Tommy Allsup on Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Bob Wills, Texas Playboys

Tommy Allsup photo by Eric Shaiman, 2009

Tommy AllsupGuitarist-producer Tommy Allsup, best-known as a member of The Crickets led by songwriter-singer-guitarist Buddy Holly, died in Springfield, Missouri on January 12, 2017, at the age of 85 – but not before leaving an influential musical legacy of his own.

Born on his Cherokee mother’s allotment near Owasso, Oklahoma, the 12th of 13 children, Allsup and his Littlefield, Texas-born Cricket bandmate Waylon Jennings were the two luckiest men in rock ‘n’ roll history.

On the night of February 3, 1959, after playing a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, Allsup and Jennings gave up their seats on the small plane that crashed into a snowy cornfield soon after takeoff, killing Holly and tourmates J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens, and their young pilot, Roger Peterson.

Allsup would have been on the plane had he not lost a coin toss with Valens.

“I flipped it,” he recalled in a 1987 interview with the Associated Press. “(Valens) called ‘heads.’ He got his stuff off the bus.”

tommy allsup buddy holly waylon jennings
No hesitation: Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup.

Waylon gave his seat to the Bopper, who was sick, and boarded the bus with Allsup to the next gig instead.

Holly’s, Valens’ and Richardson’s deaths were fledgling rock ‘n’ roll’s first major tragedy. Just in their 20s, the rock pioneers were mourned worldwide, and are to this day.

As singer-songwriter Don McLean noted more than a decade after the crash, in his epic 1971 folk-rock ballad “American Pie,” February 3, 1959 was also “The Day the Music Died” for many first-generation rockers.

Nonetheless, Allsup and Jennings did OK after their time as Crickets. Waylon’s life and times are well-documented (and will be further so when wife Jessi Colter‘s memoir, “An Outlaw and a Lady,” co-written with David Ritz, is published by Thomas Nelson in April 2017). Jennings died February 13, 2002, at age 64.

Tommy went on to a successful career as a guitarist and producer, working with rock, rockabilly, pop and western artists from Johnny Burnette, Bobby Vee and Timi Yuro to Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel and the Original Texas Playboys, among many others. Just a few months back, at 84, he joined major fan Vince Gill onstage to pick and grin a bit.

According to Facebook posts by Tommy’s widow, Nicole, who also revealed she has been battling breast cancer the past two years, and on the page of singer Austin Allsup, his son, his family is looking to their faith to give them strength right now.

Nicole posted funeral details: The public is invited to attend it on Wednesday, January 18, at the First Baptist Church in Owasso, starting at 11 a.m.

After the service, burial will be private and family only. Flowers may be sent to Mowery Funeral Home at 9110 N. Garnett Rd., Owasso, Oklahoma 74055.

Read Tommy Allsup’s Rockabilly Hall of Fame profile here, The New York Times’  obituary here and Billboard’s obit here.

*  *  *  *  *

Tommy Allsup Interview Intro 2017

The following freewheeling interview with Tommy Allsup talking about Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and the Texas Playboys – the legendary band fronted by Western swing icon Bob Wills – was taped in the small Texas panhandle town of Childress on April 24, 1976.

Tommy Allsup on The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens
The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens.

It was “Bob Wills Day” in Wills’ hometown of Turkey, Texas, a wide spot at the crossroads of Highways  60 and 86 about 45 miles west of Childress, which at the time was the closest town to Turkey with any motel accommodations.

Roughly 200 miles northwest of Dallas, Turkey had one blinking traffic signal at the crossroads in town, with a population of around 400 people and an unknown number of turkeys.

Texas music journalists Nelson Allen, Joe Gracey and David Phillips along with yours truly, a Los Angeles-based music writer with a deep affinity for Texas music, had a chance to hang out with Allsup in his motel room for an hour or so the morning before the big Original Texas Playboys concert in Turkey that would climax this year’s annual tribute to Wills.

Tommy Allsup Bob Wills and-his-texas-playboys

That was also the afternoon original Original Texas Playboy fiddle player Sleepy Johnson, 67, collapsed and died onstage, moments after the band wrapped up their set, in the midst of the fans’ applause. As just about any musician or performer will tell you, that’s the way to go.

