Obituary: Tommy Allsup, musician

Tommy Allsup, musician. Born: 24 November 1931 in Oklahoma. Died: 11 January 2017 in Missouri, aged 85
Tommy Allsup, who has died aged 85. Picture: ContributedTommy Allsup, who has died aged 85. Picture: Contributed
Tommy Allsup, who has died aged 85. Picture: Contributed

Tommy Allsup, a guitarist best known for losing a coin toss that kept him off the plane that later crashed and killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP “Big Bopper” Richardson, has died.

Allsup died in hospital in Springfield, Missouri, due to complications from a hernia operation, said his son Austin Allsup, a singer and musician. He had been hospitalised since early this month.

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Tommy Allsup was part of Holly’s band when the singer died on 3 February 1959 in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Allsup flipped a coin to see who between him and Valens would get a seat on the plane and who would have to take the bus to the next stop on the tour.

Holly, Valens and Richardson died with pilot Roger Peterson, 21, when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside in snowy conditions.

“I know my dad has talked about that many times and knew that he was very lucky to be here. It could have been the other way around,” Austin Allsup, 32, said.

In a 1987 interview, Tommy Allsup, who was born in Owasso, Oklahoma, recalled flipping the coin backstage after playing a concert.

“A couple of people were standing there,” he said. “I flipped it. [Valens] called heads. He got his stuff off the bus.”

Another entertainer who was left off the plane was country music star Waylon Jennings, who was also playing with Holly’s band at the time. Jennings died in 2002.

Austin, who competed in the US version of The Voice, said Valens’ sister reached out to 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 said.

After Holly’s death, Tommy Allsup worked both as a guitarist and a record producer. He produced records for Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. He was also inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

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Austin Allsup said his father continued to perform and toured Europe last year: “I know he was extremely proud of his family... he knew he was very blessed to live the life that he lived.”


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