Gary James' Interview With Buddy Holly's Drummer
To most people, Buddy Holly is a name in a book, a voice on a record, an image on a video. To Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly was a band mate. Jerry Allison was the drummer for Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets.
Jerry Allison shared his thoughts with us about Buddy Holly and what it was like to be on the ground floor of the Rock 'n' Roll movement.
Q - Jerry, do you still play in a band today? Do you record? Do you travel? What do you do with yourself these days?
A - Well, I live on a farm outside of Nashville, about forty-five miles out towards Memphis. I have about three hundred, fifty acres. I own some cattle, a couple of donkeys, a horse and a dog, and just the farm deal. We got three tractors, which I enjoy. But Sonny Curtis and Joe B. (Maudlin), The Crickets and I still play. We probably do thirty to forty days a year. We play enough so I can afford to farm.
Q - I was talking to my cousin the other day and he recalls seeing Buddy Holly and The Crickets in Lauderdale Beach (Florida) back in 1957. He doesn't remember the venue. Do you recall playing that date?
A - I know we played it in March of '58, 'cause we played with The Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee (Lewis) down there. We went to England in the first part of March, 1958. We might've played there 'cause we played just about everywhere on a big package tour called Super Show Of Stars with Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran, The Diamonds. There were about twenty acts that changed around some of the time. We played all but three or four dates. It was like a three month tour. So, we probably played Ft. Lauderdale. I do remember playing six or seven dates with The Royal Teens and Jerry Lee and The Everlys. In fact we were The Everly's back-up band 'cause their band didn't show up or something.
Q - You probably don't remember much about the cities you played in, do you?
A - No, not much. We traveled five to six hundred miles every night. We didn't have much time to hang around the cities. I do remember getting snowed in, in Buffalo (New York) one time.
Q - As long as were talking about Buffalo, there's a scene in the movie The Buddy Holly Story where a DJ calls Buddy from Buffalo, New York. You guys are all at rehearsal. Did that ever happen?
A - I saw that movie. I guess it came out in '78 or '79. The only thing I saw about it that was real was they spelled Buddy's name right. They called me "Jesse" and they called Joe B. "Ray Bob." They had mountains in Lubbock, Texas. I thought it was a horrible movie. I didn't see anything that was correct. I imagine it was made up. It's kind of sad for us. (Laughs)
Q - I hate to hear that.
A - The good part is, a lot of kids saw it and got interested in music and went back and found old Buddy Holly and The Crickets records. It renewed the music there for a while. Nobody was involved that knew what happened. The only three people that were on the road the biggest part of time would be Buddy, Joe B. and myself. We didn't have roadies in those days. So, nobody knew what happened. So, Hollywood did it.
Q - You've never written a book about your life, have you?
A - No. A fella up in Canada wrote up a book that had some of the stuff that happened. It's called Not Fade Away. Gary Busey, who played the part of Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story was playing the part of me in this movie and we got half done and the people at Twentieth Century Fox turned over. The new people didn't like it, so it got cancelled in the middle. It wasn't a factual deal. We said right up front it's fictional. The son of Tom Drake wrote it. He was on the road with a group called The Good Time Singers. We sort of incorporated all the experiences from the road, you know the funny things that happened...touring on the bus, throwing eggs at the other bus. That sort of thing. But, I've never written a book about the "real deal", which I might do someday.
Q - I think you should! Get it right, before someone else tells the story and gets it wrong.
A - Yeah, well they do quite a bit, I'll tell you for sure. (Laughs)
Q - When did you meet Buddy Holly?
A - I was in the seventh grade at J.T. Hutchin Junior High School. I would've probably been twelve years old. Buddy was a grade ahead of me. I saw him and Bob Montgomery perform at a high school assembly program. A middle school they call it here in Tennessee. I guess he was probably in the eighth grade. Bob Montgomery was in the same grade as him. They did "Too Old To Cut The Mustard" and I was just terribly impressed. It was great. I wasn't that crazy about what I called Hillbilly music. Anyway, Buddy and I didn't get to be friends 'til high school. We started playing together and listening to Rock 'n' Roll radio.
