Interview by Dave Schwensen



By Dave Schwensen

When it comes to naming the true pioneers of rock guitar, you can trace the roots all the way back to the rockabilly guitar licks heard on classic hits such as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock" and "That's Alright Mama." If you haven't guessed, (or need some rock’n roll educatin’), these are all early songs by the King of Rock'n Roll, Elvis Presley. But something else they all have in common is the man playing the groundbreaking guitar breaks - Scotty Moore.

Starting with Presley during his early touring days and through his stints at Sun Records and RCA, Moore's guitar was crucial to the sound that shook up the music world. He combined elements of country picking and R&B with enough wattage and recklessness to be a major influence on players such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

After all these years, Moore is not only still playing the licks that made him famous, but he's also on the road thrilling live audiences. Teamed with former Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker, their tours have earned critical and fan raves throughout the country.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to a living legend,” I groveled during an exclusive interview with Moore for Twelveteen.

Well, thank you very much,” he laughed. I immediately wondered if he had also influenced Elvis’ politeness as well as the music.

“I spoke with Lee Rocker earlier,” I said, hoping my name-dropping skills might get e past the ‘fan’ stage. “He told me how much fun you’re having during these shows.”

“Well, yeah, we have fun when we work together. We do some of Lee's stuff and some Elvis tunes, of course. Some Blues... and whatever pops out, I guess.”

“Did you ever dream you’d still be playing rock’n roll guitar in 2002?” I asked.

“Well, I hoped that I would be!” he laughed.

“I didn’t mean YOU!” I said. “Of course we knew you’d still be here. I’m talking about the music. The songs you started out playing on with Elvis back in 1954. What if someone had told you then that fifty years later you’re still going to be playing these songs and everyone is still going to be into it?”

“I would'a gone, WHAT?!"

“It must be quite flattering for people to tell you they’re still listening to what you’re playing. You have really been an innovator.”

“It is very flattering,” he answered, “and the thing I feel the most proud about is how the music has held up all these years. I mean people still want to hear the early stuff. The Sun (Records) stuff, some of that even.”

“Your guitar solos on those early songs have just influenced all the great guitar players that followed this style of music,” I noted. “Rock’n roll, rockabilly, country, blues… When they talk about their influences, your name comes up all the time.”

“As I've said before, someone will ask me, ‘Who influenced you?’ And I'd say anybody that played the guitar. I didn't know back then. When you listened to the radio, they didn't tell you who the players were and maybe it'd be months or years later I'd find out somebody's name that played on a certain record that I liked.”

“How did you learn to play?” I asked. “Was it from listening to the radio?”

“Basically,” he answered. “Just hearing things then sitting down and trying to figure them out. I had three brothers and my dad who all played string instruments, but I... Well, there's 14 years difference between me and the next brother up the line. Until I got to 9 or 10 years old, or old enough to see what was going on, they were gettin' married, joining the navy and leaving home. I told lots of folks that I think I'm just hard headed. I felt like I missed out on something.”

“It doesn’t sound to me like you missed out on too much,” I said. “Do you ever reminisce about those early Sun Sessions with Elvis?”

“Oh yeah. They were fun,” he laughed. “All of the work we did together... Aw, the travel. The travel is always the worst part of the business.”

“What was it like traveling with Elvis back in those days? I think I’ve seen movies and documentaries where you’re all piled into one car.”

“Well, in the very beginning we were. And as soon as we started making a few bucks we bought a couple Cadillacs,” he said. “We also traveled in a Fleetwood Limousine. It wasn't a stretch, but it was a legit limousine.”

“Very nice,” I commented.

“That helped a lot,” he continued. “But when you were talking about the music earlier, in the back of my mind I was thinking that Carl Perkins, he put the best label on all of it. He said it's 'feel good' music. It feels good when you listen to it and it feels good when you play it and sing it. It just feels good.”

“I understand you and Lee Rocker keep the show pretty loose,” I said.

“Oh yeah!”

“You give the audience what they want.”

“We try our best,” he agreed. “Lee's great and the other guys he's got with him are all good too. It's a good little group.”

“When you were doing the early recordings, you were really stretching the envelope. No one had made the sounds you were making on the guitar.”

“I didn't realize I was, but I did stand on the edge of a limb all the time,” he answered.

“You didn’t think about it?”

“Didn't think about it,” he said. “Always tried to play something that I thought fit the particular song we was workin' on. Not just the notes. I tried to make it mean something to that song.”

“So you had your own ideas on how the songs should sound,” I noted.

“I didn't know that. I look back now and on some of those things I say, ‘How'd I do that?” he answered with a big laugh.

“I remember reading an interview a few years ago with Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones,” I said, needing that ‘name-dropping fix.’ “He was talking about the second guitar break on the recording of ‘Hound Dog’ and said it sounded like you just took off your guitar, dropped it on the floor and it got the perfect sound. He said he’s never been able to figure out how you did that.”

“I don't know either,” Moore laughed.

“That’s a huge compliment,” I continued. “And every time I hear that song, that’s what I think about. How did you get that sound…?”

“Ahh... I was actually pissed off to tell'ya the truth.”

“No way!”

“It was just... Sometimes in the studio you do it too many times and you go past that peak. Like three takes before was really the one you should use. That was it. We had done the thing, (“Hound Dog”). I think it was printed somewhere that we did it about forty or sixty… I don't know, give or take. But if someone was counting it off, just a couple notes and we stop, that's a take. You know? ‘Take Two.’ But I was frustrated for some reason and in the second solo I just went, BLAH,” he laughed.

