Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Crickets Drummer Jerry Allison Dies

photo: The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation

Sometimes when you ponder upon a life lived, you can’t help but marvel at all the events seen, the accomplishments achieved, and the history experienced by someone’s eyes and ears. Such is the case for Jerry Ivan Allison, known as JI by many close friends, family, and band mates. From being there at the very formation of rock and roll, to escaping the fateful “Day The Music Died,” to later working with country music legends, he was much more than a fly on the wall for a host of historic events, he kept the beat behind them.

Known best as the drummer for The Crickets who minded the rhythm for Buddy Holly with bass player Joe B. Mauldin, JI Allison was born in Hillsboro, Texas on August 31, 1939, but would make an international name for himself hanging around Lubbock. At first, they were known simply by “The Crickets” band name, and they created the template for future rock bands by writing much of their own material as opposed to working with dedicated songwriters, and naming themselves after an insect. It’s no coincidence that when The Beatles came along with their mop tops a few years later, they modeled themselves after these boys from Texas.

Along with playing drums in the Crickets, JI Allison also co-wrote numerous songs for the outfit, including the original hit from the band “That’ll Be The Day” from 1957, and later the immortal “Peggy Sue.” Drumming in rock and roll was still a formative art at that time, and when Allison chose to only play toms on “Peggy Sue,” and to only use lap pats with his palms on “Everyday,” it made for a wickedly innovative approach compared to the snare-and-crash formula of the day, and it would resonate across popular music.

In 1958, the three piece transitioned from The Crickets, to Buddy Holly, with The Crickets as Holly’s backing band. JI Allison was still right in the mix though, and the band soon became one of the hottest things in rock and roll. Of course, it was all short-lived. Buddy Holly died in a plane crash on February 3rd, 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa on the way to a gig with The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and the pilot Roger Peterson all perishing as well. Buddy Holly was only 22.

At the time though, The Crickets were officially taking a hiatus from the Buddy Holly entourage, with a guitar player named Tommy Allsup, and little-known guy named from Littlefield, Texas named Waylon Jennings replacing The Crickets members. Luckily for Waylon and Tommy, they’d taken the bus to the gig and avoided the plane crash, and would later work closely with JI Allison and The Crickets.

Allison kept The Crickets going in one incarnation or another all the way up to 2016 before officially retiring. The band became a proving ground for musicians, including the world-renown guitarist Albert Lee. The Crickets released nearly a dozen records all the way into the 2000s, helping to keep the memory of Buddy Holly and the heart of rock and roll alive. But JI also worked as a session and touring musician, and regularly veered into the country music world.

JI Allison played behind The Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings, Nanci Griffith, Eddie Cochran, and others. The Crickets also backed up Eric Clapton, and Paul McCartney from the rock world. In 2012, Jerry “JI” Allison and the original Crickets officially became members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame beside Buddy Holly.

JI Allison was also part of one of the most legendary stories in country music history. In May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew into Dallas’s Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour. Instead of flying to Lubbock, they all decided to purchase motorcycles, and drive back home. Buddy Holly purchased an Ariel Cyclone motorcycle. Buddy Holly’s father had kept the motorcycle until 1970, when he sold it to someone in Austin, TX.

Then in 1979 for Waylon’s 42nd birthday, The Crickets Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin tracked down the motorcycle, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.

“What else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldn’t mind,” Waylon Jennings recalled.

Jerry “JI” Allison was there to see it, along with many other legendary moments.

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On Monday, August 22nd, the official Buddy Holly page on Facebook announced, “Our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Jerry ‘JI’ Allison, drummer in The Crickets, one of Buddy’s very closest friends, and the inspiration to drummers for decades since, who passed away today. JI was a musician ahead of his time, and undoubtedly his energy, ideas and exceptional skill contributed to both The Crickets, and rock n’ roll itself, becoming such a success. Buddy is often heralded as the original singer-songwriter, but JI, too, wrote and inspired so many of the songs that would go on to be eternal classics. For today, we think about his family and friends and wish JI to rest in peace.”

Jerry Allison was 82.

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