“Elvis had rhythm in his voice,
he just had a natural thing about that…”
Scotty Moore interviewed by Arjan Deelen
On March 28th, 1998, Scotty and D.J. performed at an Elvis convention here in Europe. That same evening, I interviewed them both in Scotty’s hotelroom. Actually, it wasn’t easy to find good questions, as Scotty’s THAT’S ALL RIGHT ELVIS and Peter Guralnick’s LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS describe the early years in wonderful detail. Nevertheless, the interviews were quite interesting in many ways. Especially Scotty is very straightforward and outspoken, and his viewpoints shed a new light on various issues for me.
Why did you decide to do an autobiography?
I have a daughter in Memphis that knew the guy that wrote the book. She kept after me about it, and I finally told her that if she’d shut up, I’d do the book.
Do you think Elvis was musically active before ‘That’s All Right’?
In an amateurish way, yes. He was listening to bands, going to the Gospel all-night singings and so forth. He was definitely singing and playing, but not professionally.
How many days are there between your first meeting with Elvis and the recording of ‘That’s All Right’? According to some it’s a matter of months, while others say it all happened within a week..
It’s a matter of one day, really. I met him on sunday, and we went in the studio monday night. That was when ‘That’s All Right’ was cut. But that was an audition, it wasn’t meant as a session.
You also tried ‘Harbour Lights’ and that kind of stuff…
Yeah, those were just things that…everybody would try and think of a song. We’d try and play it, and Sam would record it. We’d listen to it and go on to something else.
In an interview you said that Elvis’ relation-ship with you was like that of an older brother.
What kind of things did you discuss?
Good God, it’s been 47 years ago.. he was full of questions about a lot of things.
I’ve read that he looked up to you because you’d been in Korea and so forth, while he’d only been in and around Memphis…
Yeah, I’d been in the navy four years. He was just curious and he’d ask questions about different things. But he did that with Bill and D.J. too. He had a mind that…he was quick to grasp …….
Eager to learn.
What kind of music did you listen to on the car radio during those early tours?
Jazz when Elvis was with us. There was a late night radio-show Out of New Orleans.
It was around mid-night. (to D.J.:) Was that Moonglow Martin?
D.J.: Yeah, Moonglow Martin.
(Scotty continues:) He had about three or four hours of jazz. Played all the big bands, trio’s and stuff, and you could pick that program up almost all over. Just about anywhere in the country.
About eight years ago, ABC produced the television-series ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, about the early years on the road. Was it reasonably accurate?
Some of it was, and some of it was absolutely made up. The network wanted it to be a sort of ‘Dukes of Hazzard’. We’d stop at a service-station to get gas, the place would get robbed and we’d chase them. We didn’t do that! (laughs)
Is it true that you, Elvis and Bill jammed with Lowell Fulson in a club in Houston?
Yeah. I can’t tell you the name of the club, but we actually did. It was an all-black club, and we played a couple of numbers with him.
Is that where Elvis got ‘Reconsider Baby’ from?
No, he already knew it. When I first met him it seemed like he knew every song that’d ever been recorded. Pop, R&B, country…you name it.
How did you come up with new songs for studio-sessions and live-shows in those days?
Some of the stuff at Sun was just a matter of… Sam, myself, Bill and Elvis would just think of a song and say: “Do you know that one?”. We might run it three times and see. If it didn’t feel like anything happened, we’d go on to something else. Of course, when he went to RCA, the publishing companies would bring in stacks and stacks of demos.
Yeah, him mostly.
In december 1955 Hill & Range published the songhook ‘Elvis Presley Album of Jukebox Favorites’, which included songs like ‘That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch’, ‘Tennessee Saturday Night’ and ‘Always late With Your Kisses’. Were any of those songs ever performed live or in the studio?
No, they would put in filers, songs from their own catalogue.
I have read that Elvis sang the Platters-hit ‘Only You’ live in 1955/56. Was it performed on more than one occasion?
Yes, I think so.I remember doing it, but I don’t remember any dates. We did it some, but not very much.
And ‘Rock Around The Clock’?
We tried that a few times, that was really in the very early days. I don’t think it ever got recorded on tape, live or anything.
They recently found Louisiana Hayride recordings of ‘Hearts Of Stone’ and ‘Little Mama’.
Who is “they”?
Ernst Jørgensen from RCA.
I remember ‘Hearts Of Stone’, but I don’t remember the other song.
It’s a Clovers song, and there’s steel and piano on it.
We used the other guys on there some. Steelplayers, drummers…
Floyd Cramer also played at the Hayride, didn’t he?
