Jerry Allison (drums; born August 31, 1938), Sonny Curtis (guitar; born May 9, 1937), Joe B. Mauldin (bass; born July 8, 1939), Niki Sullivan (guitar; born June 23, 1937, died April 6, 2004)
The Crickets were Buddy Holly’s group from 1956 to 1958, contributing significantly to his sound and success. As a self-contained group that wrote their own songs, Buddy Holly and the Crickets served to inspire a torrent of bands that followed in the Sixties, including the Beatles and the Hollies. Their two-guitar, bass and drums lineup would become a virtual blueprint for rock bands. During this period, Holly was one of rock and roll’s hottest stars and main innovators. In fact, he appears to be a member of the Crickets himself on the cover of his first album, which is credited to the “Chirping” Crickets.
Although there’s no question that Holly was the central figure – lead singer, lead guitarist and chief songwriter – the Crickets contributed significantly to Holly’s sound and success. They provided musical accompaniment in the country-tinged rockabilly style – or “western and bop,” as Holly termed it in his early days – that made them rock and roll pioneers. Moreover, Holly committed to an all-for-one approach with his group. As bassist Joe B. Mauldin told biographers John Goldrosen and John Beecher: “Other stars kept their musicians on salary but Buddy said, ‘No, man – share and share alike. You’re as much a part of this group as I am. If it wasn’t for you guys, I couldn’t perform the show that I put on.’”
Holly’s first collaborator was Bob Montgomery, with whom he formed the country & western duo “Buddy and Bob” in 1954. They performed regularly on Lubbock radio station KDAV and opened for acts that came through town. These included Mary Robbins, Porter Wagoner and Elvis Presley, who inspired Holly to adopt a rockabilly sound. Presley’s performance at the Lubbock Youth Center hastened Holly’s conversion from country & western to rock and roll. “We owe it all to Elvis,” Holly later remarked. Inspired by Presley, Buddy and Bob added a rhythm section that consisted of two high-school classmates, bassist Larry Welborn and drummer Jerry Allison.
When a talent scout offered Holly a contract with Decca Records that year, he assembled a group that resembled Presley’s. Holly himself sang and played guitar. He was joined by Curtis and Guess (calling themselves Buddy Holly and the Two-Tones). Drummer Jerry Allison completed the group. Curtis was a proficient guitarist in the style of Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore (Presley’s guitarist). Allison shared Holly’s love of rhythm & blues and rockabilly. They all knew each other from having attended the same schools in Lubbock. This lineup cut Holly’s first recordings in Nashville. Although no hits resulted, their three Nashvillerecordings yielded such classics as “Midnight Shift,” the Curtis-penned “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” and an early version of “That’ll Be the Day.”
By early 1957 both Guess and Curtis had left, with Curtis attributing his departure to the fact that “we weren’t making any money.” In addition, he saw himself as a lead guitarist, and with Holly filling that role himself, Curtis was relegated to playing rhythm. For a spell in late 1956 and early 1957, Holly and Allison performed in Lubbock as a guitar-and-drums duo, which further tightened them musically. Holly’s mother recalled that “Jerry’s drums sat in the living room for the longest time. They were almost part of the furniture.” Allison told writers John Beecher and Malcolm Jones: “Buddy’s guitar playing influenced my drumming more than anything else... because I learned to play drums with what Buddy played. We played together so much because we used to just sit around and rehearse for no reason, just to be playing.”
In late 1956, Holly visited producer Norman Petty at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty urged Holly to form a band before returning to cut demos. Another Lubbock native, Niki Sullivan, joined them as rhythm guitarist. Like Holly, he loved rhythm & blues and country & western, and he proved well-suited to Holly’s Southwestern hybrid of those forms. They needed a bassist for recording purposes, and Holly turned to Larry Welborn, with whom he had played in the “Buddy and Bob” days.
It was Holly, Allison, Sullivan and Welborn who cut the definitive version of “That’ll Be the Day” at Petty’s studio in the early morning hours of February 25, 1957. “That’ll Be the Day” was issued on the Brunswick label and credited to the Crickets. Holly employed this group identity as a hedge against legal action from Decca Records, from which he had not yet received a formal release. A&R man Bob Thiele signed Holly to Brunswick – ironically, a Decca subsidiary – and ”That’ll Be the Day” was finally released five months after its recording. Holly also issued records on the Coral label, another Decca subsidiary. The terms of Holly's arrangement with those two labels, negotiated by producer/manager Petty, were rather unusual. Releases alternated on Coral and Brunswick, and were credited to Buddy Holly on the former label and to the Crickets on the latter.
The inspiration for their name the Crickets was a New Orleans group called the Spiders, whose single “Witchcraft” they liked. Bassist Mauldin told writer Bill Dahl that they perused a list of insects. “Ah, Crickets! They chirp and all that stuff....Yeah, we’ll be the Crickets!,” he recalled them saying.
After the initial recording session with Petty in Clovis, 16-year-old Joe B. Mauldin joined the Crickets on bass (replacing Welborn, who’d been a temporary addition). Mauldin, who was still attending high school in Lubbock, had previously played with the Four Teens of Lubbock. As Holly’s backup musicians, the Crickets were always rather fluid, but the most stable lineup occurred in 1957 during the period between Mauldin’s arrival and Sullivan’s departure. It was the definitive foursome of Holly, Sullivan, Mauldin and Allison who were pictured on the cover of The “Chirping” Crickets, Holly’s first album.
