NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jerry Allison, an architect of rock drumming who played and co-wrote songs with childhood friend Buddy Holly and whose future wife inspired the classic “Peggy Sue,” has died. He was 82.
His death was confirmed Wednesday by a spokesperson for Gold Mountain Entertainment, which manages Holly’s one-time backing band The Crickets, of which Allison was the last surviving original member. Further details of his death were not immediately available.
Born in Hillsboro, Texas, Allison met Holly in junior high, and they started playing together in roller rinks and The Cotton Club in Lubbock in the early 1950s, predating the rise of rock music. The two wrote numerous hits together as teenagers, including “That’ll Be the Day,” inspired by a line from John Wayne in the classic Western “The Searchers.”
The Crickets, who also included Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan, broke through in 1957 with “That’ll Be the Day,” followed by “Oh, Boy!”, “Maybe Baby,” and other singles. Allison’s teenage girlfriend (Peggy Sue Gerron, whom he later married) was the namesake for “Peggy Sue,” which features Allison playing one of rock’s most celebrated drum parts — a rolling pattern called paradiddles.
“Peggy Sue” was covered by numerous artists, including John Lennon and the Beach Boys, and referenced in “Barbara Ann” and other songs. Holly followed with “Peggy Sue Got Married,” later the title of a Francis Coppola film starring Kathleen Turner as a woman who travels back in time.
The Crickets’ sound was often stripped down to rock ‘n’ roll basics: guitars, bass and drums behind Holly’s “hiccupping” vocals. But they also liked experimenting in the studio with multi-tracking and overdubbing and inspired generations of musicians, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion rockers. One band, the Hollies, named themselves after Holly.
Allison’s innovative work is also apparent on “Everyday,” where he ditches the drums and keeps time in the song by slapping his knees. On “Well... All Right,” Allison is drumming just on the cymbals.
But as its fame grew, the band stayed behind in Texas, while Holly moved to New York in 1958. In February 1959, Holly was killed at the age of 22 in a plane accident along with fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, also known at the Big Bopper. The tragedy inspired Don McLean’s 1972 hit “American Pie.”
After Holly’s death, The Crickets continued as a band to tour and record together for decades, including recording the first version of “I Fought The Law,” a Sonny Curtis tune that was a hit later for The Bobby Fuller Four. They backed the Everly Brothers and toured with Waylon Jennings, and they became well respected session players who worked with Bobby Vee, Eddie Cochran and Johnny Burnette.
The Crickets were voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, while Holly was inducted in 1986 in the first class of inductees. Sullivan died in 2004 and Mauldin died in 2014. Allison and Gerron eventually divorced. Gerron died in 2018.