Rock ’n’roll was born in the 1950s. The music that came out of that era laid a foundation for rock musicians to follow for years to come. Jerry Allison was one of those founding members of rock ’n’roll, coming to prominence with one of the top performers and acts of that decade, Buddy Holly & The Crickets. Jerry’s unique and innovative playing on songs like “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue” helped rocket Buddy Holly to the height of popularity. This interview reveals some interesting facts about the music scene of that era, and how it has changed. Jerry has been an active professional for many years, as a successful songwriter and drummer for many top performing acts. Most recently, he has been recording and touring with Waylon Jennings, who was also once an associate of Buddy Holly.
In view of the popularity of today’s rock music, it is difficult to imagine a time when rock ’n’roll was looked down upon by the general public. However, Jerry Allison’s youth was spent in Lubbock, Texas, where country music thrived and rock ’n’roll was shunned. Allison broke away from the country music influence that was all around him to play the new sound that created a new frontier for drumming rock ’n’ roll.
WFM: What first got you interested in music?
JA: Marching bands are really what first caught my attention. When I was a kid, I would go to football games, and I would be more interested in the band than I was with the game. I wanted to play drums like those people—loud. With that, I started playing in school bands and taking drum lessons in about the seventh grade. I started off on the snare drum like, I suppose, everybody does, except I enjoyed working on things like rudiments. I sort of picked those things up without too much difficulty. I had more trouble with the reading end of my lessons than the technical stuff.
WFM: Do you think the time spent on practicing rudiments was good for your playing?
JA: Definitely. Although I don’t practice them much anymore, they crop up in my playing all of the time. I think that working on those types of things is good for drummers.
WFM: When did you start playing the drumkit?
JA: I was about 13 when I got my first set. When I was 14, I got my first gig playing with Cal Wayne in a real country band. At that time, Lubbock, Texas, was in a dry county so I was lucky because I could play for people at an early age. If you are 14 today, the bar owners won’t let you past the front door to play because you’re underage.
WFM: Did playing at that early age teach you anything about performing?
JA: I don’t know if it taught me anything about performing, but I think that’s when I realized that drumming in a straight country act can get boring. I did enjoy the money, but it wasn’t much. The band would split the gate and I would end up with maybe five bucks, but hell, it sure beat sackin’ groceries, which is what a lot of the kids did for money at that time. Yeah, that must be why I took up the drums. At five dollars a night, I knew drumming paid really well! [laughs]
WFM: Why did you take up the drums rather than another instrument?
JA: I guess I realized at the time that I was pretty tone-deaf. [laughs] Since I knew I wanted to make music, drums were it. Besides, playing drums is a lot of fun.
WFM: There’s a lot of work involved, though. Did you have a lot of lessons on the drums?
JA: I had a few. Coming from that school marching band background helped get my hands together. Like I said, I thought rudiments were important at that time. My drum lessons were pretty much just working on rudiments and reading. I never really had any formal training on the drumset. I just picked it up from listening to the music that I was into at the time.
WFM: Being from Lubbock, Texas, what types of music influenced you?
JA: Back in the early ’50s when I was coming up, there was very little rock ‘n’ roll to listen to. It wasn’t even called rock ‘n’ roll at the time. The music that I listened to was rhythm & blues. There was a radio station out of Shreveport that would play an hour of rhythm & blues late at night, and I would stay up to listen to it. To be honest, I’ve never really been into country music. I guess I shouldn’t say that here in the Opryland Hotel. Lightning might strike!
[laughs] In Lubbock, all that people listened to, and just about all that was on the radio, was country music. It just didn’t interest me.
WFM: Why did you like rhythm & blues?
JA: Rhythm & blues has feeling and soul, and the drumming on that music, even back then, was so much more exciting than the drumming on country music. There was more to rhythm & blues than just playing a laid-back time feel.
WFM: Who were some of the acts that you liked?