As just about any musician or performer will tell you, that’s the way to go. Johnson and Wills were both Light Crust Dough Boys in the early ’30s before Wills founded the Playboys, with Sleepy a charter member.

Johnson and Wills were both Light Crust Dough Boys in the early ’30s before Wills founded the Playboys, with Sleepy a charter member. He and Wills were pioneers of the band’s twin-fiddle sound. Wills had died less than a year earlier, at age 70, and fans were still very much in mourning. Now, they were both gone. The music they created, though, was, and remains, immortal.

At the time of this Childress interview, spring 1976, Allsup was producing the Original Texas Playboys, who’d still been gigging occasionally under the direction of former Playboy steel ace Leon (“Take it away, Leon!”) McAuliffe (1935-1942), and featuring Johnson, drummer Smoky Dacus, piano-pounder Al Stricklin, singer Leon Rausch and half a dozen more members of Wills’ band spanning the decades.

Together, the Playboys and Allsup cut a pair of albums for Capitol Records; the first, a studio set, “The Late Bob Wills’ Original Texas Playboys Today,” was imminent on this Bob Wills Day.

They also performed a memorable series of live gigs, with Allsup on bass, including joint sets with Austin-based Wills-Playboys torch-bearers Asleep at the Wheel, who’d released their first album for Capitol, “Texas Gold,” in ’75. Allsup produced the live Original Texas Playboys album Capitol released in 1977.

(One Playboys-Wheel performance was an epic night in Nashville tommy-allsup-original_texas_playboys_live_and_kickinduring Country Music Week in October 1975. Members of both bands crammed onto the tiny stage and blew the roof off the Exit-In, Nashville’s equivalent to The Roxy on Sunset Strip or the Bottom Line in NYC.

(Making the occasion even more memorable, Capitol label-mate Jessi Colter and husband Waylon Jennings were in the star-studded SRO audience. They graciously invited this writer to join them at their table (they both thought highly of my feature about Waylon for Cash Box magazine the previous summer).

(Another was the taping in late ’75 for the first episode of Season 1 of “Austin City Limits” (Willie Nelson had done the pilot), featuring the Playboys and The Wheel. The show premiered January 3, 1976. See video link farther south in this transcript.)

But at the Chateau Inn in Childress in spring ’76, the topic of deepest interest to this bunch of (mostly) Texas rock writers was Lone Star favorite son Buddy Holly. Just as much as seeing and hanging out with the reunited Texas Playboys, the opportunity to corral Allsup and talk about Holly was priceless and not to be missed.

tommy allsup Buddy Holly pr(I regret my cheap-o Instamatic was out of film until I could restock later in the day. At least I had tape in my cheap-o cassette recorder.)

In those days, Waylon didn’t want to talk much about what happened that night in Iowa. In our May 1975 sit-down, he confided that even after 16 years, he couldn’t completely shake the terror that it could have been him instead of the Bopper, and the guilt that it wasn’t. But he wouldn’t say much more. As usual, though, with a few words, he spoke volumes.

So Allsup was just about the only other guy alive in ’76 who were there that night in February 1959, who could, and would, talk first-hand about Holly’s life, music, and death, and what happened after “The Day the Music Died.”

Along the trail, Allsup also shared a few hair-raising tales of guns and racism on the rock ‘n’ roll package tours that were big back then; how much Holly and the Crickets made per gig at their peak; the infamous LaVern Baker-Paul Anka Vaseline incident; how Allsup’s fellow Liberty Records producer Snuff Garrett blew his chances to sign The Beatles AND Bob Dylan; and lots more.

Stephen K. Peeples, Dallas, April 1976. Photo: Roxy Gordon.
The author, poolside at the DAC hideout in North Dallas, April 1976. Photo: Roxy Gordon.

As bonuses, we got a visit from Jack Daniel’s and a cameo from Leon Rausch, who’d be fronting the Texas Playboys at the tribute concert a few hours later.

A transcript of the interview first appeared in the Texas music journal Picking Up the Tempo, issue #17, published in summer 1976 by Texas writer and raconteur Roxy Gordon and his wife Judy Gordon.