Over the course of a charmed year, from August 1957 to August 1958, Buddy Holly and the Crickets charted seven Top 40 singles. In August 1957, “That’ll Be the Day” – finally issued as a single, five months after its recording – entered the charts, hitting Number One for a week on September 23. Buddy Holly and the Crickets became bona fide rock and roll stars, and other hits – including “Peggy Sue” (named for Allison’s girlfriend), “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Rave On” – followed in their Texas-stamped rockabilly style.
Exhausted from touring, Sullivan left the Crickets at the end of 1957. Holly, Mauldin and Allison carried on as a trio for several months. Tommy Allsup, a guitarist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who Holly met at Petty’s studio, joined in the summer of 1958, recording such classics as “Love’s Made a Fool of You” and “It’s So Easy” with Holly and the Crickets.
In August 1958, Holly married Maria Elena Santiago, having proposed to her on their first date in June. In October 1958, Holly began severing ties with Petty, who’d served not only as his producer but also his publisher and manager. He also parted ways with the Crickets, who chose to remain in Texas and stay with Petty. Returning to New York to live with Marie Elena in their Greenwich Village apartment, Holly planned to continue as a solo artist.
“We were in Clovis, and Buddy told Norman he was going to New York,” Allison recalled in a 2005 Goldmine interview with Lee Zimmerman. “Buddy said, ‘You guys go on and play as the Crickets and I’ll perform as Buddy Holly.’ We weren’t mad at each other whatsoever, although our feelings were hurt.”
Tragically, Holly died a few months later in the February 3, 1959, small-plane crash that also killed pioneering Mexican-American rock and roller Ritchie Valens (who was only 17) and disk jockey-turned- singer J.P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper). Holly had recruited guitarist Allsup, drummer Carl Bunch and Waylon Jennings on bass as his backing band for the ill-fated Winter Dance Party tour.
Ironically, on the very evening Holly died, three of the Crickets – Allison, Mauldin and original guitarist Curtis – had gathered at Allison’s house, discussing the split with Holly and deciding to contact him to clear the air and possibly reunite. They never had that opportunity.
That night, guitarist Allsup flipped a coin with Valens to see who would get the remaining seat on the plane. Valens won and sadly became one of the casualties. Two decades later, in 1979, Allsup opened a club in Fort Worth, Texas, called Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon – an acknowledgement of his good fortune in losing that fateful coin toss. After his time with Holly, Allsup also worked with the likes of Roy Orbison, Bob Wills and Willie Nelson.
In the years following Holly’s death, the Crickets carried on as a band. The Crickets’ post-Holly recordings for the Coral label were issued in 1960 as In Style With the Crickets. This edition of the band included Allison, Mauldin, Curtis and vocalist Earl Sinks. Allison, Mauldin and Curtis also backed the Everly Brothers on tour in 1959-1960. From there, they moved to the Los Angeles--based Liberty Records, where a few Crickets singles – “He’s Old Enough to Know Better” (1961) and “My Little Girl” (1963) – were minor hits. Their early-Sixties long players included Bobby Vee Meets the Crickets (1962), Some Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Else!!! (1963) and California Sun (1964). This Crickets lineup comprised Allison, Curtis, keyboardist Glen D. Hardin (who later played with Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris) and bassist Jerry Naylor.
Allison, Curtis and fellow Holly alumnus Tommy Allsup also did session work for such fellow Liberty artists as Johnny Burnette, Bobby Vee and Eddie Cochran. Bassist Mauldin became a recording engineer at L.A.’s famed Gold Star Studios, working with such legends as Phil Spector, Leon Russell and Herb Alpert. Guitarist Curtis also played with Slim Whitman and the Everly Brothers and had a successful career as a songwriter and composer of commercial jingles. He wrote the classic “I Fought the Law,” a hit for the Bobby Fuller Four, and along with Jerry Allison cowrote “More Than I Can Say,” which became a hit for Bobby Vee in 1961 and Leo Sayer in 1980. Both songs originally appeared on In Style With the Crickets. That album also included their version of Holly’s ”Love’s Made a Fool of You,” which made the U.K. charts in 1959.
The Crickets made several more albums in the Seventies. Rockin’ 50’s Rock ‘N’ Roll, released in 1971 on the Barnaby label, found the trio of Allison, Mauldin and Curtis remaking hits from their days with Holly. It was followed by Remnants (1973) and Long Way from Lubbock (1975), which found the Crickets joined by British musicians Albert Lee on guitar and Ric Grech on bass. In 1978, four original Crickets – Allison, Mauldin, Sullivan and Curtis – performed together at a Buddy Holly fan-club convention.
In 1988, they released Three Piece in the U.K. on the independent Rollercoaster label. It was retitled T-Shirt when and given a worldwide release on the Columbia label a year later. Paul McCartney, one of the most steadfast fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, produced the title track. Too Much Monday Morning came in 1997. In 2004, the three core Crickets – Allison, Mauldin and Curtis – recorded The Crickets and Their Buddies with a diverse array of guest artists that included Eric Clapton, Graham Nash (formerly of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash), Phil Everly, Waylon Jennings (with whom they toured in the Seventies), Bobby Vee and Nanci Griffith.
Various tribute albums and re-releases have appeared over the years. A tribute album titled Not Fade Away: Remembering Buddy Holly, featuring an array of country, folk and roots-rock artists, was released in 1995. In 2009 came Not Fade Away: The Complete Recordings and More, a six-disc box set that updated and superceded 1981’s The Complete Buddy Holly. Released in 2011, Rave On Buddy Holly consisted of Holly covers by contemporary alternative rockers – a potent demonstration of the continued relevance of Buddy Holly and the Crickets in the world of rock and roll.