JA: The groups from the early ’50s were it, like Bill Haley & the Comets, the Clovers, the Drifters and especially Fats Domino. I remember the first album I ever bought was a Fats Domino album. The more I heard that kind of music, the more I knew I wanted to play drums. Bill Haley knocked me out with his sound.
WFM: Were there any other styles of music that influenced you, like any type of jazz, such as big band?
JA: When I was in high school, I played in an eight-piece horn band that played big band arrangements. We would play at high school proms and things like that. That type of thing was alright, but rock ‘n’ roll really was it for me.
WFM: Were there any particular drummers you enjoyed listening to?
JA: With all of those different rhythm & blues acts, you would know who the headliner was, but the band members were pretty much nameless. It’s a shame that happened, because those people really helped start a new style of drumming. They deserve some credit. As for other drummers I enjoyed, Gene Krupa was always great, and he was a real showman. A big influence on my personal playing style was the drummer who played with Little Richard, Charles Connors. His playing on Little Richard’s “Lucille” was great. Little Richard would tour occasionally in Texas, so I would travel the distance to see him. Connors had a different way of playing the drums. He would lean over, rest his elbows on his knees and play! Another drummer that played great back then was Earl Palmer. Earl played on a lot of that New Orleans stuff in the ’50s that I was into. I listened to as much of that as I could. I became pretty good at stealing other people’s licks. [laughs]
WFM: One of the best ways to learn on the instrument is to copy other people’s ideas.
JA: That’s true. I listened to all of that early stuff, and learned what worked and what didn’t. I think that it’s important for all drummers to do that. If they like a certain style or sound, they should copy it and learn what works. Nobody can duplicate somebody else exactly, and that’s what makes us individuals as players.
WFM: What did you do after high school? Did you start working full time as a musician?
JA: No, actually. I went to college. Yes sir, those were 14 of the toughest weeks I ever had. [laughs] I was becoming more and more serious about playing the drums all of the time.
WFM: Was this around the time when you started working with Buddy Holly?
JA: Actually, at that point I did leave college to go on the road with Buddy. He and I were hired for a backup band with George Jones and the Hank Thompson Show. That was a two-week gig that paid pretty well—ten dollars a day plus expenses. That was another one of those high-paying gigs I was telling you about.
WFM: So when did you actually meet up with Holly?
JA: Buddy and I met in junior high school. When I played with Cal Wayne, Buddy used to come down and sit in with us. He would come in, and then he and I would play some rock ‘n’ roll. It was a great relief from all of that country music that I was playing. Don’t get me wrong, country music is fine, but most of the drumming that was used on that style wasn’t very interesting. The drums used to be so far back in the mix on those early recordings that you could barely hear them. So maybe now you can understand why my being a drummer kept me from being a fan of country music back then.
WFM: I read that Buddy started out as a country artist, yet you tell me you were playing rock early on.
JA: Buddy did start out playing country. When Buddy formed his first band, he had a fiddle player and a steel guitar. He worked with Bob Montgomery, and the two of them had this country band. Buddy was still in junior high at this point. Buddy enjoyed country, but I think the main reason he played it was because it was popular in the area, and he could work more if he played that style. You couldn’t get any work if you played rock ‘n’ roll back in those days. It was a new sound that people weren’t ready for. Most of the radio stations played country, except for that one station I mentioned. Buddy and I used to get together and stay up late listening to that rhythm & blues station from Shreveport. Buddy also got into Elvis. Elvis became popular a couple of years before we did. Buddy and I both enjoyed Elvis’ new sound. We were very close at that time, and we both liked the same kinds of music.
WFM: I read that you and Buddy used to play as a duet—just guitar and drums. Did you perform this way or did you just rehearse?
JA: We started out just rehearsing as a duo, but we eventually ended up playing a few gigs that way. I think that really helped my playing. Everything I did was exposed, and that helped me because I really had to concentrate on what I was doing. I think that helped Buddy too.