At the time Roxy was working on a David Allan Coe biography, and house-sitting DAC’s big house in an upscale North Dallas neighborhood while the controversial country outlaw was on the road. So the Gordons invited me to camp for a few days after the Turkey affair while I typed up the transcript and worked on a few other stories between beers and whatever before heading back to California.

– Stephen K. Peeples, January 16, 2017

SKP’s Original PUTT Intro

I had always wanted to talk to Tommy Allsup, who was going to be in Turkey, Texas for Bob Wills Day [in 1976]. I knew he had been a Cricket and had done sessions at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, and that he was with the band when tommy-allsup-turkey-042476 (3)Holly picked up Waylon as a bass player, but I hadn’t talked to him at length in Nashville [when we met the previous October] and wanted to – about his rock and rollabilly days.

I had always wanted to talk to Tommy Allsup, who was going to be in Turkey, Texas for Bob Wills Day [in 1976]. I knew he had been a Cricket and had done sessions at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, and that he was with the band when Holly picked up Waylon as a bass player, but I hadn’t talked to him at length in Nashville [when we met the previous October] and wanted to – about his rock and rollabilly days.

The whole thing fell together nicely when Nelson Allen, Joe Gracey, Allsup, David Phillips and myself sat in Allsup’s motel room at the Chateau Inn in Childress (directly east of Turkey) on Bob Wills Day, April 24, 1976.

tommy-allsup-turkey-042476 (2)Allsup was re-stringing his Telecaster for the [Original Texas Playboys] concert that afternoon (when Sleepy Johnson died) – I’d shared one of three breakfasts with Sleepy and his wife at the motel coffee shop that morning at 9 a.m. (migod) – so I turned on my tape recorder and threw it on the centrally located bed.

Nelson: Were you goin’ on the road with him (Holly)?

Allsup: Yeah.

Tommy Allsup buddy holly crash Mason City 020359Nelson: But you missed the fatal plane…

Allsup: Just barely. I was supposed to have been on it. Me and Waylon and Buddy were going to go originally….

Gracey: This dust is killing me… [code for “Where’s the booze?”]

Peeples: So how long did you stay with the band after Holly was dead?

Allsup: We finished out that tour – we had two more weeks on it. Then I stayed with The Crickets and we reorganized. Two original Crickets came back. Joe B. [Maudlin] and J.I. [Allison] and I worked for a while until I got tired of New York and went back to Odessa.

Tommy Allsup Buddy Holly Crickets original pr
The original Crickets: Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly and Joe Mauldin.

Peeples: How long did Waylon stay with the band after the crash?

Allsup: Two weeks. He came back to Texas after he finished the tour.

Nelson: Somewhere along the line I heard that Waylon was going to do or had already done an album of Holly tunes more than a year ago. I don’t know if he ever did it…

Peeples: Big Bopper took his seat on the plane because Bopper was sick, right?

Allsup: Yeah…

Peeples: Well, the plane crashed and he doesn’t [want to] talk about it anymore, so I guess he still feels uneasy about it to some extent.

(Somebody walks into the room with a sacked bottle [of Jack Daniel’s], ice and glasses, and the drift gets a little more alcoholic – Childress and Turkey are both dry towns.)

Nelson: Man, you oughtta see Impact [a tiny village on the northern outskirts of Abilene] – the mayor’s gettin’ stone rich! By 10:30 at night there’s 85,000 cars there – and they sell ‘em hot beer! So that means you gotta buy a bag of ice from them, too.

Allsup: Yeah, they got you fucked over there…

Nelson: And that’s the only place…

Allsup: …‘Course they got a hundred private clubs down there and they’re all membership clubs. They charge you a dollar and put your name on it.

Nelson: Yeah, that’s how it is in Palestine in east Texas.

Gracey: That’s the way it was in Fort Worth till about five years ago.

Allsup: And Dallas.

tommy allsup childress welcomeGracey: Boy, you couldn’t get a mixed drink to save your ass in the Metroplex.

Nelson: It was like that anywhere in Texas for mixed drinks.

Allsup: Yeah.

[Cheers and bottoms up, y’all.]

Gracey: Well, I guess everybody’s gonna miss the parade over in Turkey!

Nelson: Will they be selling booze over there (at the Playboys concert outside in the daytime)?

Allsup: Yeah, there’ll be bootleggers over there.

Nelson: That part of Texas is getting better.

Allsup: Yeah, but Paris is still dry – you’ve got to go across the river to Hugo, Oklahoma to get a beer. Paris is a pretty big town, too. When you go to a bar in Oklahoma or Missouri all you can get is 3.2. You can buy regular beer warm, but you can’t buy cold regular beer in a bar.

Tommy Allsup Red Cap AleNelson: Yeah, I was livin’ in Oklahoma when it went wet in ’59…

Allsup: You could buy whiskey cheaper from bootleggers before it went wet. You could buy a fifth for five bucks.

Nelson: Every town in Oklahoma had a…you looked in the phone book under “moving van” or something and there was a particular way they worded it so you could tell they were bootleggers.

Allsup: And they’d deliver it right to your fucking door.

Nelson: It was great for minors. We used to drink Red Cap Ale. I haven’t seen that shit in years.

Allsup: (yells) Hey, Smoky! [greeting Playboys drummer Smoky Dacus, downstairs in the parking lot, fixing to leave for the big show in Turkey]

Nelson: What was Buddy Holly like when he began to get famous?

Allsup: He was pretty common, hadn’t gotten the star-itis too heavily. He hated [n-word deleted] and…

Nelson: He carried guns, too, I’ve heard…

Allsup: Yeah! Shitchyeah, boy. Seems like every damn tour we went on there would be 18 acts and we would be the only white act.

Nelson: I heard that about Eddie Cochran, too.

Tommy Allsup buddy-holly-little-richard
Buddy Holly and Little Richard backstage.

Allsup: Yeah, he and Buddy were real close. They were bad back east, man. Those groups hated us, because even then…well, one time we went into Norfolk, Virginia in October of 1958 and they still couldn’t stay in a white hotel. There were about six white acts and the bus would drop them off and take the black acts to across the tracks to some old funky-ass place. Goddam, I don’t blame them for bein’ pissed off. Boy, they really hated us.

The good groups we got along with were like Little Richard – he was great – and Fats Domino, but it was them asshole groups like Little Anthony & The Imperials or The Olympics. The Coasters were good – a couple of them were from Texas.

And LaVern Baker – she was a bitch. She took Paul Anka’s clothes off him one night in Chicago and covered him with Vaseline, then popped a pillow and she put feathers all over him and locked him out in the hallway.

Gracey: And why would he allow her to do that?

Allsup: Well, he was just a little bitty 15-16-year-old kid. He was still chasin’ fire trucks around (Allsup is 44, by the way). Baltimore, ’58.

See, Holly’s career was only like a year and a half. Most people forget – “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” hit in the winter of ’57, around November, and he was killed in February of ’59.

In ’58 I went out to Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, it was about springtime, to do some sessions. Holly’d had about four releases. Petty said to me, “I want you to stay over this weekend – Buddy’s comin’ in.” So tommy allsup buddy-holly-heartbeat-its-so-easy-xxxx58that’s when we cut “It’s So Easy” and “Heartbeat.”

And I had a solo on one of ‘em, so Holly says, “Shiyit, we’re fixin’ to go on tour in May – it’s going to be a show-dance tour up in the Midwest – why don’t you [and your band] go along with us?” So that was the first tour I made.

That’s when Earl Sinks went along to sing because we had the two bands. We had a bunch of musicians out of Oklahoma City ‘cause we played dances and had a show, too, which Holly liked to do.

Boy, there were some nice places to play in Iowa – those big ballrooms – some of them could hold seven or eight thousand people.

Peeples: And they were charging a dollar and a half or two dollars?

Allsup: Yeah, about that. We were getting about $2,000 a night, maybe $2,500. The Everlys were getting $2,500, and that was about top…

Leon Rausch: (sticks his head in the door and does a quick soft-shoe) [to the tune of “Camptown Races”] Oh, the truck’s gassed up and the beer’s iced down, doo-dah, doo-dah!

Allsup: Here, Leon, take these strings and put ‘em on your gui-tar.

Gracey: What’s he need a guitar for?

