Kevin Woods: Let's go all the way back. At what age did you pick up
your first guitar?
Scotty Moore: I think I was about 8 years old. My dad and three
brothers, who were much older than I was, were all playing for their own
enjoyment. They didn't have a band or anything.
So your first interest in playing the guitar came from your family?
Yeah, there was fourteen years different in my age and the brother next to me
and by the time I got up around 10 or 12 and really got interested then everyone
had gone on and dad was old enough that he didn't want to hear all that noise
Do you remember your first guitar?
Uh, (pause) I think it was a Kalamazoo, a small Kalamazoo.
Electric or acoustic?
Just acoustic. I've told this story a couple of times. Two of my
brothers were in the Navy and the one next to me had bought a Gene Autry archtop,
I think from Sears. It was a beautiful and shiny guitar, and of course I
didn't know anything about guitars and such then. And I had this little
Kalamazoo which my other brother had given me. So my other brother,
Darrell, was fixing to be shipped off to the South Pacific and he says, "I
don't want to take this beautiful guitar out there in the salt water.
Let's trade guitars". And which foolish me, I did and I didn't know till
years later that I got the wrong end of the deal (Laughs).
Did you grow up around Memphis?
No, actually around Humboldt, Tennessee. It's close to Jackson. Carl
Perkins, as you know, is from down there. In fact, I'm four months older
than Carl and we were born and raised within 18 or 20 miles from each other and
never met until we were both on Sun Records.
How about influences? What were you listening to around this time?
Oh, when I was that young, I don't remember to tell you the truth. I went
into the Navy at the ripe ol' age of 16. I was listening to primarily
jazz and blues. I wasn't listening to very much country.
Was their any particular player back then that you admired?
No, if it had a guitar in it, it was fine with me, whoever it was.
Who were the Starlite Wranglers?
That was a group I started when I got out of the service. We cranked up
somewhere, I guess 1953, maybe as early as late 52. When I came out, I
just started working with some different groups around Memphis. I had
sense enough to know that if you're gonna get the good jobs, you're gonna have
to have a regular band, try to get your record out and get your radio play so
you can get your advertisement that way. Back in those days every little
band that could, would get them a 15 minute Saturday morning or afternoon radio
show on some local station. So I worked with all these guys in different
configurations for several months. In fact, I've always said that really
the music that Bill, Elvis and I sprang from was really honky tonk music.
I might go out and book a club and then I would start to find guys to
play. We might end up with a trumpet, a steel guitar player, you know, any
combination, but everybody had to be able to play a little bit of what was
currently the top pop tunes and country tunes, and be able to do some Rhythm and
Blues. But above all, it had to be played where people could dance to it.
Is this the first group that you and Bill had played in together?
Well, as far as a formal band. Both of us had been playing around
Memphis. Bill had been playing for several years.
Did you come to know Sam Phillips as a result of this band?
Right. Someone had told me about the place. In fact, I don't think I knew
he had a record label. But, it was a recording service. You could go
in and pay and make your own demo record. So I don't really remember any
particulars; I only know I went to see him and we got to talking.
How much recording had you done at Sun prior to Elvis?
We had done mainly two or three sides with the Starlite Wranglers. We put
out one record and sold about 12 maybe (laughs).
So Sam knew you and Bill from the project?
Yeah, right. Well, he worked with us and he put it out on Sun. Sam
was great to experiment. He didn't have any money, we didn't have any
money, but he was willing to try because he hadn't done any country things
really. He was cutting a lot of blues artists for other labels. He
would cut things like "Chess in Chicago". People like Howlin'
Wolf. He also put out a few on his own, not with a whole lot of success,
What did you think of Elvis when you first met him?
