January 17th, 2009 | Interviews

Stream: The Crickets “Oh Boy”


(from The Chirping Crickets)

Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan and Buddy Holly were the chirping Crickets in 1957 and made Texas the heart of rock ‘n’ roll for too few years. After Buddy’s death, the Crickets continued on and will be performing a special fiftieth-anniversary set at the NAMM show in Anaheim tonight. Allison speaks now from Nashville, where he is preparing for the release of the new The Crickets And Their Buddies album. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

Did the Lubbock paper really print a photo of the Crickets playing and then bar out the eyes of all the audience members so they couldn’t be identified?
That’s true! I wish I had a picture of that. It’s funny. It’s like Confidential magazine—for libel or something, they blacked their eyes out to disguise ‘em. I remember part of that article, actually. It said, ‘Three young musicians frantically belabor “Hound Dog.”’ And ‘teens are out of control.’ Rock ‘n’ roll was just not sort of liked. It didn’t make any difference! ‘Teens do the dirty-bop while three young musicians frantically belabor “Hound Dog.”” Probably ‘56—maybe ’55.
Why were they so threatened?
I can’t imagine! It made people act like they weren’t suppose to act or something.
Did Buddy carry a gun on the first tour?
Oh, yeah—in Texas—I carry a knife still, for cleaning my fingernails or whatever. So carrying a gun wasn’t a big deal. And he did. I think he pulled it on some guys one time. This was a bus tour but by that time we had a station wagon and a trailer. I think Buddy was driving a Lincoln or something. These guys pulled up behind him—like the local toughs—and said, ‘You can’t get out!’ And Buddy just pointed the gun at ‘em and said, ‘OK! Just sit there as long as you want to.’ And those guys backed up real fast! There was some silly stuff like that. Usually there’s somebody around to calm it down before it gets out of hand. It was pretty Wild West! Actually Joe B. and I were in New York one time—this was after Buddy was killed—and we had .25 automatics. We both had the same type of gun. But I had one in my briefcase.
What else was in there?
Just like photos—in case any business came up, which seldom did. Anyway we had some cash money. We were staying somewhere pretty spiffy and they got suspicious—what are these young kids—because we were probably 17 or 18—what are they doing with this money? So the police came up and said, ‘What’s your deal?’ ‘Well, we’re the Crickets.’ And they said, ‘Oh, really?’ By that time we’d done the Ed Sullivan show—‘No kiddin’, you knew Buddy Holly?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Oh, great! Do you have any pictures?’ And I opened my briefcase where the pictures were, and I gave ‘em a picture and signed it, and my gun was just laying there and I didn’t know at the time—that’s just totally—you can’t even go turn one in it’s so illegal! You just had to go throw it in the river or something. But those guys didn’t say anything. And someone later was like, ‘Man, they coulda put you in jail immediately!’ But anyway, Buddy having a gun wasn’t a big deal.
Tell me about the two-piece Crickets—you and Buddy at the Lubbock roller rink?
We played most of the time a three or four hour dance.
Wouldn’t that be like eighty songs?
Probably. We didn’t repeat very much. That’s sort of when we wrote ‘That’ll Be The Day’ and some of those songs, so we’d have more rock ‘n’ roll songs to play for the kids to dance to. We did Bill Haley songs, Chuck Berry of course, Little Richard—Buddy sorta tried to play the Bill Haley sax riffs on the guitar. A lot of ‘em we played were new for people to hear. We’d listen to the radio from Shreveport—we’d find far-off stations. Del Rio, Texas, seems like.
Wolfman Jack?
Exactly. There wasn’t much local rock ‘n’ roll in Lubbock at the time.
And you had to go park out on a hill to pick it up?
It’d be a lot better if you got the right place! It was all AM then, of course.
I have a recording of ‘Rip It Up’ from 1956—is that from the roller rink?
That’s just the sort of thing we’d play at the dance. I’ve heard that tape—not too lately. Universal Music used to be Brunswick and used to be Coral—anyway, they’re putting out a memorial album end of January which sort of got everything on it. ‘Rip It Up’ is one of those and that’s definitely that era. That’s the kind of thing we’d play. The garage kind of stuff—Joe B. played some of that and a fella named Larry Wellburn. A fella named Bobby Peoples had a recording studio in Lubbock—we weren’t paying much attention; we were just having a good time—but some of that Bobby Peoples would bring a portable recorder and record in the garage or wherever we happened to be practicing.
You backed up so many people—who was the hardest to keep up with?
