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Tommy Allsup, former member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, dies at 85 (updated and corrected)

Guitarist Tommy Allsup played with Buddy Holley and the Crickets.
Guitarist Tommy Allsup played with Buddy Holley and the Crickets. Surf Ballroom

Correction: Mr. Allsup died in Springfield, Mo., according to The Associated Press. The site of his death was incorrect in the original version of this report.

Tommy Allsup, who was a Western swing musician for much of his career but also did a stint as the lead guitarist in Buddy Holly and the Crickets, died Wednesday, according to various reports. He was 85.

Mr. Allsup’s death was also announced on his own Facebook page.

According to Mr. Allsup’s Rockabilly Hall of Fame bio, Mr. Allsup began his musical career as a member of the Oklahoma Swingbillies in 1949 in Claremore, Okla. During the next few years he played in a variety of bands, including his own band, the Southernaires, a Lawton-based group that lasted from 1953 to 1958.

In 1958, Mr. Allsup met Holly during a trip to Clovis, N.M., home of producer Norman Petty’s studio, where Holly recorded. He began a stint as Holly’s lead guitarist in April 1958. In February ’59, Mr. Allsup lost a coin flip with Ritchie Valens over who would get a seat on the plane that eventually crashed and killed Valens, Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

According to a Lubbock Avalanche-Journal article, Mr. Allsup kept the coin. “It saved my life,” the article quotes him as telling music historian Bill Griggs. Mr. Allsup played in annual tribute concerts in Iowa on the anniversary of the crash, according to the article.

After Holly’s death, Mr. Allsup moved to California, where he became A&R director for Liberty Records, according to his Rockabilly Hall of Fame bio. His career as a producer included work with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Willie Nelson and others, as well as with such pop artists as Bobby Vee, Julie London and Vikki Carr (the El Paso-born singer performed on Wills’ LP Bob Wills Sings and Plays).

Mr. Allsup later moved to Nashville to head Metromedia Records, according to his bio. In 1972, he met Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson and produced the Western swing group’s first album for United Artist Records and went on to produce four Capitol Records albums for the group. He also produced five albums for Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys, as well as two with Western swing singing legend Leon Rausch. Mr. Allsup’s bio says he played guitar or bass on more than 6,500 recordings.

Mr. Allsup’s son, Austin Allsup, is a Fort Worth-based musician who is a former contestant on The Voice and is scheduled to play Jan. 21 at the Fort Worth Stock Show. A post on Austin Allsup’s Facebook page says his father “was born on his Cherokee mother’s allotment near Owasso, Oklahoma, the twelfth of thirteen children.”

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