Tommy Allsup: Guitarist who avoided Buddy Holly plane crash dies at 85

Allsup was the first guitarist to play a solo on a Buddy Holly recording. Credit: Eric Shaiman

Tommy Allsup, the American guitarist best known for losing a coin toss that kept him off the plane that crashed killing rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP "Big Bopper" Richardson, has died at 85.

Singer and musician Austin Allsup said his father died on Wednesday at a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, due to complications from a hernia operation.

Tommy Allsup was the first guitarist to play solo on a Buddy Holly recording and has been previously hailed by Sir Paul McCartney as one of the finest guitarists in the world.

Tommy Allsup was part of Buddy Holly's band when the Texan singer died in the 1959 plane crash near Iowa.

Allsup flipped a coin to see if he or Valens would get a seat on the plane, and lost.

Austin Allsup said his father took losing the coin toss as a blessing and was humbled to be connected to "such a monumental moment in music history".

"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," his son said.

Ritchie Valens, J.P. Credit: PA (L) AP (R)

In a 1987 interview, Tommy Allsup 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."

Another entertainer who was left off the plane was the country music star Waylon Jennings, who was also playing with Holly's band at the time.

Jennings died in 2002.

During a trip to New Mexico in 1958, Allsup started playing lead guitar with The Crickets, the band formed by Holly.

Following the deadly plane crash one year later, Allsup moved to California and worked both as a guitarist and a record producer, producing records for Willie Nelson, Bobby Vee and Asleep at the Wheel.

He was also 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," he said.

Funeral services are expected to be held next week and Allsup will be buried in Oklahoma, near his home town of Owasso.