Crickets drummer Allison re-introduced to boyhood home at Buddy Holly Center
Approximately a year of renovation — worth $148,000 — has been devoted to retaining a physical part of Lubbock’s musical history, as the boyhood home of Crickets drummer Jerry Ivan (J.I.) Allison has been restored on the eastern side of the Buddy Holly Center, 1801 Crickets Ave.
The house, which was transported last year via a flatbed truck to its new location, will officially be dedicated with a public ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
The Buddy Holly Center also will celebrate what would have been the late Buddy Holly’s 77th birthday on Saturday.
Thursday found the Crickets — drummer Allison, standup bass player Joe B. Mauldin and singer Sonny Curtis — sharing mostly happy memories that were born within the walls of the wooden house that once sat at 2215 Sixth St.
Allison was eager to talk about one of the home’s happiest memories.
The large bedroom, which J.I. shared with a brother, was where Allison and Holly co-wrote one of the biggest pop hits ever released by Buddy Holly and the Crickets, “That’ll Be the Day.”
John Ford’s western “The Searchers” had a national release date of March 13, 1956, but it may have been close to summer when the film arrived in Lubbock. The uniform of the day was blue jeans and a white T-shirt, and Allison recalled that he, Holly and Curtis saw the movie together at the State Theater on Texas Avenue.
It was Buddy who loved the line “That’ll Be the Day,” which, according to Allison, John Wayne recites five times in the film.
Title came first
So they had their title. But Allison said he and Buddy worked hard on the lyrics, and recited:
“When Cupid shot his dart
He shot it at your heart
So if we ever part …”
“That sounded pretty good to me, and so we tried it out the next weekend at the roller rink,” said the drummer.
When a Nashville producer later said it was the worst song he’d ever heard, Allison, 17 at the time, recalled, “That really hurt my feelings because it was the first time I was getting a songwriter credit on a song we recorded.
“But then,” said Allison, “we took it to Clovis (N.M.) and recorded it again (in February 1957).”
So much music history revolves around the tune. It was, for example, the first song recorded by the Quarrymen, the band that became the Beatles.
Allison said, “Paul McCartney did tell me that if there hadn’t been the Crickets, there never would have been the Beatles.”
Allison’s house also is home to one of his saddest memories. He was the one who brought up the date (Feb. 2, 1959).
The Crickets had worked very late into the night on a recording at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, but they did not want to spend the night. They made the drive back to Lubbock, and Allison recalled he fell asleep in his bed, while Curtis opted to sleep on the couch.
While the Crickets were working in Clovis, Holly had been co-headlining with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper in Clear Lake, Iowa.
Curtis had awakened early that Tuesday morning and was sharing coffee with Allison’s mother when neighbor Oleta Hall from across the street rushed over with news about Holly and a plane crash.
Curtis said Thursday, “So it was up to me to walk into J.I’s bedroom, wake him up and tell him that his friend, Buddy, was dead.”
Allison said he worked his way up from a small snare drum to a full drum kit, much like the one now set up on display in his bedroom. He described himself as an old-school drummer.
Allison played in school bands, but musicians in other bands recognized that he was developing a style all his own.
Curtis said Allison did not initially look the part. “His growth spurt came later,” joked Curtis.
But Allison said he never was one to try to play along with records; he just played the drums every day.
His parents — “Louise Ferguson Allison and James Delbert Allison, who also was called Buddy” — had purchased the house so that he and his older brother Jaime could be close to Texas Tech.
Yet they supported their younger son as a drummer, and encouraged his friends to visit and bring their instruments, too.
“I also played in a country band in a joint at 16th and J,” said Allison. “My mom and dad never would set foot in a joint like that, but they came by and sat on the curb outside and listened to the music.
“They were supportive.”
No tax money
Don Caldwell, representing Civic Lubbock Inc., and Brooke Witcher, director of the Buddy Holly Center, stressed that “no city money, no tax dollars” were used on the Allison house project.
A grant was given by the CH Foundation. But much of the credit belongs to home builder Art Cuevas, who recognized that the Allison home was in bad shape when McDougal Properties was revamping the Overton district.
Fearing it would be destroyed, Cuevas contacted the Lubbock City Council and offered to help restore the house for the city and place it at the Buddy Holly Center.
McDougal Properties donated the house, which Caldwell said was almost a shell by then. Even the flooring was gone.
“Art agreed to do whatever construction was needed,” said Caldwell, “and I know he donated tons of personal time.”
Cuevas, said Caldwell, also contacted necessary subcontractors, with a high percentage donating their time.
In interviews before and after a news conference, Allison, Curtis and Mauldin made it apparent that — no matter how much time they reminisced about cool cars and remembered “smoking a lot of cigarettes” while being introduced to their first beers — the Allison house was always a special meeting place for West Texas musicians.
All had stories, for example, about Glenn D. Hardin, Bobby Keys and more.
Mauldin was being brought up by his grandparents, and Curtis sometimes hitchhiked into town from Meadow. They would meet at Allison’s home.
There also were nights, said Allison, when he and Holly would sit in Buddy’s ’55 Oldsmobile in the driveway, and “just talk about songs and girls and Elvis.”
“And sometimes we’d just enjoy a Coca-Cola, spelled b-e-e-r,” he added.
He said that he led “a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ existence,” for the most part. His chores at home didn’t stretch very far beyond taking out the trash and keeping the lawn mowed.
“Oh, I had to tell them where I was and how long I’d be there, and most nights they really knew everything going on,” he added with a laugh.
Looking again at the restored floors and the newly framed pictures of old friends on the walls, Allison said, again, “This is just such an honor.
“I really appreciate everyone who worked to make this happen.”