Yeah, but I don’t remember him playing anything with us at the Hayride. He played some clubdates with us. There’s another guy that I do remember playing piano with us, and his name is Leon Post. See, it was a big stage with different acts, and they all intermingled. It was like a big family. It was like: “Hey c’mon, play with me on that song” – you know, that kind of thing. That’s how we ended up with piano and steel sometimes.
Can you remember if you, Elvis and Bill performed on Roy Orbison’s television-show on KOSA in Odessa, Texas in 1955?
We may have, I don’t know. I don’t remember it.
Did Elvis talk about his contemporaries?
We talked about every sucker that we heard on the radio!. That was just natural.
Who did you admire from that era?
Not too many! (laughs)
How did the first session alter Elvis came out of the army go?
That was in March ’60. It was an all-night session to cut a full album. It felt just like any other: a session is a session. We went on the train the next day to go to Miami to do the Sinatra show.
It’s been rumoured that Elvis hated ‘Stuck On You’.
(DJ.:) I don’t blame him!
Were you surprised by his change of style with songs like ‘It’s Now Or Never’?
No, I liked those. ‘Suspicion’, ‘It’s Now Or Never’… they were fun to do.
Did you pitch any songs to Elvis?
Just one…’Girl Next Door Went A’ Walking’. I produced the Thomas Wayne version. Thomas wrote it.
Jumping a few years ahead to the NBC Special in ’68, was it planned that Elvis would take your guitar?
No. He was watchin’, he looked at the look on my face, seeing if I was agitated by his playing or not!
Did you get any directions from the producers?
It was a jam session, that’s all we did. The director said: “There’s the stage. Don’t worry about the cameras, just do what you want to do”.
So the songs were not selected by the producers?
No, it was just whatever came into Elvis’ mind, whatever he felt like doing.
How would you rate Elvis as a guitarist?
Fair. He had a good sense of timing and rhythm. He didn’t know a whole lotta chords, but those he knew, he really could use ’em. And he’d play a little bass, a little drums…He had rhythm in his voice, he just had a natural thing about that. He could hear a song, and he knew what he could do with that song. And nobody else could do it. They’re still imitating him today but they just can’t do it. They just don’t have whatever it is that Elvis had.
Do you keep up with new releases?
No, in fact I’m kind of hacked off by all these what they call “alternate takes”. They’re not alternate takes, they’re outtakes – throwaway stuff that was supposed to hit the garbage can. All that does is show us working on a song, mistakes and all, ’till we finally reach the point: “That’s a master”.
You’re not too happy with it being released?
No, I’m not. In fact, we got the Union after them now ’cause they’re saying it’s part of the session, and the Union is saying: “No, it’s new material you’re putting out”.
Fans are looking at it from a different angle. They simply enjoy hearing Elvis singing a song with a different phrasing, or in a different arrangement.
Oh sure, the fans will eat it up, but that’s not the point. You think Rembrandt would enjoy all his throwaway drawings being out on the market? He went for the master, and when he found it, that was it. It’s an invasion of privacy as far as I’m concerned. Not only Elvis’, but all of us, everybody working with him. But I can see the fans’ point. And anything that they haven’t heard him do is gonna make money for the record company. But I don’t think Elvis would appreciate it if he was here. If he was here, he’d do something about it. The only reason they’re getting away with it, is that he’s not here!
For more information about Scotty,
please visit his website: www.scottymoore.net
“When he’d point at you, you’d do something. He was good at that!”
D.J. Fontana interviewed by Arjan Deelen
I interviewed D.J. directly after my interview with Scotty, with the latter still being present.
Do you remember the first time you saw Elvis at the Hayride?
Not really. I knew Scotty and Bill, and I knew that they were coming. The people running the Hayride said: “If they need a drummer, would you play?”. And I said: “Yeah, that’s why I’m here”. Scotty and Bill asked me, and I said: “Yeah, I’d be glad to. Let’s go back to the dressingroom and see what you’re playing”. That’s how it started: I just happened to be there.
The first recording session you did with them was in Nashville in January 1956. Do you have any memories of that session?
We did that – it was not at RCA, it was a little church. Tho only thing I remember is that they were trying to get that echo sound. They’d run some mikes down the hallways. They wanted to have the same sound that he had with Sam, but they never did get it. But it was a good sound.
During concerts in ’56 “Blue Suede Shoes” was performed with a long drum solo. Was that your idea?
Yeah, it’s on a tape somewhere. But I don’t know, we never did play solos for drums. I think he must’ve turned around and said: “Play!”. Whenever he’d point at you, you’d play.
But I heard that tape and it seems to me like it was done in Vegas, wasn’t it?
(Scotty:) It was. We didn’t know it was recorded. That’s another thing we’re trying to sue them for.
