Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A band formed in 1955 to back Buddy Holly. Key fixtures were drummer Jerry Allison (b 31 August 1939, Hillsboro TX), singer/guitarist/songwriter Sonny Curtis (b 9 May 1937, Meadow TX). As the Three Tunes with bassist Don Guess, they went to Nashville with Holly for Holly's second recording session '56. Sonny is Curtis's real name; no name was registered at birth, so when required to produce a birth certificate, he took the name by which he was best known. He had worked in and around Lubbock, Texas when Holly was making demos there; he had been playing mainly fiddle, but by all accounts a better guitarist than Holly, he played lead from time to time on demos and at the Nashville session (also wrote 'Rock Around With Ollie Vee'). Curtis joined Slim Whitman's band for better wages, then the Philip Morris Country Music Show in Nashville. The Crickets on Holly's hits '57 were Allison, pianist Niki Sullivan (d 6 April 2004), bassist Larry Welborn; Welborn was replaced by Joel B. Mauldin; Sullivan left late '57; the group touring England '58 was a trio of Holly, Allison, Mauldin; Holly recorded in NYC without the Crickets, having split from them and producer Norman Petty.

Holly's winter tour of the USA Midwest which ended in his death included guitarist Tommy Allsup (b 24 November 1931, near Owasso OK; d 11 January 2017, Springfield MO), Carl Bunch on drums (b 24 November 24 1939; d 26 March 2011), Waylon Jennings on bass. It was a very rough tour in a broken-down old bus; Bunch had been hospitalised with frostbite when Holly decided to charter a plane to the next gig; Allsup and Jennings narrowly missed being on the small plane when it crashed in bad weather. Allsup became a record producer and Jennings the famous country music 'outlaw': see his entry.

Some of Holly's hits were credited to the Crickets for contractual reasons; when he went to NYC without them Curtis returned to join Mauldin and Allison, who also had a solo single 'Real Wild Child' that year as 'Ivan', with Holly on guitar. They changed labels from Coral to Liberty '61; the changing lineup included Glen D. Hardin (b 18 April 1939, Wellington TX, keyboards; later in Emmylou Harris's Hot Band, etc). More popular in the UK than in the USA, they toured UK with Bobby Vee and cut an LP with him (Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets '62). They had their biggest UK hits with Goffin/King song 'Please Don't Ever Change' (no. 5 '62), Curtis's 'My Little Girl' (no. 17 '63); they appeared in cheap pop movie Just For Fun, but the Beatles (whose name may have betrayed some influence of the original Crickets) washed them away '65. Curtis and Allison sessioned in USA; Curtis did single 'A Beatle I Want To Be', a curious solo LP Beatle Hits Flamenco Style, also solo Sonny Curtis Style; Curtis and Allison reunited to play on Eric Clapton's debut solo album '70 and re-formed Crickets, latterly with Englishmen Rick Grech (b 1 November 1946, Bordeaux, France), bass; Albert Lee, guitar. The new Crickets made LPs Rockin' '50s Rock'n'Roll (Barnaby/CBS '71, with Allison, Curtis, Hardin); Bubblegum, Bop, Ballads And Boogies '73 adding Grech, A Long Way From Lubbock '74 with Allison, Curtis, Grech and Lee, both on Mercury/Philips; and Remnants '74 on Vertigo/USA, with same lineup as Lubbock; these mostly produced by Holly's former singing partner Bob Montgomery. By '77 they were again a trio of Allison, Curtis, Mauldin; they toured with Jennings including Holly songs in their act.

Located in Nashville since the late '70s, Curtis wrote (or co-wrote, often with Allison) songs including 'Walk Right Back' (a hit for the Everly Brothers, for whom he played lead guitar '60s), 'More Than I Can Say' (hit for Bobby Vee, later for Leo Sayer), 'I Fought The Law' (a hit for the Bobby Fuller Four, later for the Clash), 'Love Is All Around' (theme tune for Mary Tyler Moore TV show), 'I'm No Stranger To The Rain' (country no. 1 for Keith Whitley). He also made LPs Spectrum '87, Sonny Curtis '79 and Love Is All Around '80 for Elektra, No Stranger To The Truth '90 on Ritz. Double Exposure on Rollercoaster has '90s recordings; then having played on a new Nanci Griffith album the Crickets re-formed for Too Much Monday Morning '97 on Carlton Sounds, produced by Stuart Coleman, songs by John Prine, Paul Kennerley and Billy Swan as well as originals, their best album in years.