HOUSTON – Tommy Allsup, a guitarist best known for losing a coin toss that kept him off a plane that later crashed and killed rock ‘n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, has died. He was 85.
Allsup, died Wednesday at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, due to complications from a hernia operation, said his son Austin Allsup, a singer and musician, on Thursday. He had been hospitalized since early this month.
Tommy Allsup was part of Holly’s band when the Lubbock, Texas, singer died in the Feb. 3, 1959, 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 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside in snowy conditions. The three rockers’ deaths were immortalized in Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie,” and became known as “the day the music died.”
Austin Allsup, of Fort Worth, said that 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.”
“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, told the Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday.
In a 1987 interview with the AP, 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 Allsup, who last year competed in the singing competition television program “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.
Austin Allsup said his father still continued to perform as a musician and toured Europe last year.
“I know he was extremely proud of his family. … I think he knew he was very blessed to live the life that he lived,” Austin Allsup said.
Funeral services for Tommy Allsup will be held next Wednesday in Owasso, Oklahoma, his son said.
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