Oh, is this a sensitive subject?
No, no. They’re working on it.
(Scotty:) It’s definitely us playing, but we don’t remember doing it.
Getting back to the drumsolo, do you mean that it was not a regular part of the act?
It was just a one-off. When he’d point at you, you’d do something! (laughs) He was good at that!
Where did you get the idea for those machinegun-like drumfills in “Hound Dog”?
We took that from a band we saw in Vegas, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. They were doing the song kinda like that. We went out there every night to watch them. He’d say: “Let’s go watch that band. It’s a good band!. That’s where he heard “Hound Dog”, and shortly thereafter he said: “Let’s try that song”. He was always trying things.
On early live-versions he sang: “You ain’t nothing but a Hound Dog, Hound Dog”
Yeah, I remember that. He’d change tunes, words.
I’ve read that the concerts in Canada in ’57 were pretty wild.
Canadian football stadiums are a lot bigger and longer than ours. Ours are 100 yards, and theirs are 125 – 150 yards. The fans couldn’t see or hear us. They came closer to the stage to hear us. There was a fence, where they’d sit down. The people who owned the stadium got nervous and scared: “Oh God, they’re gonna ruin the floor!”. But what about those big football players ruining the grass? They told everybody to get off the grass. But what are you going to do with 20.000 people? Kill them all? You can’t do that. So Elvis came on, did a few songs, and said: “We’d like for you to get back in your seats”. Which they did, very orderly. Until the last song, and here they come again – yeah, they came! Elvis left the stage, and here we were with 20.000 people! (laughs) The stage turned over, but we finally got all the equipment in the car, which was right behind the stage. The car was surrounded by kids, and they were shaking the car. George Klein, who sat behind the steering wheel, said: “I’m gonna run over them!”. I said: “George, you can’t run over these kids!” (laughs). “But they’re gonna kill us”. “No, they won’t. Turn those lights on, then they’ll see he’s not here, and they’ll go their way”. Which they did. They weren’t out to hurt anybody.
It’s been said that Elvis announced ‘Fool’s Hall Of Fame’ as his new single. Does that ring a bell?
We tried that tune, I guess half a dozen times. I don’t remember if we ever got a good cut. We tried it. On stage it was great. I think he finally cut it.
You tried it in the studio?
Yeah, but there was something about it, It was just one of those songs that you can’t get a feel on. I think they finally cut it, but it was a throwaway song, and that’s why it was never released. It’ll probably come up, somebody will find it and release it. RCA or somebody and then we’ll sue them again! (laughs)
You have toured with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. What was that like?
Yeah, that was fun. Gene was really a good artist. He was a little crazy sometimes, and also his band, but it was fun working with him. Gene was the wildest one of the bunch. He wasn’t exactly calm… He’d get mad at people out in the audience. One time in the Northwest, the audience was filled with lumberjacks, guys with big arms and big necks from cuttin’ trees down…And Gene would go: “Hey you, guys, meet me behind this thing, and me and my band will whoop ya!” (laughs). And I’d go: “No, no, don’t tell them that, Gene!”. He’d always wanna fight the biggest guy in the place.
Was he suicidal or something?
I think so. No, I think he knew they wouldn’t hit him, because he had a cast. He was cripple. Nobody’s gonna hit a cripple, but they would hit us!
Back to Elvis: On many sessions in the 60’s Elvis used two drummers, mostly you and
Buddy Harman or Hal Blaine. Why was that?
One guy couldn’t play all the garbage they wanted you to play. On the Hawaiian tunes they had bongo’s, congo’s, you had this, you had that…That’s why they hired all these guys.
In photos of the Memphis ’61 concerts it seems like there are two drummers
No, he was with another band. I saw that picture. They’d have a show with jogglers, dog-acts and all kinds of variety that the Colonel hired. They had this band to back all these acts up, and that explains the drummer in the photo.
Jumping a few years ahead to the ’68 NBC special, did Elvis call you personally?
No, he never called anybody. I talked to him once on the telephone! They always had somebody calling, but then you’d know it was coming from him.
Was that the last time you saw him?
I saw him a couple of times after that, went down to the house to talk to him
How do you look back on your years with Elvis?
Oh, it was fun. We really had a good time. But when you think about it: worked with a guy forty years ago, and I’m still working today doing the same.
Does that surprise you, twenty years after his death?
Yeah, sure does! Still making a pretty good living doing this. After forty years…you can’t hold a day-job that long. They fire you after about twenty years.
(Scotty:) It sure beats picking cotton!
(D.J.:) Yeah, sure does! (laughs)
For more information about D.J.,
please visit his website: www.djfontana-tcb.com