For me it was Jerry Lee Lewis. We knew his stuff very well, but Jerry Lee was subject to stop or speed up a little bit—that’s why his show was so good. He was spontaneous. In later years, I had trouble playing with Willie Nelson because he phrases so funny. I love his stuff, but it’s hard for me to play drums with.
Weren’t you neighbors with Dennis Wilson when you lived at the Sycamore Riviera in L.A.?
It was that era. Lou Adler lived there at the same time. Just an apartment building. Had a pool. On Sycamore Street, probably two or three blocks from Graumann’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. I think Bobby Fuller died in front of the Sycamore Riviera! I don’t have all the facts on that. We were hanging out and playing with the Everly Brothers during that time—musta been ’62, ‘63—Glen D. Hardin also lived there for a spell. We were touring the Midwest at the time with a rental car and a U-Haul trailer, and we’d drive from the Sycamore Riviera to Sioux Falls, North Dakota to start a tour. It’s a long way!
What was the very first Crickets’ tour?
The first tour we did in ’57 when ‘That’ll Be The Day’ came out—a fella named Irving Feld—‘The Super Show Of Stars For 1957’ is I believe what they called the tour, and it was fantastic. We were booked for seventeen weeks. I think we had four days off. One time we had two days off so we went back to Lubbock. But otherwise—you know, we’d play dice.
Was Chuck Berry good at craps?
I don’t know—I know Fats Domino used to play, and the Drifters. There was a fourteen-piece back-up band from the big-band era. There was probably twenty acts on the tour. A lot of times Chuck Berry would have his own car, or Fats Domino would, but the majority of us rode in two buses—like Greyhound buses with just seats, not tour buses.
How did you ever sleep?
Oh—I think most of the time you’d pass out. But it was great fun! We were fans of everybody on the show. The Everly Brothers were on the show—Buddy Knox—those guys had sort of made it. We were booked for the whole thing but these guys would do some of the shows and go off and come back. It was a great time!
Was this the tour where they didn’t know you were white until you showed up in person?
That’s true! The first three weeks of that tour—we did a week at the Howard in Washington and the Royal in Baltimore. Actually there’d been a black group called the Crickets. A lot of those guys became the Cadillacs. But we were booked in black hotels. And we played a week at the Apollo in New York. And it was great! Our records had done better in the rhythm and blues charts than they had in the pop charts.
Did you play any segregated shows?
It was ridiculous! The bus tour we did in ‘57—I think it sorta straightened up and got a little more sane after that, but we actually did play a couple places that had curtains down the middle. Like black folks on one side and white folks on the other side. In fact, we got a couple days off because there was laws somewhere in the south that would not allow black and white artists on the same stage. Everybody had a strange feeling—like, ‘What is this?’ Lubbock is sorta southern but nothing that extreme. We went to places in the south where the water fountains would say WHITE and COLORED. That almost seems like movie stuff but it was actually happening in the fifties.
What do you think of the Buddy Holly movies?
We went to see where Gary Busey played Buddy—it really hurts your feelings when there’s nobody involved in that movie who had any idea what went on. We didn’t have road managers. Most of the time when we toured it was just Buddy and Joe B. and myself, and we were just out there. In the first place, they called Joe B. ‘Ray Bob’ and they called me ‘Jesse.’ They didn’t have the rights to our name and likeness, and so they just changed it. Actually you can’t do that—but Joe B. and I suing Columbia Pictures was a bit of a joke at the time, so it just happened. But there’s a good side to everything. Like that regenerated interest in the music and made record sales better, and a lot of people became familiar with Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
There’s an idea that the Crickets created the modern rock ‘n’ roll band—bass, rhythm, lead, drums, back-up vocals and original songs. Do you think there’s any truth to that?
There is some. We did it a little differently than other people. Paul McCartney actually said that if it weren’t for the Crickets, there wouldn’t be any Beatles. And Keith Richards said that about the Stones. That’s a nice compliment! But our old friend Buddy Knox from Texas—he and Jimmy Bowen had a band called the Rhythm Orchids, and they wrote ‘Party Doll’ and ‘I’m Stickin’ With You,’ and they actually recorded in Clovis. We were the Crickets, which were a band, and Buddy Knox was sort of a star and a band, which Buddy Holly and the Crickets turned into—but they sort of did the same thing. It’s nice that people say we’re the first. I’ve also read that we were the first ones to overdub, but Les Paul and Mary Ford were doing that way before we started playing!
Do you still have the thank-you note the Beatles sent you?
I do. I had it hanging on the wall for a good while but I noticed it was fading out. Someone said, ‘Man, you got to put that in acid-proof paper!’ and all that.
How did it feel when Rolling Stone ranked you the #3 drummer of all time?