WFM: What gave you the idea to do this?
JA: It came about mainly because there weren’t that many musicians around who wanted to play the kind of music we were into. So it happened out of necessity. Besides, we made more money at gigs, because there were fewer musicians to split it with. I can remember playing the youth center, which was actually a roller rink, a few times, and playing rock ‘n’ roll as a duet.
WFM: How did the rest of The Crickets join the band
JA: Basically, it all started when Buddy got a recording contract with Decca records in ’55.
WFM: Wasn’t that a country deal?
JA: Well, what happened was Buddy, myself and some other musicians cut some demos for Buddy and sent them to Decca in Nashville. On that tape were some country tunes, some rockabilly, some rock ‘n’ roll, and I think, an Elvis tune or two. The record company liked the rock tunes better than the country ones, so they signed Buddy to a deal playing more rock ‘n’ roll type songs. I guess, in a way, it was a country-oriented deal, since it was signed by the Nashville headquarters of Decca. Anyway, nothing ever really came out of it. Buddy made some recordings that were kind of a cross between country and rock ‘n’ roll, but nothing happened with them. At this point, we all decided to try to make it as a group, not just a Buddy Holly solo act. That’s when Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Buddy, and I formed The Crickets. We wanted to start recording for another label right away, but we had to wait because we were involved in a contract with Decca. So that’s when we started rehearsing as a group. There’s a story out that we came up with the name The Crickets at a record date where there was a cricket in the echo chamber, but that never happened. There was a group called the Spiders at the time, so we called ourselves
WFM: When you and Buddy decided to form the band, why did you decide on the group instrumentation of lead guitar, rhythm, bass and drums? Most people who heard the band on the radio thought you were a black act because of your instrumentation.
JA: Like I mentioned, we were into the sound of the black groups, so that’s why we decided on that particular instrumentation. Buddy went through a period when he was doing a lot of Elvis-type songs and trying to copy his sound. So I tried to play exactly like the drummer on those recordings. Our band’s major influence, though, was the black acts: people like Little Richard and the Drifters. Another reason why we used that instrumentation was because Buddy had a certain sound in his head that he was trying to achieve. We experimented. Later on, we experimented with all types of sounds and instruments on recordings. But when people first heard “That’ll Be The Day,” they thought we were black. In fact, we were even booked to play some gigs by a promoter who thought we were black.
WFM: How did that happen?
JA: Well, there was a group at that time called Dean Barlow & The Crickets, which we didn’t know about when we came up with our name. They had put out a couple of records. When the promoter heard “That’ll Be The Day” and booked us, he thought we were a black act and connected in some way with the other Crickets. He booked us on a three-week stint: one week at the Apollo Theater in New York, which only booked black acts. In the next two weeks, we were booked into the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., and then the Royal Theater in Baltimore. This promoter booked us to stay in all-black hotels.
WFM: Since this was back in the ’50s, were there any problems with this happening?
JA: At that point, our record had been accepted so the audiences were happy that we played, but maybe just a little surprised. [laughs] As for our getting along with everybody, there wasn’t much of a problem at all. We were working with some of those black acts that we had been fans of ourselves. It was a thrill for us.
WFM: Was “That’ll Be The Day” the first recording The Crickets did?
JA: That was one of the first demos we made. We cut that tune and a few others. Then we sent them to a few record companies, and we were turned down. We had a connection in New York who took the demos to Coral Records, who liked us and released the demo. We should have rerecorded those tracks, but Coral just released them as they were—almost behind our backs. We sort of found out that the record was starting to break, and we didn’t even know we had a record. At this point, we were called to play that first set of gigs at those black theaters. From there, we started touring the U.S. and Canada, playing a string of one-nighters. Back then, concerts would consist of about 20 acts, each playing a few songs and then getting off the stage for the next act to come on. We had two tour buses that traveled around with all these different acts. People like Fats Domino and the like were on those tours. We thought we had made the “big time” at that point.
