The Music Lives on with The Crickets: An Interview with Jerry Allison
They were just regular teenagers. Hanging out with friends, watching movies and listening to rock ‘n’ roll radio shows in their parents' car. From the outside looking in, you never would have expected anything different from a few boys growing up in Lubbock, Texas in 1955. But these weren’t just any boys from the neighborhood, these boys were The Crickets.
Fast forward 50 years later, and here I am dialing up Jerry Allison at his home in Tennessee. Jerry Allison, or better known as J.I., was a close friend of Buddy’s and the drummer for The Crickets. Before I could mutter a hello, Allison beat me to the punch. His voice so clear, it was almost as if he was sitting next to me. “Good morning, Daniel! How are you my friend?”
I turned the volume down on my phone and hit the speaker button. Over the next hour, Allison whisked me away to a time when record players outnumbered televisions, John Wayne was the star of the silver screen and Elvis' crazy hips made young girls swoon.
What was Buddy like as a person?
“A smart alec,” he said with a chuckle. “We met while we were at J.T. Hutchinson Junior High. He was a grade ahead of me, but we became good friends. Buddy was intelligent, tidy and had a unique love for music.”
“It wasn’t until I saw him and Bob Montgomery play at a school assembly that I truly understood how talented he was. Buddy played the banjo and Montgomery played the guitar.”
When did you and Buddy begin to play music?
“I was in a band called ‘Cowboys and the Riverside Ranchhands.' We played at a hall off of 16th Street and Avenue J Buddy would always come in to watch us play. Every now and then, we’d get together and play a little rock ‘n’ roll.”
“At the time, rock ‘n’ roll was looked down upon. In fact, there were people at the time that wanted to have the music stopped!”
Is there a moment in time when you knew music was your path?
“It was definitely around the time we formed The Crickets. It all began with Buddy and I, Nikki Sullivan and Joe B. Mauldin. Buddy and I would practice and write music together in my house. That’s where we wrote ‘That’ll Be the Day.' Those were some of the best years of our lives.”
“We’d listen to music from all over the country. The boys and I would gather around and we’d tune into a rock ‘n’ roll special at the house. That or we’d pile into my folks ’55 Oldsmobile and listen to the radio there.”
When did The Crickets finally take off?
“It all started after our song ‘That’ll be the Day’ became a hit. It was around 1956 and Buddy had a contract with Deca. He had a great song, 'Blue Days Black Nights.' We were all just teenagers when we went on our first tour.”
“I had enrolled at Tech and was in class for about 14 weeks when we got the call. I dropped out of school to make $10 a day for a two-week tour. When I got back, I bought myself a brand new drumset.”
Do you have any favorite memories with the band?
“Oh boy, it had to have been the shows leading up to New Year’s Eve in New York City. As you can imagine, we were just a few boys from Texas in awe of the biggest city around! It was at the end of the big band era, and we got to rub elbows with the likes of the Everly Brothers. It was just us. The three of us playing and making great music.”
Here's a clip of Buddy Holly and the Crickets during an appearance on the Arthur Murray Dance Party on December 29, 1957. This was one of the last television appearances he made before his death.
Would you have done anything differently?
“I would have definitely gone to New York City to make more music with Buddy. At the time, Joe B and I wanted to come back to Texas. We continued to play music and made a few records, while Buddy did his thing in New York.”
“Buddy was way ahead of his time. It wasn’t just what he did, but when. He experimented with different recording techniques. Buddy even began to play and connect with African American musicians. During the height of segregation, this was unheard of. He wasn’t afraid to try new things. I always admired him for that.”
I felt bad as I looked down on my phone, we had been on the line for close to an hour. I had told him it would probably take around thirty minutes a few days earlier.
During the call, there were times when I found myself just listening. I closed my eyes and tried to put myself in their shoes. The entire music industry was literally following them with every beat of Allison's drum. The excitement in his voice was still as clear as it was during his days as the drummer for Buddy Holly and The Crickets. The memories that took him back to the day he and Buddy met Elvis in 1955. The long days and nights of practicing until it was just right. That’s what making music was all about!
Although it’s been 46 years since Buddy was taken from us, his legacy lives. It lives on through the melodies in our speakers and the memories that are shared through life long friends.
Rave On, Buddy!