Well, (pause) I knew he dressed kinda funny, but that was just his way. I
can't explain that. He came over to my house on a Sunday. Again, I
got his name from Sam because Elvis had been in there a year before and had done
one of these demo records for his mother for her birthday. The job I had,
I would get off in the afternoon about 2:00 and I would go by and spend a couple
hours with Sam. We would go next door and drink a cup of coffee and just
talk about who's new on the radio, with what record, and just business in
general. We had become good friends at this point, and if he would need
somebody in our band, he would call them out on whatever project.
day, Marion, his secretary, was having coffee with us and she said, "Sam
what about that boy that was in here about a year ago? Remember, we kept
his name and phone number on file. You thought he had a pretty good
voice". "Oh, yeah". That was enough for me, because for the
next two weeks, everyday I would go down there and ask, "Sam, did you call
him yet?" Sam said, "No, I'll get around to it." So
finally he told Marion to get his name and phone number and he turned to me and
said, "Scott, give him a call and get him to come over to your house and
see what kind of stuff he does". I said, "Okay". So I
called him and told him that I was working for the record company and would be
interested in auditioning for a possibility to do a record. He said,
"Well, I don't know, I guess so." So anyway, he came over to my
house the next day and sat around a couple of hours. He sang everything
from Billy Ekstein to Eddie Arnold. But, he wasn't locked into anything at
all. Bill lived down a few doors on the same street and he came down and
listened for a little while. After Elvis had left and went home, Bill came
back down and we both had basically the same opinions. In fact, Bill said,
"Well, the boy sings good; he don't knock me out. He didn't do anything
spectacular". I said, "Yeah, he seemed to have a good range in
So that's basically how you got together then?
Yeah, I called Sam and told him basically the same thing. I said, "It
all depends on the song or arrangement. I can't tell you right now if he's
country, pop, or what." And he said, "Let me call him and I will
see if I can get him to come in tomorrow night. You and Bill come down, we
don't need the whole band. I just need a little background music to see
what he sounds like on tape." Tape was fairly new then.
When did you realize that there was a distinct chemistry among Elvis, Bill
Well, I guess it was after we cut the first song that was released, "That's
Alright Mama". If you listen to some of the very first recordings you
can tell we were just experimenting. Sam was listening to his voice; we
were doing the best we could with two instruments. And as the story goes,
which is true, we were taking a break and Sam was putting on new tape or doing
something. He had the door open to the control room, and Elvis with
nervous energy--in fact, I think he still had his guitar around his neck--just
started flailing the thing and singing "That's Alright Mama".
Bill was sitting on his bass and he jumped up and started slapping it and
playing along with him. I reached back and picked up my guitar and found
what key they were in and just started playing a kind of rhythm thing with
them. Sam came out into the room and said, "What are ya'll
doing?" We said, "just goofing around." He said,
"From in there it didn't sound bad. Let's goof around a little more
and let me put it on tape." So, of course we stopped and figured out
some kind of arrangement for it. We went through it two or three times and
that was it.
So this recording of this classic song is only the second or third time you
guys had ever played it?
Right, exactly. And after a few nights later, after we had cut that, we
said, "Well, sounds okay, what is it? How are we gonna brand this
It wasn't too country sounding, huh?
Well, we didn't know what it was. Somebody said, "Damn, if we get
that played, they might run us out of town." But, surprisingly, Sam
said, "Okay, we've got to get a back side. I just can't take one song
down to the disc jockey". Well, again, we went through several songs
and one day when we were taking a break, the identical thing happened.
This time Bill picked up his bass and started mimicking Bill Monroe, singing
up-tempo and real high falsetto. Elvis jumped in with him and the thing
What song was that?
"Blue Moon of Kentucky". Alright, so we had those two.
Then we said, "Okay, we've got not necessarily a style, but at least a
direction maybe. It was up-tempo and rhythmic with very little fills or
What was a typical Elvis session at Sun like, if there was a typical one?
We would just go in and Sam would suggest some songs or Elvis did maybe
something he knew. Nothing was pre-determined. We just tried
different things and probably found one that everyone felt comfortable with and
had a good groove, and that would be it. It's ironic though that the very
first things we put down, Sam recorded them and he kept them. And the only
thing I can figure is after we did "That's Alright Mama" and
"Blue Moon of Kentucky", he felt like we did have a direction, so we
would go through these different tunes. He may have recorded some of them
and played them back and we said, "No, that ain't happening".
