Guitarist and producer Tommy Allsup managed to survive the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson, and Ritchie Valens...by losing a coin toss.
Allsup died yesterday (1/11) in Springfield, Missouri. Billboard magazine reported that Allsup died from complications following hernia surgery.
Tommy Allsup joined Buddy Holly's band following the break-up of the Crickets, along with Waylon Jennings on bass. They were on the "Winter Dance Party" with a number of other young rock and rockabilly acts. Due to the poor bus conditions (which resulted in Buddy's drummer ending up in the hospital because his feet got frostbitten) Holly decided to charter a plane for him and his two musicians. Jennings, noticing that Richardson ("The Big Bopper") was suffering with the flu, opted to take the bus so Richardson could get some rest and medication. Allsup, as he later recounted, was ready to board the plane when an anxious Ritchie Valens asked if they could swap places. Allsup pulled out a half-dollar piece and told Valens, "Call it."
"Heads," Tommy recounted the 17-year-old young singer's call.
Heads it was. Allsup went on the bus.
Tommy Allsup went on to make a significant mark in music, including working with Bob Wills. He played guitar on and produced Bob Wills' final album, For the Last Time. (Shortly after recording the Cindy Walker song, "What Makes Bob Holler," for that album Wills suffered a debilitating stroke that silenced his famous "ah-ha" call and left him bedridden for the final year of his life.) He also produced albums by the western swing act Asleep At the Wheel. As a session man, his work varied from Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors" to the rock song "In the Year 2525."
Allsup was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He kept an active schedule until the very end, including playing annually at the Winter Dance Party memorial/tribute concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. He was scheduled to play there this year as well.
Farewell to Tommy Allsup, who was 85.