Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly and Joe B. Mauldin, photographed in the UK in 1958. 
(I found this shot on the internet, credited to Steve Bonner)

It was remiss of me last week not to mark the passing of Joe B. Mauldin, the bass player with The Crickets, who on February 7 died from cancer aged 74. I belong to the school of thought that believes The Crickets to have been the first ever rock ‘group’, insofar as they were the first to feature the classic line-up of two guitars, bass and drums. Furthermore, they were adept at backing vocals, had a name prefaced by ‘The’ and because Holly wrote their material were self-sufficient in every way, just like The Beatles and all who followed. More to the point, they sounded like an integrated rock band, unlike other American rockers that broke out in the fifties, Elvis included, who sounded more like a singer with his backing musicians.      
         Though the earliest groups Holly fronted went through a few changes, a line-up eventually settled around Buddy, on vocals and lead guitar, that included a rhythm guitarist (Niki Sullivan), a drummer (Jerry Allison) and Mauldin on bass, initially stand-up but later Fender Precision. Sullivan quit after finding the pace too hot and the returns too cool, eventually to be replaced by Tommy Allsup, but Mauldin and Allison remained true to the cause, forming the core trio with Holly, the definitive Crickets ensemble that carried on in fits and starts even after Buddy’s death in the tragic plane crash on February 3, 1959, right the way up into the 21st Century.
         Unbelievably, Mauldin was just 16 in 1957 when he joined up with Holly who had been dropped by Decca after three recording sessions failed to produce material that satisfied their A&R men. Holly wasn’t supposed to record the same songs for anyone else but he got around this by crediting the re-recordings to a group, The Crickets, thus launching the band, though subsequently – and confusingly – he would record under his own name as well as with the group, Holly recordings appearing on the Coral label and Crickets recordings on Brunswick. Holly further underscored the ‘group’ dynamic by insisting that their income was shared by all, telling Mauldin, ‘If it wasn’t for you guys, I couldn’t perform the show I put on.’   
         All of this is insignificant compared to the wonder of the great records they made together, beginning in 1957 with ‘That’ll Be The Day’ (which didn’t feature Mauldin – he joined not long after this recording), and followed by, amongst many others, ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘Oh Boy’, ‘Maybe Baby’ and my personal favourite ‘Rave On’. Though I was far too young to see Buddy and The Crickets on their 1958 UK tour, I had all these singles, and the LPs The Chirping Crickets and The Buddy Holly Story which was released shortly after Buddy’s death. I still have them and the inner sleeve of the latter (below) is decorated with pictures cut out from NME and lovingly pasted on.

In September 1975 I interviewed Norman Petty, who produced most of Holly’s work, for a lengthy Buddy Holly retrospective feature in MM, and also spoke with Jerry Allison. For some reason I never spoke with Mauldin. Like all the best music of the first wave of American rock stars, there is something utterly timeless about the records these musicians made together, their simplicity accentuating their charm, the little guitar breaks, the catchy choruses, the bounce of the band. Mauldin was a little chap with a big instrument, and in the few videos of the group that can be found on YouTube he has an easy, effortless style, his right foot tapping the beat, swaying along to the songs as if his big bass is his dance partner. I have 44 songs by Buddy Holly on my iPod and a further six credited to The Crickets, and whenever any of them crop up on shuffle I’m grateful for the delight they continue to bring.
         RIP Joe. 


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