Then he would erase the tape. He never kept any of that. I guess
because tape cost so much. So those very early things, when we were just
experimenting around, he never kept. I bet he wished he had.
Were you free to play whatever you wanted to?
Yeah, pretty much. Sometimes Sam would make a suggestion to play in a
higher timbre or something of that nature. But for the most part, I was
playing all I could and then some.
Besides "That's Alright Mama" and "Blue Moon of
Kentucky", what were some of the early songs?
"I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine", "Good Rockin
Tonight", "Milk Cow Blues", "You're a Heart Breaker",
Baby, Let's Play House", "Mystery Train". "Mystery
Train" became like a signature thing for me. That was the first one I
played through my custom-made amplifier. It had the same slapback effect
that Sam had been using on the overall record. So I could even do it
A lot of people may not know that you were Elvis' first manager.
Yeah, that's true. It was really just a ploy to tell you the truth.
When the radio station got to playing the first record pretty heavy, several
people around Memphis started calling Elvis wanting to book him, manage him, or
do this or that. He didn't know what to tell them or how to deal with
it. We were talking about it one day and Sam said, "well, I'll tell
you what Elvis. You and Scotty do a management contract and that way you
can tell people that you're already under contract. Then you won't be
lying or anything. Just do it for a year and that will give us time to
look around and find somebody we all like." And that turned out to be
Bob Neal, who was a D.J. on a radio station. He started booking us on a
lot of shows and we all became good friends, and it ended up he signed us on as
manager and booking agent too. And then of course, as everyone knows, Tom
Parker came along. He was just on the next level up from Bob. He had
more contacts and negotiated the buy from Sam to RCA and all of that.
When and how did drummer D.J. Fontana enter the picture?
D.J. was working at the Louisiana Hayride and working clubs in and around
Shreveport with all the Hayride acts and we met him when we went down
there. I don't think he played with us the first time we appeared.
The best I can remember, he played with somebody else on the show and we heard
and liked him and asked if he would like to play with us the next time.
And he did. He would speed up or slow down just like we would and we said,
"Boy, this is great". And he started working with us every time
there was money to include him on the dates. D.J. actually went on the
payroll in December, 1955.
So this was getting into the RCA period.
A lot of people may also not know that Elvis actually played your guitar or
Bill's bass on some songs.
Yeah, Elvis played my guitar on "One Night". He also played
Bill's bass on "You're So Square". And although he played fairly
good piano and good rhythm, he wasn't an accomplished musician by any
means. But he had a real uncanny sense of rhythm, and I think that's what
made him such a great singer. That rhythm just seem to come out of him,
especially on up-tempo things.
Approximately how many songs did you record throughout the years?
I don't have any idea. Somebody told me one time it was over 500.
I've never tried to count.
So that would be 1954-67?
1968. The "Comeback Special" was the last thing I worked with
Do you have a few favorite tunes?
Oh (pause) yeah. I have a lot of favorites. The one I like best on
the ballad side is "Don't". I always really liked that
one. Up-tempo, there were just several of them. A lot of the early
things like "Mystery Train" and "Good-Rockin Tonight".
I always thought that lick on the front of "Don't Be Cruel" was a
Yeah, I believe I got paid for that one. I believe it was a bout 8 notes
on the front and a chord on the end.
Alright, it's time for some guitar talk. Around 1954 you were seen
playing a ES-295, correct?
Was this your first good guitar?
No. Actually when I came out of the Navy in 1952, I bought a Fender
Esquire and a little Fender amp called a (long pause).
Yeah, Champ. I just couldn't hold on to a Fender. It had a great
neck on it, but I just couldn't hold on to it. So I traded it in and got
the Gibson ES-295, and played it through all of the Sun sessions. On July
7, 1955, I traded it in on a Gibson L-5.
Why the change?
Mainly because the workmanship was just so much better in the L-5 (Blond), of
course, it cost more, too ($565.00 #A18195). Then I used the L-5 until
1957 when we started getting heavy into the movies again and traded in the L-5
for the Blond Super 400 (#24672) and stayed with the 400's pretty much from then
So, around 1954 is when you acquired your custom built Echosonic amp.
