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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


A premier Western-swing guitarist, as well as a music producer, Tommy Allsup was born on his Cherokee mother's allotment near Owasso on November 24, 1931. He was the twelfth of thirteen children in a musical family. When he was young, the family moved to Claremore, and in 1947, as a sophomore in high school, Allsup and some of his friends organized a Western-style band and called themselves the Oklahoma Swing Billies. After high school he worked with Art Davis and other bands before becoming a member of the Johnnie Lee Wills and All His Boys band in Tulsa.

Later, in Lawton he fronted his own band in the Southern Club for a few years. Then in April 1958 a friend asked him to record with them at the Norman Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty needed a session guitarist and asked Allsup to stay and back up other performers. There he recorded with Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Allsup became the first to play a guitar solo (lead) on a Buddy Holly recording, and during that summer and fall of 1958 he toured with the band.

After the original Crickets left Holly, he asked Allsup, Waylon Jennings, and Carl Bunch, to be his band. In the winter of 1959 they started their tour. It was so cold that after the concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, Holly hired a pilot to fly them to the next scheduled town. Ritchie Valens had never flown in a small airplane and begged Allsup to let him take his place. Finally, they flipped a coin, with Valens winning. Holly and Valens were killed when, for unknown reasons, the plane crashed. Allsup led the Crickets and finished the tour.

He continued his life in music as a session guitarist and record producer, and he played a major role in putting swing into country music. In the 1960s he worked for the Liberty label, producing Willie Nelson's first records, the Bob Wills records on Liberty, Asleep at the Wheel's first five records, and records for Tex Williams, Mickey Gilley, Gene Watson, and others. It was Allsup who produced the legendary Western swing tribute to Bob Wills, For the Last Time. He has been the session guitarist for over sixty-five hundred recordings, has arranged background music for many recording sessions, and has worked as an independent music producer in Nashville. He also produced recordings featuring his guitar style, including The Buddy Holly Songbook Featuring the Guitar of Tommy Allsup, Tommy Allsup: Ten Great Country Classics, and Tommy Allsup: Ten Great Gospel Classics. Allsup was the one who organized the Western swing band known as The Original Texas Playboys, and he has been the leader of the group billed as The Texas Playboys that continued to perform into the twenty-first century. In 1999 Asleep at the Wheel won a Grammy Award for "Bob's Breakdown," a country instrumental that featured Allsup and other performers. In his later years Tommy Allsup lived in Texas and operated a recording studio. He died on January 11, 2017.

Guy Logsdon


Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 13 August 1994 and 7 April 2000.

Guy Logsdon, Mary Rogers, and William Jacobson, Saddle Serenaders (Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1995).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Guy Logsdon, “Allsup, Tommy Douglas,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=AL012.

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