Q - You would just play gigs around Lubbock, Texas in the early days?
A - Right. We played joints. We played a roller rink occasionally. That was part of the movie. It was sort of right. We played and the kids would dance on the roller skate floor. We ventured as far away as New Mexico. You know, a one hundred mile radius around Lubbock we'd play.
Q - And in the movie, who got upset with the music you guys were playing...the radio station?
A - That was all made up stuff. I don't recall any of that. The Hollywood writers said this will make it more interesting. I don't remember all that happening.
Q - Who came up with the name Crickets?
A - Actually, Buddy and I and a fella named Niki Sullivan were looking through a dictionary. There was a group out in '55, '56 called The Spiders, from Louisiana. We just looked under insects and thought Crickets would be good. So, that's how we came up with that. And, there were a lot of crickets around West Texas that year. The ground would be covered with them in some places.
Q - You are probably aware that The Crickets inspired John Lennon and Paul McCartney to name their group The Beatles.
A - Yeah, which is quite a compliment. Paul McCartney actually told us that one time. He said if it wasn't for The Crickets, there wouldn't be any Beatles. Thanks, Paul. (Laughs)
Q - I have to tell you, Buddy Holly and The Crickets has a nice ring to it. Although you probably would've been happy with just The Crickets.
A - No. Buddy was the lead singer. He was more the prolific songwriter. Everybody involved counts, but I didn't mind it being Buddy Holly and The Crickets at all. I did sort of mind it after Buddy was killed. They took records that were just The Crickets and put it out as just Buddy Holly and dropped The Crickets. But, that's business.
Q - When the hit records started coming, how did you guys adjust to being famous?
A - I don't think I've ever adjusted. It's just entirely too much fun. (Laughs) It's really hard to adjust 'cause your sense of values kind of goes away. It's like a dream come true.
Q - I can only imagine. One day you're playing the clubs of Lubbock, Texas. The next day, you're on The Ed Sullivan Show.
A - Yeah, and we're in New York looking at the buildings and hanging out with The Everly Brothers. It's sort of unbelievable. It seemed like we were never gonna get a real tour. I was just seventeen at the time, so I really didn't know how to handle it.
Q - Does that mean you left high school when you were seventeen?
A - No. I graduated when I was sixteen. My mom was a teacher. I started (school) like the day after I turned five years old, which is September 1st. So, I got out when I was sixteen. Actually, Buddy and I and Sonny Curtis and Don Guess went to Nashville in the Summer of '56 and recorded "That'll Be The Day" for Decca. Nothing happened with it. We didn't do The Crickets one 'til '57. Buddy Holly, Don Guess and I did a two week tour probably in the Summer of '56; no, probably in the Fall of '56, 'cause I had to quit Texas Tech College to do that. We toured backing up George Jones, Hank Loflin, Mitchell Turock, Justin Tubb. The star of the show was Hank Thompson. He had his own band. But we backed up five, six, seven acts. Had a great time. First time we was in Florida and Alabama. Fourteen days in a row. We made ten dollars a piece a day. (Laughs)
Q - I think the per diems are higher than that today.
A - No kidding. They paid all our expenses. That's when we got used to eating steak. (Laughs) When we got home, I know Buddy and I both had one hundred, forty dollars. We didn't waste a penny. I bought myself a set of Premier drums.
Q - Actually, being who you are, I'm surprised Premier didn't give you a free set of drums.
A - I got some Premier drums in England in '58. When it gets to the point where you don't need stuff particularly, then you get it free. (Laughs) They (Premier) made a special set for me as a matter of fact. I played them on "Til I Kissed You" with The Everly Brothers. There was two floor tom toms. But that's getting too complicated right there. (Laughs) Ludwig is what I use these days.
Q - Did you guys play a show with Elvis in Texas or did you just go backstage and meet him?