“Now there’s a real musical explanation!” I said.

“Yeah!” he laughed louder. “BLAH!!!”

“Well it worked and it lives on today,” I laughed. “A lot of it still sounds fresh and new.”

“And it's just one of those things that I play,” he said. “And I play it back to people the same way, but each time it will come out just a little bit different. It's just one of those... You know, you just hit it perfectly the time you did it.”

“When you did these Elvis songs, you guys were recorded playing live – as a band – in the studio. Right?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Elvis was signing as you were playing and every thing was happening in one room,” I continued.

“That’s the only way,” he said.

“Do you still think that’s the best way?”

“Absolutely. Yeah.”

“What new projects have you been working on?” I asked. “Have you been recording with Lee Rocker?”

“Well, I did a couple of things with Lee a couple years back when he had his Big Blue group together.”

“What I want to know is how you feel about the recording technology today, compared to what you started out with. Is it easier?”

“Some of it is,” he answered. “Some of it I like. Unfortunately, everything in music comes along and it's taken too far. All the digital computer stuff was designed to restore old records and stuff, and it was just fantastic and wonderful for stuff like that.”

“Do you feel it takes the life out of the recordings?” I asked.

“Yeah. Yeah...”

“Because those Sun Recordings just come alive,” I continued.

“Well, I've got a little studio here at home and I can sit down and mix something. And mix it ten times in a row. And each time I want to change this or that - just a little bit - it won't be something massive. It just jumps out at you. But the idea is when I like it, I can say I did that. That damn machine didn't do it. I did it. You know? That's one reason I headed into engineering way back... I got interested in it and when Elvis went into the army I got into that side of it. And I really enjoyed it because I could play all the instruments then.”

“You went into engineering for quite a while,” I noted.

“Yeah. I did that for years and years - and I'm still doing it. Just not on a daily basis.”

“When Elvis came out of the army, did you go back with him?” I asked.

“Not like full time. ‘Cuz he never went back on the road until he went to Vegas. We did two or three charity shows, a couple TV things when he came out, then he went right into the movies. Head on - ya'know?”

“You were part of his 1968 television come back special.”


“Did you go with him to Las Vegas after that?”

“No,” he answered.

“Are you having as much fun today as you did back when you were starting out?” I asked.

“Yeah, I really am,” he laughed. “Like I said, other than the traveling part of it, I think I've had more fun in a lot of ways.”

“Why would that be?” I pried.

“Well, for one thing, I can let somebody else worry about if there's enough gas in the car to get to the next gig!” he laughed.

“I guess the average person wouldn’t think about that part of the rock’n roll lifestyle,” I added.


“What was it really like in those early days with Elvis?” I asked. “Was it really crazy with those crowds and screaming girls? Was it too much? Or was it too much fun?”

“It was fun then,” he said. “It was enjoying the smaller venues where you're closer to the people. Up to a thousand seater’s and stuff like that. When we started getting really big we got into the bigger places. It was, you know, 20,000 - which compared to some of these concerts today is nothing. But the noise got so loud, we're talking about... There were no big sound systems. We had a microphone for Elvis, maybe one on the bass and sometimes that was it!”

“There were no stage monitors back then to hear yourselves play,” I added.

“Yeah! I still don't care that much for'em. Count out ‘one, two, three four’ and that's it, you know? But the only way I can explain it is if you dive into a swimming pool, the phasing underwater - the rush of the water. Well, the crowd would get so loud that your ears would close up and you hear that... phasing noise.”

“Man, I never heard it put that way,” I said.

“There was a reporter with us and I thought the boy was gonna faint. He was talking about the noise. And I would refer to DJ, (Fontana – Elvis’ drummer), playing the drums. He would watch Elvis like a hawk. Elvis loved for him to accent stuff just like you would... Well, DJ did play for strippers back in his younger days. And I told this guy, "Well, we're probably the only group in the world led by an ass! I was talkin' about Elvis' movements,” he laughed loudly.

“I’m sure you were very close to Elvis back then,” I commented.

“Oh yeah, we were like… Well, all of us were just like a bunch of brothers really.”

“How did Elvis handle this early fame?” I asked. “Was this really exciting for all of you, or was there a lot of pressure?”

“He handled it very well,” Moore answered. “But to be honest with you, I don't know... You see the ‘Comeback Special’ thing was the last time I saw him and worked with him. And I don't know who or what got him on the downgrade. At that point he was fit, he was in great shape, felt good and he was looking forward to gettin' out and doin' some tours. He wanted to do a lot of things. He wanted to get back out in front of the people. That was his thing.”

“I was going to ask if you were close with Elvis up until the end…”

“No.” he answered thoughtfully. “I've been asked that many times and I just say he could get in touch with me easier than I could get in touch with him because I'd never know if he'd get the message.”

“Okay, I know you have to get going. But I just want to say it’s been an honor talking with you,” I said sincerely, not caring if I was groveling or not. “I’ve been a big fan for a long time.”

“Why, thanks.”

“And just keep rockin’ and having fun,” I added, “because you’re THE MAN!”

“Okay. Great!” he laughed loudly.

This interview reprinted here with permission was conducted by Dave Schwensen in the spring of 2002 and initially appeared in the the summer 2002 issue of the online magazine TWELVETEEN.


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