
Allison himself scored a modest solo hit with “Real Wild Child” — a cover of Johnny O’Keefe’s “Wild One” — which was released under his middle name, Ivan, in 1958 and peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard singles chart. The song went on to become a rock standard, covered in later decades by Iggy Pop and others.
Following Holly’s death in a plane crash in February 1959 alongside fellow rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (a.k.a. The Big Bopper), Allison continued recording and touring as The Crickets with a rotating cast of band members including Mauldin, Sonny Curtis, Glen Hardin, Earl Sinks, and Jerry Naylor.
The band’s most famous latter-day album was 2004’s The Crickets and Their Buddies, which included star turns by Eric Clapton, John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Graham Nash, Rodney Crowell, and one-time Crickets member Jennings, among others.
“More Than I Can Say,” a 1960 Crickets single co-written by Allison and Curtis, later became a No. 2 hit on the Hot 100 for Leo Sayer. Over the ensuing decades, Allison also became an in-demand session player, recording with such artists as Bobby Vee, Eddie Cochran, Waylon Jennings, Paul McCartney and Nanci Griffith.
Allison was the last living member of the original line-up. After Holly’s death in 1959 at the age of 22, Sullivan died in 2004 and Mauldin in 2017. The Crickets had also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, 2012.