Entertainment Music Tails you win. Guitarist who lost coin toss, avoided Buddy Holly plane crash dies aged 85
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Tails you win. Guitarist who lost coin toss, avoided Buddy Holly plane crash dies aged 85

Tommy Allsup
With a coin toss, Tommy Allsup avoided the 1959 plane crash that killed the Big Bopper. He died Wednesday at 85. Photo: Wikipedia
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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 aged of 85.

Allsup died of complications from a hernia operation at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, his musician son Austin Allsup said.

Allsup was part of Holly’s band when the Lubbock, Texas, singer died in a February 3, 1959 plane crash in the Iowa countryside in snowy conditions.

The deaths of Holly, Valens and Richardson were immortalised in Don McLean’s 1971 song American Pie, and became known as “the day the music died”.

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.

The wreckage of the plane crash that killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) in Iowa in 1959.
The wreckage of the plane crash that killed rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson Jr) in Iowa in 1959. Photo: Getty

In a 1987 interview, Allsup, who was born in 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.”

“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 said.

Austin Allsup, who last year competed in the singing competition television program The Voice, said Valens’ sister contacted 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, Allsup worked both as a guitarist and a record producer.

He produced records for Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, and was 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.