Drummer Jerry “J.I.” Allison, the last surviving original member of Buddy Holly‘s band the Crickets, died on August 22nd at 88. In addition to his drumming duties for the Crickets, he co-wrote their two biggest hits with Holly — “That’ll Be The day” and “Peggy Sue” — which was named after Allison’s eventual first wife.
Allison and Holly formed the group in their hometown of Lubbock, Texas and were part of a much larger support team that encircled the band’s songwriting and studio work. Holly, Allison, late-bassist Joe B. Mauldin, and early guitarist Nikki Sullivan, eventually recorded under both the band moniker and “Buddy Holly” for two different labels. The Crickets parted ways with Holly in 1958, but according to numerous sources were to reunite once Holly got back off the road in 1959.
According to several sources, including then-Buddy Holly touring bassist Waylon Jennings, Holly’s post-tour plans were to reconvene with the Crickets and carry on with then-current guitarist Tommy Allsup on lead guitar. Holly was also planning on starting his own record label — Prism Records — and signing Jennings as its first artist.
J.I. Allison recalled the deal that he and Buddy Holly made prior to him moving to New York City in 1958: “The last time I saw Buddy as a matter of fact he said, ‘O.K., if you’re not gonna move to New York, y’all just work as ‘The Crickets’ and I’ll work as ‘Buddy Holly’ and if it doesn’t work out for either one of us we’ll get back together, okay?’ And we said ‘Fine.’ And Waylon told me that Buddy was talking to him on that last tour and said ‘I’m going to get J.I. and Joe B. back.'”
Following Buddy Holly’s 1959 death, J.I. Allison secured the Crickets band name and continued to record in the early-’60s, along with backing the Everly Brothers. Along with Buddy Holly collaborator — and latter-day Cricket — Sonny Curtis, Allison co-wrote “More Than I Can Say” for Bobby Vee in 1962 with Leo Sayer‘s 1980 cover version topping out at Number Two. Allison and other assorted Crickets and Holly sidemen went on to play on many of the hits that came out of L.A. on the Liberty Records label. In the 1980’s, he and Joe B. Mauldin revived the Crickets both on stage and in the studio.
In 2012 the Crickets were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by none other than Smokey Robinson.
Over the years, the Beatles often stated how influential and important Buddy Holly & The Crickets’ music was to them — even naming themselves “The Beatles” as a homage to the group. J.I. Allison revealed to us that the Crickets were Beatles supporters before they even had a hit: “Sonny (Curtis) heard ‘Love Me Do’ and he mentioned it to a TV show in England (in) I think 1962. He sure liked that group the Beatles and ‘Love Me Do.’ And the Beatles played there a week or so later, and they (the station staff) mentioned that Sonny Curtis of the Crickets had said they liked ‘Love Me Do.’ And so, they sat down and wrote a letter — ‘Dear Crickets, we heard you like our record.’ I mean, I still got that letter framed, needless to say.”