Ritchie Valens called "heads", the rest is history

Tommy Allsup, member of Buddy Holly's Winter Dance Party band


Tommy Allsup, a member of Buddy Holly’s reconstituted Crickets who endured harsh days on the road touring with the ill-fated Winter Dance Party tour in 1959 and lost the coin toss to Ritchie Valens that saved his life, has died. He was 85.

After the tour that took the lives of Holly, Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash in an Iowa farm field on Feb. 3, 1959, Allsup continued his career as a rockabilly and western swing guitarist.

But it was one of the fateful moments in rock ’n’ roll history that Allsup could never forget and that gained him fame among Holly aficionados. Allsup and the other Cricket, Waylon Jennings, were supposed to be on the plane that Holly had chartered to fly him and his band to Fargo for the tour’s next stop in Moorhead.

But the Bopper was ill, and Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson, the large Texas DJ who sang “Chantilly Lace.” At the Feb. 2 stop in Clear Lake, Iowa, Valens, who was only 17, begged Allsup to give up his seat. “Ritchie, all night long, would come around and say ‘Let me fly,’ and I said, ‘Get away from me, quit it, don’t bug me,’ ”

Allsup is quoted saying in “The Day the Music Died,” by Martin Huxley and Quinton Skinner. Later, as Allsup was checking a dressing room to see that the band had all “our stuff,” he saw Valens, the Southern California heartthrob signing autographs. “For some reason, he [Valens] said, ‘You going to let me fly? And I just flipped a 50-cent piece and said, ‘Call it.’ He called heads.

And so I went back to the station wagon and I told Buddy, ‘I’m not going to be flying. Will you get my shirts laundered?’ ” The single-engine, four-seat Beachcraft Bonanza crashed several hours later; the unheated tour bus filled with the rest of the entertainers, including Dion and the Belmonts, made it to Moorhead.
Comment: Image top: Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup - January 30, 1959. Richie Valens. Below image of the crash scene. Source . I believe my brother has visited the memorial there. The dissemination of news was much different then, but at the age of 10 I knew about it.

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