WFM: Tell me about those early recording experiences.
JA: Well, we had done a lot of recording at a bunch of different studios and radio stations around Texas. Things didn’t really happen for us until we went to Clovis, New Mexico, where we worked with Norman Petty. That’s where we recorded a lot of our material. “That’ll Be The Day” was one of the first songs we recorded there.
WFM: I’ve read that Norman Petty worked closely with The Crickets to try to create a new sound.
JA: Norman Petty was a fine engineer. When we first went to record with him, he pretty much just acted as an engineer, but as time went on, he did begin working closer with us. I think Petty tried to take a little bit too much credit for Holly. Petty used to say that he had found a diamond in the rough and refined us, but Buddy knew what he wanted all the time. Petty did help us a great deal, and he gave us a lot of time in his studio so we could experiment with sounds.
WFM: Did Petty actually help write “That’ll Be The Day”?
JA: Actually, he only engineered that record. Buddy and I had written that long before we worked with him. I’m not sure how his name got on there. In all fairness though, he did help us. He was the person who had the connections in New York when we went looking for a record deal. If it hadn’t been for him, we may never have gotten on record. Later on, he also managed us too. He had had success in the record business with his own group, The Norman Petty Trio, so he understood the business end of it much more than we did. We were young and all we really cared about was the playing end of it. That’s something I’d like to say: It’s a good idea for anybody in music to try to get involved with the business side of what’s going on. At that time, I was young and I wasn’t interested. Because of that, there were times when I was taken advantage of. Norman Petty was older and experienced, so he helped us get the business end together.
WFM: What kind of equipment did you use back then?
JA: Back then, before we were really popular, I had a set of Premier drums. They were all small sizes. I only had one mounted tom and no floor tom. Back then, drummers didn’t really play a lot of tom-toms. That’s something I wanted to do. Once we were popular, I got a full set of Ludwigs, and I have always been quite happy with them. I still have the same set of Zildjian cymbals I was using back then! Getting back to the drums, once I did start using Ludwig, I started using four tom-toms. People used to come up to me and ask what I did with all that extra junk. I had those extra toms and some cowbells I liked to use. Most drummers back then had that typical, four-piece jazz setup. Most country drummers didn’t even use any toms! I liked the extra sounds I could get. I also enjoyed playing a lot on the tom-toms and trying new things.
WFM: I read a quote about you that said you were one of the most innovative drummers for your time—that you used your set musically to enhance the song you were playing. For example, “Peggy Sue” was a tune where you played that driving tom-tom part that really fit and made the tune happen.
JA: That was just paradiddles on the toms. At the time, I didn’t really think about trying to be innovative. I just tried to play something that would fit the style of the tune and make it sound good. I guess that, since rock ‘n’ roll was still pretty new at that time, there were a lot of new things to try. There wasn’t a set right or wrong way of doing things. We weren’t limited by tradition. In a way, maybe I got too much credit. The music we played was different, so anything that I played was unique because the music was different. A lot of times, my playing sounded better because of the fine engineering we had. Norman Petty used to switch the drum sounds within a song. He would record a part through the echo chamber and keep some parts dry. He would switch back and forth in different sections of songs. This made my drumming sound a little more complicated than it actually was. We tried a lot of different things in the studio. At that time, most groups would record with all of the members setting up in the same room. When we recorded, there were times when I would set up in the reception room of the studio with no baffling around me at all. That gave a real spacious sound. We also recorded a few of the tunes on cardboard boxes.
WFM: All of the drums were cardboard?
JA: No. We only used that for the tom-tom sound on a few tunes. The microphone only hears; it doesn’t see.
WFM: Do you remember any songs in particular that you used that on?
JA: I did that on a tune called “Not Fade Away,” and we got a good sound with it. Using the boxes wasn’t an idea I came up with, but maybe the sound I got was what people thought was so unique about my playing. I don’t know. Come to think of it, I think Buddy Knox used the boxes on the hit “Party Doll,” which happened to be recorded at Norman Petty’s studio also. We did a lot of experimenting in that studio.
