The Crickets were THE American Rock and Roll Band. With a career that spans five decades connected with millions of record sales, there’s no denying this musical group’s excellence.
Their influence can hear in the music of every major rock band and performer of their time. From Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and even The Beatles. In fact, Paul McCartney once said that if it weren’t for The Crickets, there would have been no Beatles.
Many of their hit songs like Not Fade Away, That’ll Be The Day, I fought the Law, Peggie Sue, and More Than I Can Say consider to be rock classics.
They formed in Lubbock, Texas, in 1957. The founding members were Buddy Holly on lead vocals and lead guitar, Nicki Sulivan on rhythm guitar, and J.J. Allison on drums, although, shortly after forming the group, bassist Joe B. Mauldin brings aboard.
The Crickets are notable for being one of the first rock and roll outfits that are entirely self-contained. They write, perform, produce, and record all of their own music and are the first rock groups to employ techniques. Those are multi-track recording and overdubbing that will become standard.
But their true claim to fame was being one of the first bands to make rock and roll music accessible to their audience. They helped set the template of what rock and roll were all about. Their first hit record ‘That’ll Be The Day’ released in May of 1957. The single peaked at number three on the Billboard Top 100 chart on the 16th of September, 1957.
Buddy Holly died in a horrific plane crash in 1959. After his death, The Crickets continued to tour and record with different line-ups of band members well into the 21st Century. The band gave their final performance on February 6, 2016, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, which happened to be the site of Buddy Holly’s last performance.
Join Facts Verse as we take some time to reflect on this wildly influential band. We’ll be discussing how many of the band members who have been a part of The Cricket’s line-up over the years have died. Fittingly, let’s start by talking about the ‘day the music died’.
In early 1959, 22-year-old Buddy Holly embarked on a tour across the American Midwest, playing shows at various ballrooms and auditoriums. The tour, which dubbed ‘The Winter Dance Party’ kicks off on January 23 in Milwaukee during what will be one of the coldest winters in record history.
The Cricket’s traveled in a heated bus, but it unfortunately was prone to mechanical failure. So, one evening after the bus had petered out once again, Holly charted a plane to take him and his tour partners to the next gig.
On February 3, 1959, The Cricket’s frontman boarded an airplane along with Ritchie Valens and J. P. ‘Big Bopper’ Richardson, not far from Clear Lake, Iowa. Tragically, just minutes after takeoff, the craft crashed, killing everyone on board almost instantly.
Holly’s bassist at the time, Waylon Jennings, will hunt by the events of that evening for decades, as he had given away his seat to Richardson who was under the weather with the flu just moments before the plane took flight.
Buddy Holly’s plane crash considers being one of the most tragic happenings in the history of rock and roll. It’s even been dubbed ‘the day the music dies’.
Allsup was a member of Buddy Holly’s touring band for the 1959 Winter Dance Party shows. As far as recording with the band, he played lead on songs like It’s So Easy and Lonesome Tears.
After Buddy Holly’s plane crashes, investigators think that Allsup is killed. He had given Holly his wallet so that he could use his ID to collect a piece of mail on his behalf. In truth, he almost did die on that flight, but after losing a coin toss to Ritchie Valens, he lost his seat but his life spared.
Allsup was active in the music industry for almost seventy years. After the Winter Dance Party tour came to an abrupt and dramatic end, Alsup continued his musical career as a rockabilly and Western swing guitarist.
He died after complications from hernia surgery at the age of 85 at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, on January 11, 2017.
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Sullivan was one of the original members of The Crickets, although he quickly lost interest in the band just months after joining. His guitar work played a significant role in Buddy Holly’s early success. During his brief career, he performed on 27 out of the 32 songs that Holly and The Crickets put out.
Since he bore a slight resemblance to Buddy Holly, being skinny with glasses, he was often referred to as ‘the other guy with glasses’ in critic’s reviews and magazine articles. After The Cricket’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 1, 1957, the band briefly went on a hiatus to gear up for their next recording.
During this time, Sullivan announced that he had permanently left the band. He would later reveal that he did this because he was struggling to keep up with the intensive tour schedule.
After retiring from the music industry, Sullivan took a job working for Sony. In 1978, he reunited with Mauldin, Allison, and the Cricket’s new lead singer Sonny Curtis for a one-off performance at a Buddy Holly Festival.
Sullivan died of a heart attack at the age of 66 on April 6, 2004.
After Holly’s death in 1959, Naylor became the lead singer for The Crickets in 1961. Jerry Allison, who had become the sole owner of The Cricket’s name, and the band’s manager H. Daniel Whitman, offered Naylor the position after signing with Liberty Record.
Naylor recorded with The Crickets as the band’s lead singer until 1964. The group’s first hit with Liberty was the song ‘Don’t Ever Change’, which reached number 5 on the UK charts. The Beatles covered the track live on the BBC in 1963.
After leaving The Crickets, Naylor had success with his song ‘Is This All There Is To A Honky Tonk’ in 1974. It peaked at number 31 on the Country Charts in March 1975.
In 2013, Naylor, who was then 74, revealed that during his days touring with The Crickets and beyond, he used his fame as a cover to work as a secret agent for the CIA. He claims that he accepts over 100 times to spy for his country under the guise of being a touring musician.
Allegedly, his first mission was in Japan in 1968 when he was asked to collect a briefcase from Taiwan. During one of his later missions, he helped the US derail the presidential campaign of an ally of Colonel Gaddafi.
Naylor further claimed that other US stars had to have been recruited for similar jobs.
Nayler died of natural causes on December 5, 2019 at the age of 80.
Joe B Mauldin
Rolling Stone once described Mauldin’s bass playing with The Cricket’s as having set the pulse of rock & roll music.
He was born and raised in West Texas. When he was 17, he began playing music with his friend Buddy Holly and his new band, The Crickets. After Holly’s death in 1959, The Crickets reformed with a new vocalist, Earl Sinks, and lead guitarist, Sonny Curtis.
In the 60s, Mauldin briefly left the group. In 1964 he enrolled in the US Army. After being discharged two years later, he started working as a recording engineer over at Gold Star Studios. By the mid-1970s, Mauldin had rejoined The Crickets. He remained with the group until he lost his battle with cancer on February 7, 2015, at the age of 74.
Sinks started performing with Bob Wills at the age of 12. In 1958, he recorded two singles under the Alias Henry. After Buddy Holly broke up with the recording incarnation of The Crickets near the end of 1958, Sink was brought in to record with the band as it’s lead singer since he had a similar singing style to Holly.
After Holly’s death in 1959, he recorded and performed with The Crickets on the album In Style With the Crickets. His association with the band ended in February 1960 after some kind of disagreement.
Throughout the 60s, Sinks acted in a number of low budget films and TV shows. From 1966 to 2013, he recorded and occasionally toured with the band The Mar-Vels. Since the 1970s, Sinks shifted focus to the business side of things and ran Ace of Hearts Records.
Sinks died at the age of 77 at his home on May 13, 2017.
Buddy Holly died over 60 years ago, but his legacy will live on forever. Likewise, the band members of The Crickets made significant contributions to the world of music that won’t soon be forgotten.
What’s your favorite song by Buddy Holly and The Crickets? And how do you think things would played out if Holly never chartered that ill-fated flight in 1959? Let us know in the comments.
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