There are some sounds woven into the double helix of rock's DNA. One such basic component is the clean, powerful yet always graceful rhythm of Jerry Allison's drums. It is him we hear on "Peggy Sue," "Everyday" and especially the foundation beat of "Not Fade Away. He's there on one of the single most important albums in rock history, 1957's The "Chirping" Crickets, which ranks along side the debuts of Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Allison's work with The Crickets has influenced several generations of rockers and will still be played on radios everywhere long after all of us have turned to dust.
For as much credit as Buddy Holly has received after his premature death in February 1959, a good measure of that credit is due to Allison and bassist Joe B. Mauldin who were there at the start. Many of the most recognizable tracks were actually co-written by Allison. Being a humble and good natured man, as this conversation will show, he never made much of a noise about the discrepancy between what he contributed and what Holly gets credit for. Instead, he's been playing great music for close to 50 years, most of it with Joe B. and guitarist-singer Sonny Curtis. This trio has just recorded a new record that features collaborations with John Prine, Eric Clapton, Nanci Griffith, Rodney Crowell and many others. Curtis, Mauldin and Allison have been playing together on and off since the late '50s and their latest ranks amongst their best. Unlike many guest star littered sets, this one feels unforced, a natural and relaxed air permeating the sessions.
Allison took time to speak to us before the Crickets headed back over the Atlantic to play a series of high profile festivals in England. His warm, easy Texas accent fits his friendly, open demeanor. One could listen to him tell stories all day. His life and his work are part and parcel of the journey rock and country music have taken since the 1950s. His career has touched on many legends including Holly, manager-producer Norman Petty and countless others. Given that, it's all the more impressive how level headed and practical the man is. He is the working musician's musician, a player who's known the highest chart positions and the toughest club slogging realities of making a living with your instrument. Pour yourself a cup of java and settle in for some real history, kids.
Dennis Cook: Let's talk about the new record. The title The Crickets And Their Buddies implies more than just random guest shots. Tell us a bit about how you picked the people who played with you?
Jerry Allison: We started to call the record Under The Influence initially because we've heard people over the years say they were influenced by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. In fact, we were gonna call it Pickin' Under The Influence at first but Alan Jackson actually came out with an album in the meantime called Under The Influence so we changed it. I don't remember who decided to call it The Crickets And Their Buddies but they're all our buddies. Waylon [Jennings] we've known since we were kids and we were really happy to get him on the record. We were really tickled to get Eric Clapton to play on it. We met him in about 1968 when he was doing the Blind Faith tour over here, and some friends of ours, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, were opening the shows. We met Eric at that time and he said we should get together sometime and do some old B-Sides because he liked some of those. Of course, Phil Everly [Everly Brothers], we've known him since our first tour in 1957 when they had "Bye Bye Love" and we had "That'll Be The Day." We were influenced by the Everly Brothers more than they were influenced by Buddy or us.
Dennis Cook: One of the artists on the album who often doesn't get the credit he's due is J.D. Souther [renowned '70s singer-songwriter and record producer].
Jerry Allison: I thought he did a great job on "That'll Be The Day."
Dennis Cook: So do I. He's got such a warm voice and such a great feel for the kind of music you play.
Jerry Allison: And he's an old Texas boy, too. He said he'd listen to old Texas music forever so it was fun to have him on there. Nancy Griffith is, of course, from Texas, which wasn't a requirement at all. A friend of ours who represents us and Vince Neil [Motley Crue], Burt Stein, said it would be great if Vince sang "I Fought The Law." We knew who he was so thought that'd be just fine. He came out here to my house in Lyles, Tennessee where I have a studio out back, and we did it. We first met Albert Lee [hugely respected guitarist who played with '70s English country-rock cult band Head, Hands & Feet] in the mid-sixties playing the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles. Albert actually toured with us some and made some records in the early '70s. Then he played with the Everly Brothers when they reunited in, I think it was 1983, and he played with them for years. He played with Eric Clapton for a while and right now he plays with Bill Wyman when he takes his jazz band on the road. And we're going to England to play Wembley for the 50th Anniversary of the Stratocaster deal and Albert's gonna play with us on that. And then there's an Eddie Cochran festival in Chippenham where Eddie had his car wreck and Albert's gonna do his own show and play with us.
I wanted to ask about the three of you in the Crickets making music together since the late '50s. It's not many bands that can sustain a relationship for that long. What keeps it interesting for you? What keeps you coming back?
We really enjoy hanging out together. Sonny [Curtis] and I probably started playing together in 1954, somewhere like that, and Joe B. [Mauldin] was a little bit after that. Sonny Curtis used to play fiddle in a country band with Buddy Holly, Bob Montgomery, Don Guess and I played drums in that band. We've just had fun over the years. Some people get more tired of the road than I do [laughs]. Joe B. got into the trucking business for a while and we got drafted and got married so he said "I don't know if I want to do this anymore." So, he was out of the group for a while. In the 1970s Albert Lee was playing with us and a fella named Rick Grech from Blind Faith and Traffic played bass while Joe B. laid out for a while. And then for a period in the '80s, Sonny Curtis went out for a while since he had some hit country records. During that time where everybody was doing their own thing we'd still have dinner together. Our wives are all friends and we grew up in Texas together. So, we just always enjoy each other. We rented a motorhome (recently). We used to have a bus and it just ate our lunch. We rented a motorhome to go to Texas because we prefer that to flying, which is such a hassle and you could miss the gig. We have a friend we take with us who does most of the driving but we take turns as needs be. That's part of the fun of it. We drive along and whoever's turn it is to not drink beer drives. We drink some beer and tell the old stories and new stories and discuss politics and this and that. It's a great thing.
(L to R: Jerry Allison, Joe Maudlin, and Buddy Holly)
Did you think that rock 'n' roll was going to last as long as it has when you first got started playing it?