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Guitarist Tommy Allsup (1931-2017)


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The veteran Grammy Award-winning guitarist Tommy Allsup, said to be the loser of a legendary coin flip that saved his life on February 3, 1959, has died at the age of 85.


Allsup was a member of the Midwest winter tour featuring rock 'n' roll headliners Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Dion and the Belmonts. After a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a small plane to  Fargo, North Dakota (reportedly so that he could arrive at the next stop, Moorhead, Minnesota, in time to take care of his dirty laundry).


Allsup was scheduled to fly in the plane with Holly, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson. But singer Valens asked for Allsup's seat, and so Allsup pulled out a half dollar and prepared to flip the coin. Valens called "heads" and won the toss. 


Holly's bass player, Waylon Jennings, also had a seat on the plane, but he gave it to an ailing Richardson.


Hours later, the plane crashed near Clear Lake, killing all aboard. In his 1971 hit "American Pie," singer Don McLean immortalized the tragedy as "the day the music died."


Variations of the coin flip incident were used in the films "The Buddy Holly Story" (which earned a 1978 Oacar nomination for actor Gary Busey) and "La Bamba" (1987, which starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens).


Allsup had a productive career during the next five decades. He won a 2000 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Bob's Breakdowns," a tribute to the country great Bob Wills..


His son, singer-songwriter Austin Allsup, was a contestant last fall during Season 11 of NBC's competition series "The Voice."





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