Musicians sing praises of Holly

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Tommy Allsup practices Thursday with his band, the Texas Playboys, at the Clovis Civic Center. Allsup, a former Buddy Holly bandmate, performed in a tribute to the songs of Holly.

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

A day before what would have been Buddy Holly’s 71st birthday, buddies from his youth remembered the rock ‘n’ roll legend as someone with many of the usual characteristics for a young man.

Jack Neal said being two years older than Holly didn’t make him immune from his jokes.

“He was a prankster,” said Neal, 73, in town to play keyboards during Thursday’s Legends of Clovis concert at the Clovis Musical Festival. “He loved to cut up and loved to kid.”

Neal was one of the first to perform with Holly on radio and television in Lubbock.

“We were just kids having a good time. He picked on me all the time,” Neal said. “I got my driver’s license before he did and I had a ‘48 Chevrolet that had chokes and throttles; it didn’t have any automatic stuff. He’d catch me not looking and he’d reach out there and pull out the choke.

“My car would start jumping and I’d look around thinking it was fixin’ to quit. I’d look, and he’d be over there just laughing,” Neal said.

Neal was one of several musicians with connections to Holly and the Norman Petty studio who arrived in Clovis early to rehearse for the show.

Larry Welborn, 68, who played bass on Holly’s classic, “That’ll Be The Day,” said that Holly was typical of a teenager in his ambition to succeed — but perhaps more driven to do what was necessary to get there.

“He was a go-getter. Buddy was very intelligent. He knew what was going on, although I didn’t realize it at the time,” Welborn said. “He would write letters to high schools, things like that, try to do a fund-raiser for them. He, Bob Montgomery and myself, we had a radio show there for awhile at KDAV in Lubbock, and he was always doing something.”

“When Elvis came to Lubbock, we went up to his room,” added Welborn, who said he and Holly were rock ’n’ roll fans before Holly himself became part of music lore. “(Elvis) was singing in the shower, he come out and we talked — it was really neat.”

Tommy Allsup, 75, was part of the touring Crickets, Buddy Holly’s band, when the tour came to an abrupt end with the plane crash that killed Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Richie Valens. Allsup is famously part of that incident as having been the one that lost a coin flip, giving Valens a seat on the plane that went down in an Iowa cornfield on Feb. 3, 1959.

“He (Holly) was a good ol’ Texas boy, who put his pants on one leg at a time — just like everybody else,” recalled Allsup, who plays guitar. “He was kind of reserved, kind of quiet. I did three tours with him and there wasn’t nothin’ different about him.

“That last tour, we were probably traveling about 300-to-400 miles each night. He had just gotten married and we had a lot of fun,” added Allsup of Holly. “He was an ordinary guy. A good guy.”