Press Scimitar Staff Photo.
THEY PLAY 'ELVIS MUSIC' -
Scotty, Bill and D. J., left to right.
Meet Scotty, Bill and D.J.
These Are the Cats Who
Make Music For Elvis
By ROBERT JOHNSON
Press-Scimitar Staff Writer
According to tradition a cat may look at a queen, but the three cats we're talking about probably get to see more of the King than anyone else.
The King of Rock 'n’ Roll, that is. . . . These particular cats are hillbilly cats—names Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D. J. Fontana.
Scotty and Bill have been with Elvis since his first record, and D. J. joined
him soon afterward.
They've probably been close to the spotlight more and in it less this past year than almost anyone you could
They're used to the flash of photographer's bulbs, and also used to seeing the pictures in papers with Elvis blown up real big front and center, and themselves cut out.
They know that’s the way it's got to be and they‘re not envious; they're grateful to Elvis for having helped them make a good living.
But they are a little excited at an upcoming chance to take the spotlight themselves.
Under conditions set up by Elvis' management, the boys are not permitted to work with anyone else, nor to appear as a unit without Elvis in between tours.
To Make Record
But they've just been given permission to make an instrumental, a record with no vocal, which Victor will put out soon after the first of the year.
"We don't even know how they'll title us yet," said Bill. "Maybe as
Bill, Scotty and D. J. have some interesting anecdotes about their experiences with Elvis, and an interesting point of view about him.
For one thing, they all agree that Elvis is not a rock 'n' roller, and that they
don't play rock ‘n’ roll.
"We just call it Elvis music, "Scotty said.
"You know, religious music has had a strong effect on our style. It's a combination of hillbilly, pop, rock ’n’ roll and religious music.
"We all like all kinds of music and try to play a little of everything.
"When we get together with Elvis and the Jordonaires we have a lot of fun," said Bill. "We practice a little bit. We never rehearse outside of record sessions. We’ve had rehearsals, but we never rehearsed, if you know what I mean.
"And just about every time we do have rehearsal, we end up doing religious songs with Elvis and the
$200 a Week!
When they‘re working with Elvis, the boys get $200 a week, good money for sidemen. When Elvis isn’t on tour, they're on $100 a week retainer each. That is nice pay for doing
nothing, but they’d rather work. They have no contract.
"Elvis takes care of us," they explain.
Some of Elvis’ biggest hits "just got put together" on recording sessions.
That's the way the first one happened—"That’s All Right."
"We were trying to get something right in Sam Phillips’ Sun studio," said Bill. "Elvis just started singing 'That’s All Right,' and we fell in behind him.
"Same thing with 'Hound Dog.' He heard the Bellboys do it at the Sands in Las Vegas and learned the lyrics from them. He came on stage one night and told us he was going to sing it. We just grabbed our best holt, every man for himself.
"Everyone has to feel it to make a good record.
"When we first heard 'That’s All Right' played back- we knew something was happening."
Bill likes "That's All Right" and "Hound Dog" better than anything they've done. Scotty
and D. J. are partial to "My Baby Left Me," partly because of some little instrumental business they put in it.
Liked the Beat
"It wasn’t the best of Elvis' singing or our playing, but the overall beat is what I liked," Scotty explained. "D.J.'s drums and my guitar had a sort of counterpoint that made it sound like two guitars."
In personal appearances with Elvis, the boys have learned to protect themselves:
"We call it being ‘foxy.' When we see it begin to start, Elvis goes one way and we go the other. We all scatter like quail. Sometimes we're out in the audience acting just as curious about where Elvis went as the rest. Sometimes in five or 10 minutes we're all sacked up, got our instruments loaded and are on our way."
They remember the poor days. Bill and Scotty were together about three years before they got together with Elvis. Scotty, originally from Humboldt, was in the Navy for four years. He's known as the precise one. Everything’s got to be just so, shoes polished, music right in place, etc. Bill is the comedian of the outfit, likes to take things as easy as possible. D. J., single, is the one with the roving eye. He is from Shreveport, but spends a great deal of time in Memphis, lives at the Claridge. He had played with Faron Young, Jim Reeves and Lefty Frizzell before Elvis, Scotty and Bill decided he fit right in with their style.
Scotty was formerly leader of the Starlight Wranglers, "more hillbilly than anything else," at the Bon Air. He also worked as a hatter for his brother, C. H. Moore, at University Park Cleaners. Bill used to work at Firestone and for Ace Appliance Co.
Scotty and D. J. are 25. Bill says he’s over 25.
Sam Phillips brought Elvis, Scotty and Bill together in July, 1954 to try to work out something.
"I don't think any of us was very impressed with the others the first time we got together," Bill says honestly.
In the beginning Scotty was Elvis' manager. After they started out they spent thousands of miles together in the close intimacy of a car on long jumps thru the South and into Texas, barnstorming, sometimes without making much, of it. They put 40,000 miles on Scotty’s Chevrolet until he lost it, 20,000 on an old Lincoln,
the one Bill wrecked over in Arkansas going too fast," the first '54 Cadillac had 13,000 miles when Elvis first got it and 64,000 miles six months later, 30,000 miles on the Cadillac that burned, 30,000 on the pink and white one, and the yellow one had
In those days they split their fees three ways, with Elvis getting double as leader. Once they hit it good after a
long run of bad luck and got a good fee in Texas, about $500 for the night. The boys headed back for Memphis with folding money in their pockets, and every time they'd stop for coffee or a hamburger they’d take their money out and count it.
"We knew from the beginning that Elvis was going to be big," said Bill. "It's been the same since the beginning, only then not as many people knew about him." When he hit the real big time, they realized that different financial arrangements would have to be made, were happy that they came out of it as well as they did.
Bill, Scotty and D. J. don’t see as much of Elvis as they used to. "Just can't be that way," they explain. They stick pretty close together, read, play penny ante, visit the disk jockeys who were good to them on the way up, play records, go to movies, see the local sights, watch tv in their hotel rooms.
They spend a lot of time answering questions about where Elvis is. "When we tell them he is in his room, they won‘t believe us."
Sometimes, tho, Elvis will manage to get off by himself with them, and they‘ll spend a good part of the night listening to records, just talking, laughing, enjoying themselves.
And what do the men who know him so well think of Elvis?
"He's fun to have around, always got: some jazz going, likes to keep up chatter and joking," says Bill.
"I don't think anyone should criticize him until they try to put themselves in
his shoes and figure out what they would do.
"He's living just as clean and religious a life as any entertainer."
"He’s just an all-American boy, and all the American girls like him. He's big-hearted, naturally high-strung, not hot-tempered. You can push him only so far, tho. I've never seen him blow his top more than once or twice, and that was when he was just worn out."
One of the funniest things they recall was a woman about 70 at St. Petersburg, jumping up and down screaming "Elvis, I love you." The police said they had more trouble with her
than any kid.
"One thing I remember," said Scotty, "was when we were in Shreveport one time. We were driving along and Elvis said, 'See those little girls selling Christmas cards, turn around.' so we went back. He looked at a couple of boxes. Then he said, 'I'll take 'em all.' There must have been a
thousand of them. He brought them home. They're probably still out at his house."
Scotty and his wife live at 1248 Meda. Mr. and Mrs. Black and their two children, Louis, 9, and Nancy, 5, live at 4188 Pikes Peak.
This article was originally published
in the Memphis Press Scimitar on December 15, 1956 and is reprinted here
in its entirety as written regarding
events and with the original photo used.
Special Thanks to Gail Reaben
for the original article.
article added August 14, 2012