SKF NOTE: Another backgrounder interview for my History of Rock Drumming series for Modern Drummer. This, too, was a phone interview — the only backgrounder transcript so far with a date on it: March 21, 1982.
I describe the full back story to these interviews in introduction to my Life Beyond the Cymbals interview with guitarist Bob Berryhill of The Surfaris. Reading these transcripts today I wish I knew at the time of this interview what I know now about drumming history.
And, as with the other backgrounder interviews, Jerry Allison‘s comments are published for the first time here. I was tempted to rephrase some of my questions before publishing, but chose to leave them alone. I’m sure I was nervous at the start of this interview. Maybe that’s why some of my questions are phrased so poorly.
Scott K Fish: You played very uniquely an musically with Buddy Holly. What influenced you in developing your style?
Jerry Allison: Well, I started playing drums in the school band in the fifth gradde. I started studying music and the rudiments an the regular drumming deal, going through, like, band and high school band and all that.
No. Really, I took drum lessons and learned to read music and all that sort of thing. Couldn’t get much rock ‘n roll around Lubbock, Texas. But when it started happening I really enjoyed it and tried to play like Little Richard’s drummer, Earl Palmer. I think I played a lot of that stuff. He’s a good friend of mine. We play together a lot in L.A. when I use to live out there. I use to do a lot of sessions with him out there.
SKF: I was noticing [on Little Richard and Fats Domino records] the bass drum work he [Earl Palmer] did on those records.
JA: Yeah. He did great.
SKF: Was country music or blues an influence on you as a kid?
JA: Oh yeah. Country was about all you could listen to on the radio around there for the longest. I was, I guess, already in high school — it must have been the early 50s — where you didn’t get anything besides country music around there. I wasn’t ever particularly crazy about it at the time, but I heard a lot of it. But there wasn’t much drums on it. I mean, I don’t remember ever stealing any licks from any country records.
SKF: How about blues? Did that effect you at all?
JA: Yeah, we got into that. There wasn’t much of that to listen to that we knew. We use to listen to a station in Shreveport had some blues like Etta James and the Peaches and that sort of thing. I mean, I wasn’t ever a big blues collector either. Some old rock ‘n roll, sort of in between country and blues, like Jimmy Reed and those sort of things when they came out.
SKF: Little Richard and Earl Palmer were only a few years ahead of you guys. Almost contemporaries.
SKF: They were about three or four years ahead of you?
JA: Maybe not even that much. Maybe just a couple. When we first went on the road we were doing shows with Little Richard. And Earl Palmer wasn’t on the road with him at that time. There was a guy named Cornelius Coleman that played on the road with Fats Domino. We were on the road with them the first tour we dd. Fats Domino’s band. I liked the way he played real well.
SKF: What was the cut-off point with Buddy Holly’s recordings where you weren’t playing on the records, and it was New York studio musicians?
JA: There was really only one date like that. It was a big string date. I mean, I was there, but it was all, like, Dick Jacobs‘ Orchestra sort of thing. And he [Buddy Holly] did some things in his apartment that were overdubbed later that were just awful for my money.
But other than that he [Buddy Holly] just did one session. He did one Early in the Morning — and that was a rush cover job. Joe B. [Mauldin] and I had gone back to Texas and he was covering Bobby Darin or some deal.
But that’s the only two I didn’t play on that I know of.
SKF: Did they use a drummer on the [New York Buddy Holly] string dates?
JA: Oh yeah, there was a drummer. It was just really a written out part. I don’t remember who the guy was. The sax part was really good. I can’t remember who the sax player was.
SKF: Did you do the Nashville sessions with the real country sounding stuff?
JA: Well, I was in high school when Buddy got the first deal. But, I played on some of those. He did three Nashville sessions and I did one of them. I think it happened in the summertime where I wasn’t in school. We did That’ll Be The Day and Ting-A-Ling and a couple of more tunes.
SKF: Did Buddy have the tunes completed himself? Or were they a group effort?
JA: Well, Buddy and I wrote That’ll Be The Day. So it was definitely a group effort. We wrote a lot of songs together because he was just getting into rock ‘n roll himself. And we went to school together too. Just hung out, learning together. Getting a lot of ideas.
And I played with a few country bands in Texas. Just around joints. But, it would be second groceries. Like, while I was still in high school I was doing that for spending money. That’s all it was. We’d split the door or something.
SKF: The band [Buddy Holly and the Crickets] was great. And, like on Well, All Right, you’re just playing the cymbal. But that was perfect.
JA: Well, shit, thanks, Scott. I appreciate it.
SKF: Most drummers might try to play as much as they could.
JA: We always tried to keep everything relatively simple. That was part of the plan. I have run across a lot of drummers in the 25 or 30 years — however long it’s been — and they play every lick they know. And a lot of them, they play so much you can’t even pick it up on a recorder. It’s all blurred. I always liked to kind of keep it pretty simple. Besides that, you don’t have to practice as much.
SKF: You didn’t practice a whole lot after the rudimental stuff?
JA: No. After that I sort of figured, “Well, this is working. I’ll sort of stick with this.”
SKF: Did jazz drummers have an influence on you?
JA: Not really. There use to be a guy named Paul. I can’t remember his last name. He played with Hank Thompson. He was a real good jazz drummer and he and I would sit around and talk about that. [SKF NOTE: It was likely drummer Paul McGee.]
Well, Gene Krupa. I was flipped out with him. He was my era, sort of, when I was a kid. I went and saw him a couple of times in different clubs when we’d cross each other on the road. I was real impressed with all his drum solos and stuff he did. But it wasn’t every my ambition to be like that.
I never did like drum solos to start in with. I was impressed if someone could play them and come back in on one.
SKF: When you were playing the drum part on Peggy Sue, did anybody ever say, “Hey man! You can’t put in drums like that on a rock ‘n roll song?”
JA: Basically, that was just paradiddles. Just a basic old rudiment.
SKF: But it was unique. Nobody else was doing that. Did anybody ever say, “Hey! What are you doing?”
JA: Nobody ever asked. We just went ahead and did it.
SKF: This has been interesting trying to uncover the drummers’ contributions to rock ‘n roll. Things like, Who was the drummer on Bo Diddley records?
JA: Yeah. I never knew that, actually.
SKF: Clifton James. Did you get your Bo Diddley beat stuff from Bo Diddley?
JA: Oh yeah. For sure. We use to play the shit out of Bo Diddley at dances and all that.
One thing I forgot to mention: I always listened to big band stuff. Like, in the school band — I did quite a few gigs like that — senior proms and that kind of shit — where it would be three saxes and two trumpets, and maybe a couple of trombones, and that sort of thing. Swing band stuff.
I guess the first stereo record I bought when stereo came out in something like ’56 — my first record I bought was a Stan Kenton record.
You were talking about jazz drummers? Ted Heath use to have an amazing drummer — just play more with his left hand than I could play with both mine! But it wasn’t something you’d want to dance to. I did quite a few gigs like those.
Like, Little Richard’s band was sort of a swing band except it learned over toward rock ‘n roll. You know, it had the horns and all that.
SKF: That must have been a kick playing on the same date with Little Richard.
JA: Oh yeah. It was great. He use to come through Lubbock. Holly and I use to go out every time he came around. He played a place called The Cotton Club there. I don’t remember what his drummer’s name was at the time, but it wasn’t Earl Palmer. The drummer that was with him was just great. He, like, leaned on his knees with his elbows while he played. Just sitting down real low and played those really off-the-wall licks. [SKF NOTE: The drummer with Little Richard was likely Charles Connor.]
Remember Larry Williams had Dizzy Miss Lizzie and Slow Down and that stuff? It sounded like the same drummer. Some of the stuff didn’t sound like Earl Palmer to me. And I don’t know which he played on and which he didn’t.
SKF: He [Earl Palmer] told me he played on all of Little Richards records.
JA: Well, the guy that played with him on the road sounded like he did some of it. Like, he wouldn’t come in on one when he played a lick…. Well, one of my favorite licks ever was on Lucille — I think it’s in the instrumental part — where he goes [insert drum lick]. Where it’s all syncopated stuff.
We use to work out some of that stuff, like for Maybe Baby and those tunes.
But, anyway, that guy — like I said, I can’t remember what his name was — a real thin guy. He just played his ass off, ‘though different stuff than you’d ever heard, and totally not concerned about it! That was probably ‘567. This was right when we were recording and all that stuff, that we’d go out and see him. We were tickled to death when we finally got on the road to do some shows with him.
SKF: I read somewhere that you and Buddy Holly use to play duets a lot?
JA: Yeah, that was always fun. I think that helped his playing and mine both, ’cause you’ve got to play a whole bunch of stuff. We did that occasionally because there wasn’t that many musicians around at the time. Now, you find a picker on every corner. But at that time in Lubbock, there…. If you didn’t plan way ahead, you wouldn’t have anybody playing with you that night. Because there just wasn’t that many musicians around.
SKF: What was the town population?
JA: I guess it was near 100,000 at the time. That’s a wild guess. I don’t even know what it is now. It was a big town, but it was also a dry town. Like, you had to drive a hundred miles to buy beer unless you bought bootleg. In fact, now you still have to drive out of town before you can buy a six-pack.
There’s not much club activity because everybody has to bring their own bottle, and they sell them Cokes for 50-cents.
So, there wasn’t a lot of clubs to play. There just wasn’t a lot of live music going on.
When I was doing those country clubs we’d do one on Tuesday night and one on Thursday night. You know, one of those places where maybe you had 15 people. But that’s better than sacking groceries because we split the door, and it was like two-and-a-half apiece to get in or something.
SKF: Big bucks, huh?
JA: Oh man! You figure 50-cents an hour for sacking groceries. I thought I was rich. Make five dollars for playing three hours? And enjoy it? It was great.
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