A - Elvis was like a Country show back then. We got to open the show. We did a couple Elvis songs, which was just stupid. We thought we'd impress Elvis and he'd like us. (Laughs) That was Buddy Holly, Don Guess and Sonny Curtis was playing guitar on that show. He played like Scotty. I played drums. We'd hang out with Elvis.
Q - What was that like?
A - Oh, he was as charismatic as he could be. The first time I saw him play; I'd seen him one time before that particular tour came to town where we opened the show for him; I just couldn't believe it. He was such a rocker. I'd never seen anything like that before. Buddy was terribly impressed as well. All of us the same. Turned into a big fan. Buddy tried to sound like him for months. (Laughs)
Q - In this song "Everyday", Buddy sings "Everyday it's a getting closer, going faster than a roller coaster." What's getting closer? Do you know?
A - Just the love. I always just took it as getting closer to him and the girl falling in love. "Love like yours will surely come my way." The love is just getting closer is the way I take that. It's a good song isn't it? (Laughs)
Q - Yes it is! It's one of Buddy's best songs.
A - I wish I'd been in on writing that, but I was not. He wrote that by himself.
Q - Bruce Springsteen says before he goes onstage, he plays Buddy Holly music in his dressing room because it keeps him honest. What does that mean to you?
A - I just think that's really a nice thing to say. Maybe he listens to Buddy Holly and says OK, maybe I better keep it pretty simple. I guess that's what it means. I don't really know. That's quite a compliment I think.
Q - "Peggy Sue" was a real person. It was your girlfriend at the time who later became your wife, now your ex-wife.
A - Right.
Q - Buddy originally titled the song "Cindy Lou". Do you think the song would have been as popular if it was released as "Cindy Lou"?
A - Oh, that's hard to say. (Laughs) He 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 song 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.
Q - Sometimes it's hard to believe that Buddy wrote all these songs and was only twenty-one or twenty-two when he died. Was he writing all the time? Did he write on the bus? Did he write in hotel rooms?
A - I don't ever remember (him) writing on the bus. But, he played a lot. He and I used to practice all the time. We weren't interested in ball games or hot rods. We were interested in playing. We just learned new songs and play and play and play. My folks house, where we lived, had a big bedroom with an old upright piano which we never used, but I kept my drum set up there. We'd write songs riding around in the car. I can't believe how good of a song writer and how many songs Buddy wrote. We wrote "That'll Be The Day" in my folks house. After he moved to New York from Texas, he wrote a dozen (songs) which I thought were some of his very best songs, like "Learnin' The Game", "Love Makes It Tough" and "Peggy Sue Got Married". And they weren't all the same. They're some really good songs I think.
Q - You weren't part of the Winter Dance Party Tour of the Midwest in 1959, were you?
A - No. Buddy had moved to New York. He was just gonna work as Buddy Holly and we, Joe B. - actually we got back with Sonny Curtis who'd been in the group earlier, actually before I was in the group. He and Buddy were playing Country music together. Anyway, we were just gonna work as The Crickets and he was just gonna work as Buddy Holly. The last five dates he did were about the only dates I didn't play with him, which I felt bad about. We'd gone our separate ways. He told Waylon Jennings, who was on that last tour, he told Waylon he was gonna call us back. We were trying to get a hold of Buddy because we were unhappy we hadn't gone to New York with him. That's all water under the bridge of course.
Q - Had he not died, would Buddy's music been able to change with the times?
A - I sure think so because things like those string sessions he did in New York. He had lots of good ideas. He actually talked about doing a Gospel album and trying to get the players who played with Ray Charles and use those kind of arrangements. There wasn't a lot of Rock 'n' Roll with strings in those days. There wasn't a lot of Rock 'n' Roll in those days. (Laughs) But, I think he would've changed. He was just a talented guy and really was into music.
Q - When you first got together with Buddy, did you think he was / you were going to be successful in the music business?
A - No. We never had those kind of thoughts. We thought if you could get a record out, you'd have a hit, you could buy a Cadillac. That's sort of the way we thought about it. I didn't realize how influential Buddy was going to be. I never doubted he was good. From the junior high deal when I started playing with him, I really enjoyed it.