Allsup: Leon’s a hell of a guitar player – he’s played guitar with Johnny Lee Wills…

Rausch: That’s what Bob used to say – “Leon’s a hell of a guitar player!” (makes a sour, constipated facial expression). I fought Ben Garcia on that damn bandstand for a spot.

Allsup: Whatever happened to ol’ Benny?

Rausch: He never did get famous like me or you. He was playin’ in a jazz joint in Oklahoma last time I saw him, and he was playin’ his ol’ brown ass off, too!

Allsup: Yeah, he could do that – he was a good player, man.

Gracey: Roy Buchanan told me he never changes his strings – he likes them old and shitty.

Allsup: I do, too. Yeah, I had a set of real thin and light strings and I had to get rid of them. They’re not good for playin’ rhythm.

Gracey: You’re gonna be the guitar player out there this afternoon, because [legendary Playboy guitar player Eldon] Shamblin ain’t here?

Allsup: I guess…

Peeples: Is Bob Kaiser going to play today?

Allsup: Yeah, playin’ bass. He was Leon’s old guitar player [former Texas Playboy Leon McAuliffe and his Cimarron Boys]. Good player, man. I sure wish he’d brought his guitar – he has the funkiest old guitar. It’s an ol’ Epiphone with one pickup and it’s faded and washed out blond and gold. He played it on “Austin City Limits” [taped in late 1975 and aired January 3, 1976; see clip below]. It’s paper-thin and real light. Goddamn, it’s a good guitar. It’s as easy to play as this Fender Tele. It feels good and it’s just the right size.

Gracey: Didn’t you tell me they got Waylon in the [Crickets] because Holly said all the girls in Lubbock loved his ass?

Allsup: Yeah.

Gracey: What was he doin’ before Holly picked him up?

Waylon Jennings killin’ ’em on KLLL in 1958.

Allsup: Disc jockeying. At that time he was at a little old station out near Lubbock. We had done a session with him and King Curtis, who had come to Clovis. That’s when we cut Joe LeGrande and some other stuff Buddy produced. And then I didn’t see Waylon until we left on that tour in May of ’58.

Rausch: Who wants to go eat breakfast? (Apes up to the tape recorder sitting on the bed.) Is that mutha-fuckin’ thang own? Is it? Testing!

Gracey: Say hello to your pubic.

Allsup: New Year’s Eve ’58 – we had about six weeks off. I had a western band in Odessa at a club – it was a strip joint. I forget what it was called but they changed it to the Silver Saddle. Moon (Mullican) had gone down there to the club and was working with me and with these guys in my band who were from Oklahoma. And so New Year’s Eve Holly came down, him and a guy named Ray Rice, who was a background singer with a group called Rose – they backed up Holly on most of his stuff vocally. And Holly played drums with us that night. He was a pretty good drummer. Ours had gotten fucked up or something. Holly sat in the better part of the night. He didn’t tell anybody who he was, nobody ever knew. He was a good guy, man.

He was kinda doin’ country stuff when we first started. But when he saw Elvis he really changed. He saw Elvis, Scott and Bill at the Cotton Club in Lubbock.

tommy allsup buddy-holly-in-the-hills-coverNelson: Yeah, that whole album “Holly in the Hills” is pretty country.

Allsup: Well, they overdubbed that.

Nelson: If you look at his stuff today it was pretty country. Eddie Cochran did a lot of country stuff, too.

Allsup: Did you hear those things that Cochran did on “Milk Cow Blues”? He did all the instrumentation. They had him and a bass player. I was working for Liberty in ’60 – and with Jerry Allison at the drums. He did all the guitar parts, redid the bass parts. Some pretty punchy stuff, man. Lenny Waronker did it – it was his first assignment as an A&R man. He was 16. His father owned part of Liberty then so it was his first project.

Gracey: Was Cochran dead already?

Allsup: Yeah, this was about ’61 or ’62.

Gracey: They just went ahead and put it out. What [other] kind of rock ‘n’ roll did you work with?

Allsup: I did all the early Bobby Vee stuff, Johnny Burnette, Timi Yuro, Jan & Dean…

tommy allsup bobby vee cricketsNelson: Were you responsible for the Bobby Vee and The Crickets album?

Allsup: Yeah, I played on it, but I wasn’t responsible. J.I. – Jerry Allison and I think Sonny [Curtis] was on it. Glenn D. Hardin may have been. There was some good stuff on that album.