WFM: What was the situation with Buddy Holly signing with two different record labels, Coral and Brunswick?
JA: Norman Petty, like I mentioned earlier, was handling all of the business deals at that point. Buddy Holly & The Crickets had finished a lot of recording before we had gotten a record deal, so we had a lot of material that was available to be released. Petty came up with a way to release two albums at a time, one on each label. So Buddy Holly would release an album, and The Crickets with Buddy Holly would release another album at the same time on another label. There was some confusion as to whether or not The Crickets played on all of the recordings because of the different labels. The Crickets did play on all those albums; however, we didn’t do the singing on those albums like a lot of people thought we did. The whole idea of the two labels was that The Crickets would record the songs that were more appropriate because of their group sound, and background vocals were added to help give it that group sound. Buddy’s solo albums contained the songs that worked without the group vocals. Like I said, a lot of people thought we did do the singing. We even tried to fool people when we were out performing by lip-syncing the vocal parts, but we didn’t have any microphones on us. After a few years, we finally did try using mic’s live and singing the parts.
WFM: To quote Norman Petty, “Jerry Allison was, and probably still is, a very fresh and innovative drummer. He would play great rhythm patterns which were just excellent for such a young player.” How did you come up with those interesting patterns?
JA: What I did was listen to Buddy Holly’s rhythm guitar playing. He wasn’t a technically great guitarist, but he played one hell of a rhythm guitar. I took my cue from what he was doing. He and I really listened to each other. We were talking before about how Buddy and I used to play as a duet. That was when I started adapting my playing to what he was doing. When the rest of the band joined us, I pretty much played with that same approach. That may be why whatever patterns I played sounded the way they did.
WFM: Most drummers key in on the bass player more than any other instrument.
JA: That’s true. Bass playing was a bit simpler back in those days. Our bass player played an old upright, so it just played more of the bottom end. I found there was more to key in on with the guitar.
WFM: When you worked with Buddy, did he make any suggestions as to what you should play?
JA: Oh yeah. When we were first starting out together, Buddy would suggest things that would help my drumming. He was a little older than I, so he had a little more experience with the rock ‘n’ roll sound.
WFM: When I listened to some of the recordings by Buddy Holly & The Crickets, I heard a lot of Latin-influenced tunes. How did that sound get into your music?
JA: There was a lot of Latin music around west Texas at that time. The song “Words Of Love” was one of those Latin songs we enjoyed playing. The big bands were still playing at that point, and a lot of the music coming from them had a Latin sound to it. Stan Kenton was doing that sort of thing. On those big band recordings, there were always bongos, congas, cowbells, maracas—all sorts of Latin instruments. I wanted to use all of that stuff on our records, but it wasn’t possible. So I spent time trying to figure out how to get those sounds happening on my drumset. We also tried using cardboard boxes on recordings to try to get that bongo-type sound. About the only accessory I had was a cowbell. So I used that, and I played on the rims of my drums to try to get some different sounds.
WFM: It sounds like you tried to be very inventive.
JA: I tried to come up with things that made the songs sound good. That’s all.
WFM: What songs did you enjoy the most?
JA: Well, I always liked “That’ll Be The Day,” because that was the song that really got us started. It broke us big and helped our careers tremendously. It was also one of the songs I wrote with Buddy, so I have a warm spot in my heart for it. Another song i enjoyed playing was “Peggy Sue.” That one was fun because I got to use the toms a lot. “Everyday” was a real pretty song that I liked as a song, but not from a playing standpoint.
WFM: What was that “click” sound on that song? It sounded like horse hooves.
JA: All I did on that one was just hit my legs with my hands, and we recorded it! It ended up sounding pretty good. It was a nice little touch to that song.
WFM: You just mentioned that you did some songwriting back then. What did you write?
