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Articles - Diaries > The Early Years: The Pickering Family Quartet

The Pickering Family Quartet - Bill, John, Mom and Pop

Bill and John Pickering of “The Picks” (Voices on most of Buddy Holly’s 1957 Brunswick Records’ “The Crickets” recordings) were born in East Texas to musical parents: John Murchison “Pop” Pickering and Ida Elizabeth “Beth” Nixon Pickering.

In 1939, the group moved to Lubbock, Texas and sang daily on KFYO Radio, performing concerts to huge crowds in school auditoriums and appearing at singing conventions of West Texas. Bass singer J.W. Elliott, with the maturing of Johnny as a singing member, soon left the group to join a male gospel quartet. Johnny then became the full-time lead singer with the group at age 6, standing on an apple crate to reach the microphone, just as his older sibling Billy once did. The Holley family first became acquainted with the Pickerings during this time, as they enjoyed gospel music and “singings”. Buddy Holly was 3 years old, but Larry, Travis and sister Pat were teenagers.


In 1940, The Pickering Family Quartet moved to Clovis, New Mexico, 100 miles west of Lubbock, Texas, to begin daily radio shows on KICA.  Theirs was a variety show, but featured Stamps and Stamps-Baxter gospel songs, with a show-ending hymn. They became regional stars, especially during World War II, performing for sell-out crowds at personal appearances during those “radio days”. The family first met pianist Norman Petty in 1940 at KICA, where his show followed theirs on the air. Bill and John became friends with Norman Petty and Violet Ann “Vi” Brady, whom Bill introduced to each other at junior high school. Over the next 8 years, the Pickerings (sometimes called “The Picks”) moved back and forth between Clovis and Lubbock, where they sang on various radio stations. The Pickering Family Quartet was joined at Clovis and Portales by teenager Jerry “Jay” Drennan, who replaced Bill Pickering in 1944 and 1945, during which time Bill was in the U.S. Navy.


In 1948, with Bill back in the fold, the family moved to Houston, Texas, where they sang mostly on KTRH, but also on KPRC. They did concerts with other celebrities, including such gospel groups as the Rangers Quartet and Wally Fowler and the Oak Ridge Quartet of the Grand Ole Opry. John soloed pop songs at high school performances and at the Shamrock Hotel during this time, but like his family, was always closely associated with gospel music. But in 1952, so that John (“Johnny”) could enter Texas Tech after graduating from Houston’s John H. Reagan High School in 1951, the Pickerings moved back to Lubbock and KSEL, KFYO, and KDAV (the original). Guitar phenomenon Sonny Stewart of Briggs, Texas joined them at Lubbock KSEL in 1952. Buddy Holly and especially Sonny Curtis became acquainted with Billy and John Pickering and Sonny Stewart during this period. Curtis credits Stewart with teaching him the style of guitar that launched his career.


“Pop” Pickering died suddenly in 1953, at the age of 52, and Bill, John and Mom were joined again by radio celebrity Jerry “Jaybird” Drennan as bass for a short time. Mom soon retired from professional singing, and the Pickering Brothers continued to sing and perform with various professional groups on radio and TV. Bill and John helped form a variety-music quartet called,  “The Plainsmen”. Bill left, and John joined a radio and TV gospel quartet called the “Happy Rhythm Boys”. Bill became a disc jockey for KLLL, Lubbock in 1954, and was the first deejay to play Buddy Holly’s solo release of “Blue Days, Black Nights” (Decca 29854; 45 RPM; 1956) in April, 1956. Later that year, Bill moved and was a disc jockey at Clovis, New Mexico. Then came 1957...