Nelson: I used to have that album – bought it back then. But I’ve lost a lot of old records.

Allsup: When we cut that I wasn’t workin’ with The Crickets – they were still travelin’, though. It might have been Jerry Naylor singin’ with ‘em. Sonny and Jerry Allison and Glenn D. Harding and Jerry Naylor.

After Holly got killed, Waylon did a lot of singing until we finished that tour – the kids really dug him.

Nelson: Yeah, I kinda think Holly could still be around – he could’ve gone country really easily like a lot of those people had to in the early ‘60s.

Allsup: Yeah, I think he could still be around. If you stop and look at his songs, they’re real good songs. They appeal to everybody.

tommy allsup paul mccartney linda mccartney
Buddy Holly fans Paul and Linda McCartney.

His dad and some of his brothers may be here. I ran into one of them last year over in Turkey.

Somebody: Was Buddy Holly his real name?

Allsup: Yeah, that was his real name.

Nelson: I wonder why ol’ Norman Petty sold all that (Holly publishing) stuff to Paul McCartney…he bought all of Holly’s catalog.

Allsup: Petty got healthy off all that. Everything Holly and the Crickets did was published through Petty.

Nelson: Isn’t McCartney responsible for those $70 release sets?

Allsup: Yeah.

Gracey: Who owns the cuts?

tommy allsup buddy holly blue days black nights labelAllsup: MCA owns them. They were on Coral and Brunswick, which at that time were owned by Decca. Holly was on Coral and the Crickets were on Brunswick.

Gracey: They wouldn’t take Holly at first…

Allsup: Decca had dropped Buddy as a solo artist. He was on Decca and had “Blue Days and Black Nights” and then they dropped him.

So then [Petty] sent this tape up there with this group and Norman told Glenn it was The Crickets, and they picked it up. The tape was “That’ll Be the Day.”

Then they found out the lead singer was Buddy Holly. So for “Peggy Sue,” instead of putting that out as The Crickets, they put it out as Buddy Holly on Coral, and it was a big hit.

Then they put out another Crickets record, “Oh, Boy,” and all three of them were on the Billboard Top 10 at the same time. I think it was 1, 3 and 7 or 1, 3 and 5 or something like that. And that all happened in like a period of two months.

Nelson: It was really funny because it all seemed so exciting then, and like just a little more than a year later it was just all washed up.

Allsup: Yeah, the whole sound of rock ‘n’ roll changed.

Nelson: I didn’t even listen to it after that, except for a little country music, between ’60 and ’65.

Allsup: And that started to get shitty – they started to use strings and background singers. Groups just kind of phased out.

tommy allsup bobby vee beatles britishNelson: You had all that stuff on the radio, like “A Thousand Stars in the Sky.” All that manufactured stuff – all that Philadelphia stuff. But if you went out, you heard a rock ‘n’ roll band doin’ “Ooh-Poo-Pa-Doo” and “Money” and all that standard stuff that you never heard on the radio. It was like two different worlds. It’s really weird how they were able to do that as long as they did.

I think that’s why The Beatles were so successful – they just came back sellin’ the same shit. They did all the old songs.

Allsup: They – The Beatles – were Bobby Vee’s backup band in England for a year or two. I used to tell Snuffy [Garrett], “You oughtta hear the band that’s backin’ up over here, boy, they’re really good.” Snuffy went over there and checked them out and said, “Well, shit, they’re not selling.” He was producing at Liberty then, too. Snuff Garrett passed on it.

Also, Bobby Vee’s little brother had a band in Fargo, North Dakota, and Bob Dylan was the piano player. (Elston Gunn, then.) Bobby used to tell Snuff, he said, “Boy, this weirdo piana player has really got some funky songs,” and Snuff said, “They ain’t worth a shit!” (Everybody in Allsup’s room cracks up.) But you know, if he’d-a done them they might not have even struck. He may have gone and put strings all over them or something.

Nelson: I’ll bet that was one time to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Allsup: It was really an experience for me, man, because I didn’t even know what rock ‘n’ roll was. I came from the Southern Club in Lawton, Oklahoma and rode with Buddy on a tour. Right out of a western band into a rock ‘n’ roll band. I was playin’ the same stuff I’d always played – I didn’t change nothin’.