JA: I had a hand in a lot of that music.We wrote most of that material in the studio before we became popular. Once the records began to sell, we were constantly on the road, and that didn’t give us the opportunity to write as much as we had previously.
WFM: Being a drummer, how did you contribute in the writing of those songs?
JA: Well, I can remember how we wrote “That’ll Be The Day.” I had just seen a John Wayne western, where he said the line “that’ll be the day” about three times in the movie. It struck me as a good hook for a song. Buddy and I just took it from there. He and I made up the words, while he played guitar and I played the drums. We kept experimenting with grooves until we found one that was right. That song didn’t take long at all. It seems that the songs that came easy and wrote themselves were the ones that sold well. When we sat down and pondered over a song for a long time, it never ended up being that popular. Back then, I worked more with lyrics and the overall feel and shape of the tune than I did with the chords and the melody. Holly would come in with a rhythm pattern or melody, and I would offer suggestions about words.
WFM: Did you like writing?
JA: I didn’t mind it, and now I’m glad I did it. There’s good money to be made in songwriting, and if a song that you write becomes popular, you sure can keep the cows in feed! [laughs] Sonny Curtis and I [Curtis replaced Holly in The Crickets after they split up] wrote a song that became popular a few years ago. The song was recorded by Leo Sayer. It was called “More Than I Can Say.” We wrote that song back around 1959 or ’60. It was nice to have a song that I had written become so popular.
WFM: It seems that Buddy Holly & The Crickets became popular overnight. How did that instant fame and fortune affect you?
JA: Once our first single was released, we started touring, and as the songs became more popular, we just kept playing dates, which of course got larger. In the first four months, we only had three days off! We wanted to strike while the iron was hot so to speak, so we kept working and playing as much as we could. And back then, the tour buses were nothing like they are today. It wasn’t all that comfortable. Many of the gigs would be over 500 miles apart, so it was like we lived on those buses. Except for those first three weeks when we were booked as a black act, all we seemed to play was one-nighters. We eventually did get some time off. 1 went off and got married. Buddy got married also, and he moved up to New York.
WFM: Did that cause problems with the band?
JA: It sure did. We were all going to move up to New York too, but then Norman Petty talked to Joe Mauldin and I about going on apart from Buddy. So we stayed in Texas. Unfortunately, now that I was married, the idea of the band wasn’t as important to me. Once you get married, all of your spare time is taken up with that. The band didn’t hang out together like it once had. Also, I suppose that I was too young to handle the success of it all. I had a good deal of money, and I thought I was pretty important. I started worrying less about the music and more about what color my next car should be. When success hits that fast, it does tend to change a person. I turned 18 during that first tour, in 1957, so I really was young. We were just a bunch of kids running wild across the States.
WFM: What were the audiences like back then?
JA: The audiences were pretty excited when we played. It was a rush to get out on stage with all of those fans who appreciated our music. It seemed like we were popular wherever we went.
WFM: How do you explain the group’s phenomenal success? Just about all of the other groups or performers at that time were into image. People wore flashy clothes and had that certain look, but Buddy and the rest of you guys just wore suits and looked very normal.
JA: I think you just pointed out one of the reasons for our success. All of the fans who listened to music back then had a hard time relating, on regular terms, to the idols. No normal, or I should say regular, person looked or dressed like Elvis. It was beyond the reach of regular people. Buddy Holly & The Crickets were just like the boys next door. Once people saw us, they realized that you didn’t have to be “different” to play music. If normal people like Buddy Holly & The Crickets could play, then anybody could get up on stage on a Saturday night at their local union hall and be like The Crickets. It didn’t have to be flashy—just some good ol’ boys playing some good music. When we performed, we had as many male fans as female. It wasn’t just screaming teenyboppers. We weren’t idol-type material. I always thought of us as one of the first truly ugly bands. [laughs]
WFM: The bottom line to whether or not a band is successful is the music.
