Tommy Allsup may not be a household name. But for those in the know, the guitarist is revered for his work with Buddy Holly, after the 1950s rock‘n’roll hero split with the original Crickets.
Allsup was born on November 24, 1931 in Owasso, Oklahoma. He also worked with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, from whom he drew his western swing influences, as well as Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison. He played on such classic Holly singles as “It’s So Easy,” “Heartbeat” and “Love’s Made A Fool Of You,” but he is perhaps best remembered for a fateful moment in music history that he narrowly avoided.
He would have been in the plane crash in February 1959 that killed Holly and fellow stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, aka the Big Bopper, if he had not lost a toss of a coin with Valens for the seat. Later country star Waylon Jennings, also a member of Buddy’s band, avoided the crash when Richardson asked for his seat, on what Don McLean’s classic 1971 hit “American Pie” described as “the day the music died.”
His son Austin, 32, who has followed his father’s career path into music, said after the news of Tommy’s death was announced: “I know my dad has talked about that many times and knew that he was very lucky to be here. It could have been the other way around.” Allsup died on January 11, 2017 in Springfield, Missouri, due to complications following a hernia operation, at the age of 85.
Austin Allsup also revealed that Valens’ sister had contacted the family to offer her condolences. He recounted: “I told her in my message back, now my dad and Ritchie can finally finish the tour they started 58 years [earlier].”
In 1979, Allsup Sr. opened a club in Dallas, giving it a name inspired by the events of 20 years before, Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon.