The Crickets (also known as Buddy Holly and the Crickets) are an American rock ‘n roll band, formed by the late Buddy Holly in his hometown in Lubbock, Texas. At that time, Holly had been making demos with fellow friends/musicians and so decided to form a band. He was already under contract from Decca Records, and thus recording under his own name. To avoid legal complexities, Holly chose the name the Crickets for his new band. They composed of Holly, rhythm guitaris Niki Sullivan, bassist Joe B. Mauldin, and drummer Jerry Allison. The group were managed by engineer/producer Norman Petty. Holly severed his ties with Petty amidst differences and moved to New York to continue recording with backup musicians, while his bandmates were left in Lubbock. They hoped to reunite with Holly soon but he perished on a plane crash on February 3, 1959. The Crickets continued to perform after Holly’s death, having scored a #5 UK hit “Don’t Ever Change.” Many years later, the Crickets have remained active in the music business, doing mostly touring. Buddy’s childhood friend and his erstwhile session musician Sonny Curtis is now doing lead vocals and guitar, rounded out by other members Mauldin, Allison, and Glen Hardin. They were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
The formation of The Crickets began as a complete fiction. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Buddy Holly (1936-1959) had been cutting demos with his buddies since the early 1950s in Lubbock, Texas. Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis and Larry Welborn took part in these sessions. It was then that Holly had decided to form his own band.
Holly was already signed to Decca where he recorded singles under his own name. So to prevent troubles he must think up of another name for his new band. Inspired by other musical groups who named themselves after birds, Holly was considering insect-inspired names. In fact, the band almost settled for the name “Beetles,” until they arrived at their final choice, “Crickets.” The Beatles chose to name themselves as a homage to the Crickets.
The band consisted of Holly (vocals, lead guitar), Niki Sullivan (rhythm guitar), Joe B. Maudlin (bass) and Jerry Allison (drums).
Encountering Norman Petty and early successes
The Crickets had begun making TV appearances and recorded songs but they little did make any commercial impact. One day in 1957 Norman Petty arranged for their recording sessions at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico. He decided that the records should be billed in different names: the solo vocals should be issued as only “Buddy Holly” while the Holly’s vocals plus the dubbed backing should be released as “The Crickets.” This move was planned as a marketing ploy. For the next fifteen months, they released separate records by the Crickets and records by Buddy Holly alone, which were practically interchangeable. Holly’s own hits “Oh Boy!” and “Maybe Baby’ were sometimes credited to “Buddy Holly and the Crickets,” as some disc jockeys would refer to them as one act. However, record labels never used this billing until after Holly’s death.
Holly’s split with Petty, The Crickets without Holly, and his untimely death
By the end of 1958 however, Buddy Holly’s musical interest grew and expanded. At the same time he married Maria Elena Santiago. These changes in Holly’s personal life and his desire to tread into a new direction in his musical career were made worse by his and his bandmates’ differences with their manager Petty.
Holly ended his professional relationship with Petty. Then he and his new bride moved to New York during the same year, leaving his bandmates behind in Lubbock. It was in Holly’s absence there came the separate existence of just the Crickets, away from Holly and from being “Buddy Holly and the Crickets”. For the meantime, Allison stood in as leader of the band, with new members Curtis (guitar) and Earl Sinks (lead vocals) joining.
They hoped to reunite with Holly after the winter tour through the midwestern US. However, while they were recording, they learned that Holly was killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 while on tour.
The Crickets after Holly’s death
Even after Holly’s death, the Crickets soldiered on. One of their first attempts for a major chart hit was “I Fought the Law” which was released in 1959 and was written by Allison. However, it disappeared without a trace. The Bobby Fuller Four revived the song in 1965 and made it into a Top 10 Billboard pop hit.
Around 1960 The Crickets recruited David Box who, like Holly, was also a Lubbock native and had the same singing style. He sang the lead vocals of “Peggy Sue Got Married,” among other few songs. And rather eerily, Box died in a plane crash in 1964 while on tour — almost the same manner as in Holly’s death. Box was 21 when he died, while Buddy had died at age 22.
During the 60s music era, the Crickets were struggling to find success in their native country. However, some of their singles landed on the charts of the British Isles: “Love’s Made a Fool of You,” “When You Ask About Love,” “More Than I Can Say,” and “Baby My Heart.” Their next single “Don’t Ever Change” was hugely popular int he UK, and as a result it made at #5 there, their only Top 10 single on any chart. They continued their success in the UK with singles “My Little Girl” and “(They Call Her) La Bamba,” both British Top 40 hits.
By the end of the 1960s however, Maudlin quit the music business and Allison took over the lead vocal duties. Around the same time, he and Allison continued to work as a session musicians. Curtis experienced huge success in his career when he became the composer of the Mary Tyler Moore theme music during the 1970s. By that time, the Crickets had been more engaged in touring and performing for the nostalgic circuit and less into recording; Maudlin also came out of his retirement and joined the lineup again.
The Crickets in the 21st century
In 2004 The Crickets released an album entitled The Crickets and their Buddies which featured their earlier hits and guest appearances from some of the other established names such as Eric Clapton, Waylon Jennings and Graham Nash.
Sullivan died of a heart attack in 2004, aged 66.
The Crickets were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2012 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it was done by the organization as its way to amend its mistake of not including The Crickets when Holly was first inducted in 1986. Sullivan, Allison, Curtis, and Maudlin were among the inductees, but Allison and Curtis were unable to attend the ceremonies due to Maudlin’s illness. Maudlin eventually died from cancer in 2015, aged 74.
Also check out separate biographies on Buddy Holly on Mentalitch: