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Featured Memorial | Tommy Allsup

Tommy Allsup Obituary

Tommy Allsup (Eric Shaiman / Wikimedia Commons)
Tommy Allsup (Eric Shaiman / Wikimedia Commons)
Tommy Allsup, the guitarist who avoided the Buddy Holly plane crash by losing a coin flip, died Jan. 11, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 85.

He died at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, of complications from a hernia operation, said his son, Austin.

The musician was in Buddy Holly’s backing band when he lost a coin toss to Ritchie Valens for a seat on the private plane that crashed in Iowa in 1959. Buddy Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper, aka J.P. Richardson, died in the accident in what is now called the Day the Music Died.

"Tommy Allsup was one of western swing and rockabilly music's finest," said Neil R. Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. "The Oklahoma native and was admired by his peers and fans alike (and) heralded by Paul McCartney as one of the finest guitar players in the world."

Allsup was born Nov. 24, 1931, in Oklahoma and was an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. He told the Tulsa News that when he was 16, he would hitchhike to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa to watch early rock 'n' roll shows. "I was six foot tall, and back then they didn't even have IDs." "If you were big enough to stand up to the bar, you could get you a beer." He started to perform at the club and became a working musician.

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He became friends with Buddy Holly in 1958 and played guitar in the studio on a few Holly songs including "It's So Easy." According to Allsup, Holly couldn't play the solo in that song, so he asked Allsup to join his band on the Winter Dance Party tour. To avoid a long winter bus trip to the next stop after a show in Iowa, Holly chartered a private plane. That is when Allsup and rising star Ritchie Valens flipped a coin for a seat on the bus.

"He asked me four or five times could he fly in my place," Allsup remembered of Valens in a 2007 interview. "For some reason, I pulled a half dollar out of my pocket and flipped it. He said 'heads,' and it came up heads.

"So I went out to the station wagon and told Buddy. I said, 'I'm not going. Me and Ritchie flipped a coin. He's going in my place.' Buddy, said 'cool.'" The plane crashed shortly after takeoff.

Allsup said he thought about the accident, and thanked God, every day of his life. Austin Allsup, his son, a musician who appeared on “The Voice,” said his father took losing the coin toss as "a blessing" and that he was humbled to be connected to "such a monumental moment in music history."

Austin Allsup said Valens' sister had contacted him after his father's death to offer her condolences.

"I told her in my message back, now my dad and Ritchie can finally finish the tour they started 58 years ago," he told ABC News.

Allsup played with such greats as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Roy Orbison, and won multiple Grammy awards.

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Published online on January 11, 2017 courtesy of Tributes.com
Tommy Allsup, the guitarist who avoided the Buddy Holly plane crash by losing a coin flip, died Jan. 11, 2017, according to multiple news sources. For full obituary and coverage from Legacy.com, ... Read Obituary
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