NASHVILLE -- Musician Tommy Allsup doesn't dwell on the coin flip that kept him from taking a plane 20 years ago. It was the fatal flight that killed rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. (the Big Bopper) Richardson.

The toss is recounted in the movie hit "La Bamba," which details Valens' short life. Allsup is mentioned in the movie when the musicians flipped a coin to see who would ride on the plane and who would take the tour bus from Clear Lake, Iowa, on Jan. 3, 1959.

"We flipped the coin backstage," Allsup said. "I had put my bag in the station wagon to go to the airport. I went back into the club to see if the instruments were loaded on the bus. Ritchie was signing autographs and that's when we flipped the coin.

"A couple of people were standing there," he recalled. "I flipped it. He called 'heads.' He got his stuff off the bus and put it in the station wagon."

The bus went on to Fargo, N.D., while Valens, Holly and the Big Bopper took the small plane to get there more quickly and comfortably. The three rockers died with 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson when the plane crashed in the Iowa countryside.

"I've thought a lot more about it recently since the movie came out," the 55-year-old Allsup said. "I had put it out of my mind.

"Occasionally, when I get on a plane, I think about it, but I have no fear of flying. I'm not crazy about small planes, though. If I know the pilot, it's okay. But I don't go rent a plane just to go up. When it's your time to go {die}, you're going to go."

Allsup was playing guitar in Holly's band when he met Valens during the ill-fated tour.

"We got to be pretty good buddies on the tour," Allsup said in a telephone interview from his Dallas home. "We talked a lot, and he talked about his mother a lot. He had got word that his record sold a million, and he was real excited about that. He was pleasant to work with and he was a good guitar player. He played his own lead on 'La Bamba.'

"He was young and he was a good singer. He proved he could write a hit song. He was good enough as an entertainer to have carried the load. He had everything going his way."

Allsup, a former sessions musician in Nashville, said the song "La Bamba" has remained popular because of its simplicity.

"People are listening closely," he said. "They want to hear the song {lyrics}. They want to hear the way it was 30 years ago.

"This made Buddy popular because you could hear every word of his songs. If you were a country music fan or a rock 'n' roll fan, you could listen to his songs and they appealed to everybody. The trend is coming around to '50s music. People are turning off to heavy metal."

Los Lobos recorded the title song for the movie and it quickly shot to No. 1, doing better than Valens' original recording, which peaked at No. 22 on Billboard's chart one month after the crash.

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

Allsup, who plays in a band in the Dallas area, said he learned about the crash when the bus arrived in Fargo, N.D., the day after leaving Iowa.

"I walked in to a motel to check on the rooms. There was a TV there by the check-in counter. They had a picture of the Big Bopper on the screen and the clerk said those guys were killed in a plane crash.

"The road manager walked in and that's how we found out. We walked back to the bus and we told everybody on the bus. Dion and the Belmonts were there, Waylon and some others," Allsup said.

"I was low. I went inside and called my mom. I asked her if she had the TV on and she said, 'No.' I told her. They had me listed {on the plane} at first.

"We played that night. You know, the show must go on."

Allsup doesn't think about being a footnote in music history.

"I don't dwell on it too much," he said. "I'm glad I was there. The timing was important and I was there at the right time. But I've done other things I was equally proud of, like some Bob Wills records.