It made me feel great, especially being with the likes of Charlie Watts and Keith Moon. I appreciated it—a very nice honor. Charlie Watts I’ve met—I never did get to meet Keith Moon.
The drum pattern on ‘Peggy Sue’ is a paradiddle, isn’t it?
It is. Single paradiddle. There’s a record out in ’54 or ’55 by J.P. Morgan called ‘That’s All I Want From You.’ I always liked that record. And in those days, if you paid 75 cents for it, you listened to both sides. And the back side of that record was ‘Dawn’—‘Dawn is breaking high in the blue…’—and way back in the background was a tympani playing single strokes. Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo… And I thought, ‘Well, that’s fun!’ And that just seemed to fit. Buddy had started writing it with a cha-cha—a Latin beat. And I thought of that ‘Dawn’ deal and played paradiddles, which is just a practice rudiment. I started playing in school band in fifth or sixth grade. And took lessons in junior high from the band director who was a drummer.
Do you think that Jerry Lee’s marriage scandal ended the first era of rock ‘n’ roll?
We were sort of inside looking out. The fact Buddy Holly got killed, Eddie Cochran got killed—that was serious rockabilly there. Sonny actually played on his last recordings. But Jerry Lee—we were doing the Alan Freed tour in ’58 when Jerry Lee got married to Myra.
Did he keep it secret?
It was sort of a secret at the time. It was his bass player’s daughter, which is all weird. I rode from Chicago from the airport in a taxi with he and Myra, and I got back and was talking to Jerry Lee’s drummer, and I said, ‘Hey, man—is that Jerry Lee’s daughter? Or niece? What’s the deal?’ ‘Man, don’t say anything to anybody but that’s J.W.’s daughter—and they got married.’ I don’t think—that was his business. But in those days, the fact she was a bit younger—it’s kind of like the gun. It seems like a bigger deal than it was then. It was a strange occurrance, sort of, but it was his business as far as I was concerned. It had an effect on his career because in England they said, ‘Ok, the tour’s canceled!’
How did you chart in England when rock ‘n’ roll was banned from the BBC?
Bill Haley had been to England—people were having such a good time that they’d riot and kick chairs around. We were luckily one of the first bands. Jerry Lee hadn’t been there, the Everlys hadn’t been there, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry—and there was a station—they call it pirate-ship radio? Radio Luxembourg. And they played that stuff. The BBC by the time we got over there had sort of come around. Our stuff—everybody called it rock ‘n’ roll but it wasn’t any kind of off-color. It was kinda family-oriented. ‘Every day is getting closer’ or whatever. No protesting or anything.
So you charted off pirate radio?
I think so! That’s where it started.
Why do you think Buddy would have gone into producing?
He produced Waylon’s first record—Waylon Jennings. We’d been friends and Waylon had been playing around Lubbock for some time. Waylon was on Buddy’s last tour playing bass. And Buddy and Phil Everly produced a fellow in New York—Louie Giordano I believe was his name. But Buddy had a whole lot to do with producing the Crickets and Buddy Holly records. With ‘That’ll Be The Day,’ it was a demo—Buddy and I got the folks that sang with us and put it all together and when it got to be a hit, all of a sudden we didn’t produce it and someone else did. But the producer also has to do with getting the song on the market, so Norman Petty did that. Everyone does their part. But Buddy had really good ideas. It was a good combination.
Why did you and Buddy work so well together?
We got along good. And for some reason—we both liked country somewhat, and we liked rhythm and blues. We liked the same things. And it was a lot of fun. I still miss it. He’d run around on stage—he liked the way Carl Perkins played. He did Elvis for a little while there when Elvis was hot. But he quit that. You can see that on some of the records there—that ‘Well-uh well-uh’ deal. He’d actually do stuff—I remember in England, Joe B.’s bass was mic’ed. Probably two feet all. And Joe B. would lie down and play the bass. But Buddy was subject to get down and sing in Joe B.’s bass mic—it was kinda irregular! We were on sort of a variety show with a comedian and two girl singers. We have a friend in England and he was talking one time about ‘birdhousing.’ When peoples’ mouths fall open and they look like a bunch of birdhouses? People birdhoused a lot—‘What’s that?’
What’s your favorite rock ‘n’ roll 45?
Oh me, that’s a hard one! The first one I bought was ‘Goin’ To The River’ by Fats Domino. The Beatles were great. The Rolling Stones were great. Probably ‘Cathy’s Clown’ by the Everly Brothers. They’re my favorite singers. And I didn’t play on that either! Such a good record. Have you ever heard them sing ‘Kentucky’? It’s like a folk deal. It’s like one voice. It’s really good.