That's All Right
50 years of Rock ‘n’ Roll with Alvin Lee and Scotty Moore
by Robert Silverstein
It was fifty years ago—on July 4, 1954 in Memphis, Tennessee to be exact—that guitarist Scotty Moore met a budding singer named Elvis Presley. The very next day, on July 5th 1954, Scotty and Elvis—with Bill Black on bass and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips in attendance—recorded “That’s All Right” and the rest is rock ‘n’ roll history. Celebrating 50 years since the first Sun Sessions and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, RCA Records has released Elvis At Sun—a nineteen track 2004 CD containing some of the great tracks Elvis made with Scotty Moore and Bill Black at Sun including “That’s All Right”. Coinciding with Elvis At Sun, RCA has also released Memphis Celebrates 50 Years Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, a 21 track CD combining a range of early Sun classics from Elvis, Scotty & Bill, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Flash forward 50 years, from 1954 to 2004, and the release of a new recording celebrating the glory days of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. Released on Rainman Records,
Alvin Lee In Tennessee features British blues-rock guitar icon Alvin Lee joined in a musical reunion with original Elvis band members Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana. Showcasing Alvin’s songs and vocals—with key contributions from Scotty and D.J.—Alvin Lee In Tennessee merges the finest elements of ‘50s rockabilly with the blues-rock power Lee successfully brought to bear with his ‘60s band Ten Years After. Honoring the 50th anniversary of rock ‘n’ roll and the 2004 release of Alvin Lee In Tennessee, 20th Century Guitar and mwe3.com music editor Robert Silverstein spoke to both Scotty Moore and Alvin Lee in early June 2004 on a range of topics.
Scotty, it’s Robert Silverstein from 20th Century Guitar and mwe3.com. I interviewed Alvin Lee last week and the mag is putting both you and Alvin on the July
2004 cover with the In Tennessee album as a jumping off point.
Oh, well thank you.
I told him that both you and Alvin did a great job on the Alvin Lee In Tennessee album which was released on CD in May 2004.
Yeah, it’s getting a lot of play around the world. I just played on a couple things. It was real fun.
Alvin says you masterminded the sessions. (laughter) You met Alvin at the unveiling of Gibson Guitars limited production Scotty Moore signature ES-295 in London you and Alvin started talking about making an album together.
Well I met him there and he had been over here way back. I can’t remember what year at our tape shop. We had a tape duplicating company at the time and there were some pictures made with me and him made on the porch, and I had forgotten all about it, it’d been so long. So...I didn’t play for like 24 years. I didn’t even hit a note.
How did the album take off from there?
It was just something we kind of talked about over time. He got all his songs together. Of course...and he plays so fast. Whew! (laughter)
He’s a real great player...
He sure is. I love it. He’s great.
Alvin’s album pays a great tribute to ‘50s sound of the band you and Elvis had back in ‘54.
It sounds very mid to late ‘50s. Very warm sounding. What kind of sound
were you shooting for with Alvin?
The best way I can say it is, some of the stuff you listen to today you obviously know what they’re going to play before they play it. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not. You don’t know what he’s (Alvin) going to do (laughter) that’s for sure!
Pete Pritchard plays bass on Alvin’s CD. He’s your bass player?
Yeah, every time I go overseas he does. If the money allows, I’ll bring him over here every time I do something.
Scotty and Alvin Lee
Photo© courtesy P. Pritchard
Pete took those cool pictures of you and Alvin?
Evi, Alvin’s girlfriend took a bunch of pictures but I haven’t seen those. Pete took some also, but I haven’t seen his. She can get you some good ones. I know she took a whole bunch. Plus on the road also so you got both of them.
Gail told me there’s a 50th anniversary celebration planned to honor the day you and Elvis and Bill Black recorded “That’s All Right” on July 5th 1954.
Sun Records is...well, the studio, Sun studio, they’re going to play “That’s All Right (Mama)”...it’s either ten or eleven o’clock in the morning and it’s going off by satellite all over, I don’t know how many stations, I haven’t talked to anybody lately. And I’m going to have the honor of going there and pushing the button! That’ll be fun. And then there’s gonna be a
block party starting right after that and it’ll go...hell, it may go for a week, (laughter) who knows? (laughter)
So they’re linking up a number of radio stations to play the song at the same time on July 5, 2004 to break a world record?
Exactly, there’s a whole bunch. I really don’t know how much. There’s a girl, I can’t think of the name of the company in New York that’s doing the publicity on it. Her name is Debbie but I can’t remember the name of the company, and she would know all that
immediately. [Deborah Sternberg of Goodman Media International]
“That’s All Right” is considered the first real rock and roll song and also the start of the Sun sessions.
Well, I don’t really consider it as being the first but it is the first one that’s gotten all the attention over the years and he became such a big star too. “Rock Around The Clock” would have been before ours. And what was the other one by, another one I can’t think of it...Jackie Brenston was the artist. He was on Sun also. But I can’t think of the name of the song! It was kind of in the same vein. But I don’t think anybody’s complaining about it. It’s okay...
“That’s All Right” is credited to “Elvis Presley, with Scotty and Bill”. Was that song recorded the same day you first met Elvis because there’s conflicting reports as to the day you met him?
It was the day before...
You met him on July the 4th, 1954?
So you met Elvis Presley July 4th. At Sam Phillips’ house?