Right. I don't remember the name of the record, but I heard one of the
Chet's instrumentals on the radio. His guitar had the same slap, but it was
a little bit different to what I was use to hearing Sam do with us. I
said, "Damn. How is he doing that?" So I checked around
and someone told me that he got a new amp that someone had built for him.
So I kept digging and finally I got the guy's name who built it and called
him. His name was Ray
Butts. He lived in Cairo, Illinois. He
played accordion in a little band. he was an electronic genius. He
had built this amp for a guitar player he worked with on weekends, just
experimenting and trying it out. It sounded good so he brought, I guess,
that one to Nashville and showed it to Chet and he liked it and bought
one. I believe mine was the third one.
How many were made?
At least 7 or 8, I know. Roy Orbison had one and Carl Perkins had
one. There's a few more out there that I don't remember.
Was that an expensive amp?
Oh Yeah, for the times. It was a $500 amp. Another interesting point
is, I guess, I had the first high power system onstage. This little amp is
only 25 watts and as the crowds got bigger, well you couldn't hear it. So
Ray built me two 50-watt boosters with four 8-inch Lansing speakers in each
one. Then i could set one on each end of the stage and crank them wide
open and use the main amp as like a pre-amp. So I had a whole 125 watts,
and you still couldn't hear it (laughs). You can take these amps today and
blow them suckers away.
What amp did you use prior to that?
I just used my little Fender (Champ).
Did you ever try using a Bassman for guitar?
That's ironic because today that's what a lot of guitar players prefer.
Really. I be darn. I didn't know that. I had to use the Champ
because I couldn't afford anything else at that particular time.
What is your current equipment?
About 25 years ago I bought a recording studio. The '68 Comeback Special
was the last playing thing I did for about 25 years. So back then I just
sold everything. I got rid of all the guitars and everything, but I did
keep that ol' amp. In the last 2 or 3 years I've acquired another super
400 and a Gibson Country Gentleman, which Chet gave me about a year ago.
I'm using a 100 watt Yamaha amp that they've come out with which is tube
type. And that's about it right now. I've never been one to get into
collecting a whole bunch of guitars.
What gauge of strings do you use?
I'm using a .010-046.
Did you always use that gauge?
I don't know what gauge it was. It was a Gretsch string that Chet had
endorsed. It was a flatwound and it held up better on the road than anything
else I found. I perspired something terrible and most strings would last
about two days.
Let's talk about some of your more recent projects? Didn't you get a
phone call a few years ago from an English guitarist who loves your
playing? Who was that guy?
That guy was Keith Richards. I was never a big Rolling Stones fan, but
I was familiar with a few of their tunes. A call came into the office and
the girl came back and said there was a guy on the phone from the group the
Rolling Stones, Keith Richards. I said, "Who in the hell is Keith Richards?"
Of course, I knew who the Rolling Stones were. Anyway, I talked to him and
they were doing their Steel Wheels tour in the states and he invited me up to
their show in St. Louis. I flew up and they gave me the V.I.P. treatment
at the show. And I'll tell you what, I became a fan then because I
remember how hard we use to work on stage for maybe an hour or hour and a
half. These boys worked for 2 hours and 40 minutes. I clocked
it. I mean without a breather. Keith and I stayed up that night till
daylight. He wanted me to show him how to play "Mystery Train"
and "That's Alright Mama".
Didn't you and Carl Perkins collaborate on some recordings?
Yeah, 1992. Well, to backup a little bit, I hadn't seen Carl for
several years, and it must have been around 1990 when a friend of mine, David Conrad,
had a little party for Carl. The Judds had recorded one of his songs which
was a smash and Carl played on it. So anyway, David called and invited me
over. So I went over and was chatting with Carl about getting together and
doing something. I had recorded with Carl one other time in 1975. I
did a session with him called E.P. Express. In fact, I don't think I had
seen him since 1975. We made a promise, "Okay, we are going to do
this thing; we'll get together".