Gracey: Ol’ Holly was playing them package shows, buncha bands onstage, five bands…

tommy allsup paul anka fans
Between chasing firetrucks and being LaVern Baker’s Vaseline boy, Paul Anka was a girl magnet on the late ’50s rock ‘n’ roll package tours.

Allsup: Yeah, that’s what it was. Shit, there would be 18 acts. GAC package tours. That last tour Holly had broken off from Petty, who was his manager for a while, and hired Irving Fell. Irving was president of GAC and he was Paul Anka’s manager, which would have been good for Holly. Fell worked with us on that tour we were on for about two weeks. We were getting set to go to Europe and England for four weeks after that tour was supposed to end. Fell had really done a number with Paul Anka…

Gracey: He made girls cream in their jeans…

Allsup: He worked with Anka for two years and had him retired.

Nelson: The biggest fake of all was Fabian – I don’t know how he got by.

Allsup: Yeah, we worked with him on his first tour, man. Me and Jerry Allison and Joe backed him up. They always used a big band to back him up – 17 or 18 pieces. He’d worked with us a couple of nights and we backed him up on “Hound Dog” and “Paper Tiger” or whatever that song was. You’d hit him a C and he’d come in on an A-flat. He wouldn’t even come in on a key that sounded relative — it wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d-a come in on a G or an F or an A-minor or something close, even. But the sumbitch would come in with a completely unrelated chord.

tommy allsup frankie avalon fabian pool
Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte.

Gracey: That’s when they figured they could sell anything.

Allsup: They did it just as a hype, those two guys from Philadelphia who were managing Frankie Avalon. Fabian had those one or two hits, and when they brought him into the auditorium, they have 20 cops surround him – that was the first thing. Then they’d bring him in the front door and march him down the aisles full of kids and just build the kids into hysterics.

Those guys were smart. Fabian would get up onstage and they’d be hollering so loud you couldn’t hear nothin’ – he was just going through the motions anyway. It didn’t matter if he could sing or not. He was a good kid – he just didn’t know what was happening.

Ol’ Avalon – he was a good kid back then. Real easy to get along with. But Avalon was a good musician. When he’d cut all those things by age 16 he was already considered some kind of child prodigy on the trumpet. He had the trumpet mastered and he could play the shit outta jazz or any kind of score that you could put in front of him.

I heard him at a jam session one time in Philadelphia, and the guys in the band was playin,’ and he surprised the shit outta everybody when he broke out his trumpet.

Fabian had only the one hit, and he had an album out that was terrible. Those managers just wanted to prove you could just jerk a kid off the street and make him a star. Fabian turned into a pretty good actor. He was just a kid then, but he turned into a pretty good man.

*  *  *  *  *

With that, the scribes wrapped up their Tommy Allsup interview session and piled into assorted trucks and cars for the 45-minute drive west to Turkey for the big afternoon show. We’ll save that story for another post. – SKP

Tommy Allsup Bob Wills Day

Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples began his career writing about music and pop culture for Cash Box, the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly, Circus, Picking Up the Tempo, Modern Recording, Performance, Rocky Mountain Musical Express, Rock Around the World and other publications from 1975-1977. He is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), a veteran record industry media relations executive (Capitol Records, Elektra/Asylum Records, Westwood One, Rhino Entertainment, 1977-1998) and website content manager (Warner New Media, 1998-2001). Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for the Westwood One Radio Network from 1988-1990. He was music and entertainment features writer/columnist for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal (2004-2011), and The Signal’s award-winning online editor (2007-2011). He wrote news and features for Santa Clarita’s KHTS-AM 1220 News ( and (2011-2016), and hosted, wrote and co-produced the WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview show on SCV community TV station SCVTV (2010-2015). Peeples was also Vice President/New Media & Editorial with Los Angeles-based multimedia pop culture company Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. (2010-2016). In 2015, he co-founded Pet Me Happy Treats and created an all-natural treat for dogs. For more information, email skp (at) or visit

Article: Tommy Allsup on Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Bob Wills, Texas Playboys
Category: News and ReviewsBlasts from the Past
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: