Jerry Allison, Who Played Drums With Buddy Holly, Dies at 82
Jerry Allison, who played drums with Buddy Holly and was a co-writer of two of his signature late-1950s songs, “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue,” died on Monday at his home near Nashville. He was 82.
Peter Bradley Jr., board director of the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, confirmed the death.
Mr. Allison was still a teenager in Lubbock, Texas, when he began playing with Mr. Holly, who was three years older and had already made a tentative start on a music career, releasing a few records in Nashville that did not do well. Back in Lubbock, he, Mr. Allison, Niki Sullivan on guitar (soon replaced by Sonny Curtis) and Joe B. Mauldin on bass began honing a sound that drew on Elvis Presley and on country and, especially, Black music.
“We’d have to listen to a radio station out of Shreveport, La., to hear the real blues — rhythm and blues — we wanted to hear,” Mr. Allison told The Globe-Gazette of Mason City, Iowa, in 1989. “Groups like Etta James and the Peaches, and the Midnighters and the Clovers. That wasn’t common music around Lubbock, but that was the kind of music we were trying to write.”
At first, things were slow.
“We’d be playing at things like supermarket openings,” Mr. Allison told The Lansing State Journal of Michigan in 1979. “Sometimes we’d get as much as $10 apiece.”
Then, in May 1956, he and Mr. Holly went to see a new John Wayne movie, “The Searchers,” in which one of Mr. Wayne’s most memorable lines was “That’ll be the day.”
Days later, according to an account written for the Library of Congress, Mr. Holly suggested that he and Mr. Allison write a song together, and Mr. Allison, imitating the Wayne line, said, “That’ll be the day.”
“Right away, Buddy starts fiddling around with it,” Mr. Allison told the Lansing newspaper. “In about a half-hour, we had it.”
Mr. Holly cut a country version of the song in Nashville that was unloved (a producer there is said to have called it “the worst song I’ve ever heard”), but in 1957 he and the Crickets, as his Lubbock group was called, recorded a rock ’n’ roll version that became a national hit and remained in Billboard’s Top 30 for three months. Mr. Holly, Mr. Allison and the producer who recorded that version, Norman Petty, got the songwriting credit, and in 2005 the record was selected for the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
Another touchstone song of early rock ’n’ roll appeared later in 1957, this time released under Mr. Holly’s name: “Peggy Sue.” Mr. Holly and the band were in Mr. Petty’s studio trying to record a song called “Cindy Lou,” but Mr. Allison, hoping to solidify his relationship with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Peggy Sue Gerron, suggested a name change.
In her autobiography, “Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?” (2008), she described hearing the song for the first time when the Crickets played a show in Sacramento, Calif., where she was going to school. It was a complete surprise to her, and it ignited the crowd.
“My heart pounded, and my cheeks were on fire,” she wrote. “With people all around me bouncing, swaying and singing my name over and over, I sank down in my seat, covered my face with my hands, and cried out to myself, ‘What have y’all done to me?’”
Apparently she got over her shock; she and Mr. Allison later married. The marriage eventually ended in divorce, but “Peggy Sue” lives on as a rock ’n’ roll classic.
Mr. Holly’s career was a short one; he died in a plane crash in 1959 — “the day the music died,” as Don McLean later sang in “American Pie.” Mr. Allison, though, kept performing and recording with an ever-changing lineup of Crickets for decades.
“I don’t mind being called an oldie,” he told The Tulsa World of Oklahoma in 1996, “because we are.”
Jerry Ivan Allison was born on Aug. 31, 1939, in Hillsboro, Texas. He started playing drums at an early age.
In a 2005 interview with The Sunday News of Lancaster, Pa., he said the name the Crickets came about because Mr. Holly liked an R&B group called the Spiders. At his house one day, he said, he and Mr. Holly started thumbing through an encyclopedia’s section on insects.
They rejected “Beetles,” he said, because beetles were something people stepped on. Mr. Allison said he suggested “Crickets” because they “make a happy sound.”
Mr. Allison eventually settled on a farm near Nashville. His survivors include his wife, Joanie Allison. His ex-wife, Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, died in 2018.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets had a lasting influence on rock ’n’ roll. The band helped establish the classic rock four-piece: two guitarists, drummer, bassist. And it helped inspire another four-piece that did pretty well.
“Paul McCartney did tell me that if there hadn’t been the Crickets, there never would have been the Beatles,” Mr. Allison told The Associated Press in 2013. Mr. McCartney sang backup, played some piano and produced the title track of the Crickets’ 1988 album, “T Shirt.”
Mr. Allison also thought the group, which generally kept its songs pretty simple, encouraged youngsters to take up the instruments of rock.
“When we went out on tour, we sounded just like our records,” he told the Lansing newspaper. “And whenever kids were starting a group, our songs were some that they knew they could do.”