Niki Sullivan

But for a chance meeting with Buddy Holly at an informal jam session in 1957, Niki Sullivan might well have had a relatively anonymous career in country music in the area around Lubbock, TX. Instead, he has the distinction of having been the "other" guitarist in Buddy Holly's band the Crickets, playing rhythm guitar and providing backup vocals where they were useful in the four-man lineup of the group. Sullivan played a bit of guitar, though at age 19 he'd never aspired to a real "career" in music until Holly asked him to join his band in 1957. Sullivan was present on the version of "That'll Be the Day" that put Holly and the band -- by then known officially as the Crickets -- on the map, and played on the group's first album, The Chirping Crickets, which included such classic songs as "Oh Boy," "Not Fade Away," and "Maybe Baby." Alas for Sullivan, he had the misfortune to be the second guitarist in a group with a triple-threat leader who became proficient enough on guitar by himself for any band; he was also a decent backup singer, but had to compete with drummer Jerry Allison -- much more a core member of the band on a creative level -- for those chores. After half-a-year of frantic work and whirlwind touring, during which Sullivan's relationship with Holly was sometimes strained to the breaking point, he exited the group at the tail-end of 1957, immediately following their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. One irony of his split with the group and his difficult relationship with Holly, according to Philip Norman in his book Rave On, was that Holly and Sullivan later turned out to have been distantly related. Though he sang and played on only a handful of recordings during his months with the band -- and his rhythm playing, even with the miraculous resolution available from digital audio in the 21st century, is next to invisible -- Sullivan's bespectacled, guitar-wielding image was immortalized on the cover of The Chirpin' Crickets which, thanks to the continued interest in Holly's music over the decades, has proved one of the more enduringly popular rock & roll albums of the late '50s as both an LP and a CD.