JA: That’s true. It’s a good thing the music was pretty good. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I think one of the main reasons for our success was that our music had a real positive attitude about it. It sounded that way because we were playing the music for the sake of playing music. That was our motive. We loved playing, and that came across in what we played. Our music reflected that attitude, and people picked up on those feelings. Even when we were on the road for months on end, we still loved the playing part of what we were doing. Early on, we never tried to figure out how profitable it would be to do a certain thing. We just played and had a good time. We didn’t think about growing up and having to be serious.
WFM: Why did Buddy Holly & The Crickets split up?
JA: Like I said, Buddy went to New York once he got married and we stayed in Texas. We hired Sonny Curtis to replace Holly, and Buddy got another band together. Waylon Jennings played bass in his group. The Crickets cut an album at that point which didn’t sell at all. Buddy released an album with an orchestra on it just a few months before his death. At that point, his album wasn’t doing that well either. It’s strange. When Buddy Holly & The Crickets first came out, we were at our peak as far as popularity is concerned. We gradually sold fewer records. As time went by, we kept making records that were more technically correct and more elaborate with special arrangements, but they were hardly ever as popular. The early recordings—the ones that were very simple and straightforward—were the most popular. The slicker the records got, the less they sold.
WFM: When Buddy & The Crickets split up, neither of you were as successful. Did you try to get back together?
JA: We were in the process of trying to get back together when Buddy passed away. Waylon Jennings told me that Buddy wanted the real Crickets to do his next tour with him, but it never happened. Although we did split, we were never really mad at each other. It was just the circumstances.
WFM: Buddy Holly passed away February 3, 1959. How did that affect you?
JA: It was tough, because we had been good friends. The Crickets stopped playing for a while, but then we started to get calls. Sonny Curtis, Joe Mauldin and I went on the road with the Everly Brothers for a good while. We toured the States and England with them, and we recorded with them. With all this happening, we decided to leave Texas and move to L.A., because we thought that was the place to be. I started playing a few sessions at that point.
WFM: When was this?
JA: This all happened in the early ’60s.
WFM: What made you go to L.A.?
JA: Nashville was more the place to be if you were into country music. Since rock ‘n’ roll was what I played, I went to L.A. because that’s where it was happening. I worked with Roger Miller for a couple of years, back when he was more of a pop star. He was definitely popular, but what he wanted from a drummer was more of a country music-type sound—real simple. The music wasn’t that much fun to play, but Roger is a very funny guy. Working with him was very enjoyable, even though the music wasn’t very fulfilling for a drummer.
WFM: It sounds like you really tried to stay true to rock ‘n’ roll.
JA: I tried to when I could afford to.
WFM: What other types of things were you doing at that point?
JA: Besides playing sessions, The Crickets kept cutting records, but they weren’t very popular. We changed record labels a few times and band members changed. We had some great session players with us, including people like Glen Campbell. The list of players who have passed through The Crickets would be long. We did have some success after a time. We had a single that reached number two on the English charts. That tune was called “Don’t Ever Change.” We were quite popular in England. We had a string of songs that made the top 20 in England, but the songs did poorly in the States. We toured England a lot back then because of it. Since we kept having a bit of success over there, we just kept on cutting records. We also toured the Midwest a lot.
WFM: Did you stick to the original Crickets sound, or did you try to progress?
JA: When we tried to progress, nobody listened. People wanted us to stay the same as they remembered us. We tried playing surf music when that was popular, but we weren’t thinking. We more or less just followed trends. We stopped trying to develop our own thing, and that was that.
WFM: Are The Crickets still performing?
JA: We have played on and off since we started. Now we can play when we want to. We get together and do gigs occasionally, or we go to England and play. Paul McCartney has a Buddy Holly tribute thing once in a while. Paul bought all of the rights to Buddy’s music a few years ago, so he puts on this festival. The Crickets get together and play that.
WFM: What other types of playing have you been involved with?