Very shortly after that is when the throat cancer hit Carl and put him out for
about 18 months. One day I picked up the phone to call him to see how he
was doing. He said, "Scott, I just came back from the doctor a few
minutes ago, they think they got the cancer; they can't find any trace of
it. The radiation has burned out my saliva glands and my taste buds, but
they assured me that would come back." I told him, "That's
fantastic. Shoot, you'll be able to do that record we were going to
do." He said, "I'm ready now, let's do it." This was
February, 1992. I said, "Where do you want to do it?" He
said, "I hear the ol' boy that's got the Sun Studio down there has been
doing some recordings, and they tell me it sounds real good. How about
that?" I said, "Fine with me." So we went down there
and spent a couple of days, basically just had a good old jam session and cut a
few old tunes. He wrote two or three on the spot.
Later in April, I took the sound track down to his house in Jackson and we did
two or three more tunes there in his den. We are just selling it mail
order and its doing pretty good. I had a record label years ago when I had
the studio. I've cranked that back up and we've put this project on my
label, Belle Meade Records. I thought we kind of come up with a good name
for the album, Carl and Scotty 706 ReUnion. The address of the old
Sun Studio is 706 Union. We call it it a "Sentimental
Journey". We didn't go in and try to cut a hit record, it was more of
a documentary or just two old friends having a ball.
Being that I already started the label back up, I said, "We'll just have
sort of a picker's label." So far it's kind of leaning toward guitar,
but we are going to do some other things. We've got Thom Bresh, who is
Merle Travis' son, and I'm telling you he has the genes, no question about
it. We've got Chip Young, who's a big session player here; he does 10
songs. A lot of the guitar players here played on it--Chet Atkins, Jerry
Reed, Reggie Young and Grady Martin. I'm even doing one with him.
There's also four or five other guys that played on it and we're gonna keep
pushing it. We also have a jazz trio. We're trying to do things that
people just don't get to hear anymore. Reggie has promised to do one.
What is Moore Feel Good Music?
When Carl and I did the first one, I had two or three cuts left over.
Gosh, I had some stuff left from 1970 when I had the studio. So I more or
less cleaned off the shelves and did a compilation of some stuff. Tracy
Nelson, who is big on her own and had a group of the sixties called Mother Earth
is doing two or three tunes on here. Local boy, Willie Rainsford, also
does some great blues things. It's just jump up and down, clap your hands
type things for the most part.
How does it feel getting back together with D.J. and the Jordanaires, and
doing this album with Ronnie McDowell?
It worked. It's almost like practically starting over. the old
fingers have arthritis in them, and they're stiff and don't move as fast as they
did (laughs). But I'm really having a good time doing it. Ronnie is
such a great guy, as well as the whole band. It's like one big family when
we get together.
Where can people see Scotty Moore performing in the near
D.J. and I are going to Europe October 23 - November 22. These shows will
all be Elvis fan clubs which range from 600-1,200. They are great people
to work with. They really enjoy the old stuff. We will be making
stops in England, Switzerland, Paris, Germany, Dublin and Holland.
People can watch you on TV this January, right?
Well, there's a big monster pay per view (cable) show that's supposed to
happen about January 6, which is Elvis' birthday. Ronnie, The Jordanaires,
D.J., myself and a lot of big names will be on. It's about a 99% sure
Do you always participate in the annual August get-together in Memphis?
No. I did do the one in 1992. Carl and I had just finished the
album and he was already booked to go down there, so I went. I had a
couple of days of practice, so I went in. That was the first time I had
played live since the '68 special; twenty-four years at that point.
Any future plans?
Well I hope the ol' hands and body holds out, I'd like to keep on working with
Ronnie, Carl and doing a few select things. I want to try to keep my
little record company moving ahead. I would like to get together a big
tour of Europe, if the economy will pick up, with Carl, Ronnie, The Jordanaires,
D.J and myself.
Scotty, I appreciate this interview. It's been a once in a
lifetime experience for me. You are definitely a guitar legend. you
are one of the chosen few who gave Rock-n-Roll its name. you had that
certain something that was different.
I guess it was forced. I used to kid Sam and say, "You need to hire
some more pickers." But you had to do the best you could.
It's been fun Scotty.
I appreciate it, Kevin.