|Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup.|
Do you ever wonder how close you have come to death and not realized it? Or maybe one small seemingly insignificant choice allows you to keep on living. The following, from February 2, 2009, addresses that scenario in the life of a very well know celebrity.
My bonus question today on our Bible quizzes was guessing the age of Buddy Holly at the time of his death. (The correct answer was twenty-two.) Predictably, the 50th anniversary of the death of singers Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens has triggered a round of articles dealing with the plane crash and its aftermath. One article dealt with a glaring oversight- there were four fatalities that night in Iowa. Pilot Roger Peterson also was killed in that frozen Iowa corn field. I find it fascinating that the shows and tour went on as scheduled. I also find the story of Tommy Allsup, who is quoted in the following account, fascinating. He lived because he lost a coin flip. Do you think he has ever flipped a coin to decide anything since? Ellen Young, a member of my congregation, knows Mr. Allsup. I bet he has thanked the Lord every day since February of 1959.
By Melissa Rentería - Conexión
The plane that crashed with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper on board had other intended passengers — two young men who gave up their seats on the doomed flight.
Tommy Allsup, a guitarist for Buddy Holly, was minutes away from boarding the 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza when he lost a coin toss to Valens, who had asked Allsup to give him his seat on the plane.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think about it," Allsup said by phone from his hotel room in Clear Lake, Iowa, where the Grammy-winning guitarist was set to perform a series of concerts as part of a week long tribute to Valens, Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.
The three rockers, along with pilot Roger Peterson, died in the Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash that was immortalized in the 1971 Don McLean song "American Pie" as "The Day the Music Died." This year marks the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
Allsup and Waylon Jennings, who also played guitar for Holly, were scheduled to board the chartered plane after performing in Clear Lake, Iowa, as part of the "Winter Dance Party" tour. Holly chartered the small plane for himself and his band members after growing tired of riding the tour bus, which had a malfunctioning heater. The plane would take them to the tour's next stop in Fargo, N.D.
"Buddy said to me, 'How'd you like a seat on the plane' and I said 'that sounds good,' " recalled the 77-year-old Allsup, who at 27 was among the oldest musicians on the tour. Valens was 17, Holly was 22, and Richardson was 28. Peterson, the pilot, was 22.
Allsup's voice sometimes broke with emotion as he recalled the events leading up to the plane crash. The events, Allsup said, didn't occur as they were depicted in the 1987 Valens biopic "La Bamba," which showed the fateful coin toss happening at the airport.
Allsup, along with Holly and Richardson, who earlier had persuaded Jennings to give him his seat on the plane, were loading up a car to take them to the nearby Mason City Airport.
Allsup went back inside the Surf Ballroom, where the performers had just finished a show, to make sure they hadn't left any equipment behind. He passed Valens in the doorway on his way in.
"Ritchie was busy signing autographs and talking to some girls," Allsup said.
As Allsup made his way out the door, Valens, who earlier had asked Allsup to let him ride on the plane, once again tried to persuade the guitarist to give up his seat.
"I told him, 'Let's flip for it,' " Allsup said. "So I reached into my pocket for a 50-cent piece and said, 'Call it.' He called heads."
Allsup headed back to the car to tell the others that Valens would be riding on the plane with them, and he asked Holly to mail a letter home for him. In those days a special delivery letter required the mailer's identification, so Allsup searched his wallet for a form of I.D. that would work.
"Buddy told me to just give him my wallet," said Allsup, who later would be listed as a possible casualty when crews began searching the plane's wreckage and came across his wallet.
Allsup and the other musicians boarded their tour buses for the overnight trip to Fargo. They arrived at their hotel in the morning, and Allsup asked for a room next to Holly.
"The clerk said, 'Mr. Holly's not here and he's not coming. He died in a plane crash. It's all over the news,' " said Allsup, who had seen images of Holly and the others on a hotel lobby television but thought it was an advertisement promoting the upcoming show.
"I couldn't believe it," he said.
Allsup and Jennings played the scheduled show that night with Jennings singing lead vocals in place of Holly. The two would continue performing for the remainder of the tour, which, despite the three stars' deaths, was not canceled.
"I've been really blessed to play music all these years," said Allsup, a longtime record producer and session guitarist who has played on more than 6,500 recording sessions.
Despite the 50 years that have passed since the plane crash, Allsup said he still thinks about it daily "in some way or another," particularly around the anniversary date. His close call with that doomed flight has made him appreciate his life and his music more, he said. "I've just devoted my life to playing music and made the most of it. That's all I could do."
Applicable quote of the day:
"I can't remember if I cried,
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside,
The day the music died."
Don McLean (American Pie)
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