JA: I mentioned that Waylon Jennings had played with Buddy Holly back when we first split with Buddy. In 1972, Waylon wanted to record an album with The Crickets and play the old tunes. We did some work on it, but it was never finished. In 1978, Waylon called and said he wanted to finish it, so that album was completed. The album was released, and Waylon asked me if I would like to go on the road. I said sure, and so did the rest of The Crickets. We thought that was supposed to last about five days, and it ended up lasting five years! Actually, The Crickets didn’t stay with Waylon that long, but I did. I’ve also played on a few of his albums.
WFM: You have been involved with recording, specifically recording drums, for almost 30 years. Obviously, things have changed drastically, but are there any specific items that come to mind that have changed?
JA: I think what has happened is that the music coming out lately doesn’t sound like it was played by a human being. It’s basically either a machine or someone trying to sound like a machine. In the studios now, so much of the musicality of a player is created on the board. When we recorded in the old days, we played the dynamics; they weren’t done by the engineer and the board. Also, if a song rushed a bit, it was alright as long as it sounded okay. Some songs should swell a bit. Those types of things are what give the music its life. Now, the top studio players are hired to play their instruments in perfect time with the click tracks, and to play each note at the exact same volume. I realize this is done to help the sound quality of the recording, but something is lacking. Studio players pride themselves on being able to make that needle peg the same, no matter what note they are playing. I think it’s great that they can do that; the musicians today are able to play and read in a much more technical way, but many lack an individual sound. There’s a freshness in the songs recorded 20 years ago, because occasionally, there is a surprise or two. There are a lot of perfect records out there these days. There are a lot of drummers who play perfectly, just like a drum machine, and now the machine is replacing them. Nobody misses a lick. I take pride in missing licks.
WFM: It sounds as if you might not have enjoyed playing sessions.
JA: I enjoyed it because it was a different type of playing. My strong point is playing rock ‘n’ roll drums. I would be called to do sessions for music that I didn’t enjoy as much, and that made it hard work. I didn’t have the best attitude about it back then. Luckily, on most of the sessions I played, I was called by folks who knew how I played and they wanted my sound.
WFM: Since we are just about up to date, what did you think of the motion picture, The Buddy Holly Story?
JA: To be honest, I hated it. Too much of it was made up—fiction. They changed the names of all of The Crickets. There were a bunch of major errors made. There were some legal problems too. I was informed that my life could not be depicted on screen without a name-likeness release, but they did it anyway. The film violated our trade- mark and copyrighted items, but we couldn’t stop a major studio like Columbia Pictures. As far as Gary Busey goes, I had worked with him previously. I knew him from a project I had worked on a few years earlier. A fellow named Tom Drake and I wrote a screenplay for a movie called Not Fade Away. It wasn’t the Buddy Holly story. It was about the first tour we went on, when we were booked as a black act and all of those experiences. We actually went into production on that film, receiving a budget from 20th Century Fox. We completed about half of it when the studio shut us down. They changed their minds about the project. Anyway, Gary Busey was brought in to play the part of me in the movie. That’s how I know him.
Getting back to The Buddy Holly Story, the people who put that movie together had more fiction in that film than truth. I mean, they showed mountains in Lubbock, Texas! In a way, I am happy they made the movie because it exposed the music to a lot more people. It helped in that way, but I wish they would have gotten the facts straight. All it would have taken was a few phone calls, but they didn’t bother.
WFM: Even if the movie wasn’t very accurate, it did remind people about the music of Buddy Holly & The Crickets. It also reminded people of how great an influence you were on the groups of the ’60s. You were, in part, responsible for a lot of the rock music that followed. How do you feel about that?
JA: I saw an interview with John Lennon once, in which he said that the name the Beatles came from The Crickets. I’m proud of the fact that our music influenced people or helped them to enjoy music more. Being involved in music is rewarding enough. It would still be rewarding, even without all of the success I’ve been lucky enough to have had.