No, it was at my house. Sam and I had become good friends. See, I had a group that Sam released a record on. It was country songs. But through that we became real good friends. And I would go down and we’d meet in the afternoon and talk, just talk about generalities. And one day his secretary, Marion Keisker, was having coffee with us and she brought Elvis’ name up, although she didn’t explain his name. She said, ‘how about that boy that was in here last week or so? What’d you think about him?’ Sam just nodded and said, ‘oh yeah, he was so and so...’ And then I bugged Sam then for a couple weeks, so he finally told Marion, ‘get that boy’s name and give it to Scotty.’ And he turned to me and says, ‘give him a call and ask him over your house and see what you think about him.’ That’s where it all started!
He came over my house and sang a couple of songs, I mean a couple of hours. Seemed like he knew every song in the world! Country, pop, you name it! Just anything. And Bill Black lived a few doors from me at the time and he came down and listened for a while and he left. Then when Elvis left, Bill came back and we talked about it. What we really liked was the rhythm in his voice, if you understand what I’m saying. It’s not just staccato type, he’s not like you’re reading a book or something, word by word. It flows. He had a real knack for that. The songs he didn’t know all the chords to playing lead guitar...he’d just keep singing. He’d (laughter) come back singing till he come back to the right place. We he left, I called Sam (Phillips) and relayed all this to him. And he said, well he said, ‘I’ll call him’, he said, ‘come in tomorrow night. We don’t need the whole band, I just need you and Bill come over to the studio. I just want to see what Elvis sounds like on tape with a little music behind it. And that’s where we cut “That’s All Right”. It was an audition.
Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore and Sam Phillips
It’s amazing...it’s just such a...
The funny thing of it is that he never said, Sam never said, and Bill and I didn’t know...neither one of us knew that song, “That’s All Right (Mama)”. And we don’t know if Elvis did that to impress Sam, that he knew some of the material that he had released before or not. But Sam liked the way that he did it and that was what we thought and that’s what we still think to this day. It wasn’t the fact that he owned the publishing on that song.
Oh, so Sam owned the publishing on that?
Yeah. Right, but it was never mentioned.
How many takes did you guys do on that song?
I don’t remember exactly. It wasn’t very many. Like maybe four or five maybe. We only used three mics. There was a mic on the amp on my guitar, one on Bill’s bass. There was one mic on Elvis’ voice and it picked up his guitar at the same time. There was a couple times Sam had to stop and back off, play something a little lighter or if he popped the mic with his voice or something like that. Three or four cuts.
1954. I was born in 1954.
Do you remember anything else about that year? There was so much enthusiasm...
The only thing I can remember now, immediately...we got that record and the back side. Bill Black came up with that side.
With “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”?
The same identical way, we went back in the studio...well let me back up a little bit. Sam took the demo home, of “That’s All Right” down to Dewey Phillips, who was no...he wasn’t kin to Sam. But he was on the radio. And he left the demo for Dewey to listen to, to give him his impression of it. Well, unbeknownst to Sam, Dewey played the thing on the radio over and over! He called Elvis down there and put him on the air! (laughter) So we had to rush back in about two nights later. And again we went through song after song. And we were trying to find something that would finally fit the way we had done “That’s All Right”. And Bill...again just a comedy. He was still sittin’ on his bass and he started beatin’ on it and singin’. “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, if you remember, was a country song, a waltz. It was done by Bill Monroe. But Bill started singing it in a high tenor and singing it fast. And Elvis knew it and he started singing along with him and that was the b side. (laughter) It was real interesting how it all happened.
They’re still so great to listen to.
Well I’ll tell you what...the thing that I’m impressed by more than anything else is how well the music has held up all these years. Of all the stuff cut back in those days, that’s the things that we get requests to do. After he went into Vegas and had the big band and all that...and all that was great. He sounds good. But the people seem like they want to hear the early stuff. It’s amazing to me. I don’t quite understand that. I’m glad, but...(laughter)
You’ve said for all of the Sun Sessions, with the exception of the last one, you used the ES-295.
No, no...I had the ES 295 starting. What I started with on “Mystery Train”...I had bought an amp that had an echo built into it.
The echo-sonic amp?
Do you remember which guitars you were using on “That’s All Right”?
Oh, that was the ES-295. I already had that before we cut the first thing. Then, on “Mystery Train” I had traded the ES-295 and I had a
Gibson L-5 and a new amplifier also. I made a few bucks. Wasn’t much but it was enough to buy another guitar!
Any other guitars you can remember really liking back in the ‘50s?
I’ve always been partial to L-5’s over the years. I’ve got more than I can play now. They keep giving ‘em to me. I appreciate ‘em and I love guitars but I want to play one at a time so...
Last December Gibson presented you with an award for playing Gibson guitars for 50 years.
Right, they did it just when I was, when they had that party.
In the hospital. I didn’t get to go to the party! They had about 400 people there. They had a helluva time! I’ll tell you. I had a couple of holes drilled in my head...but it’s all coming back though, slowly but it’s getting back there okay.
You mentioned you’re still playing the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Chet actually gave you back in the ‘80s.
Just when I started back playing was when he gave that to me...
It’s great to see that you’re still on tour. I see you just played St. Louis this weekend.
Right, at Casino Magic Bay in St. Louis, MS.
You’re on tour with with Ronnie McDowell, DJ Fontana, and the Jordanaires?
Right, on drums was D.J. Ronnie’s son is playing drums now also. So we use two drummers.
Jordanaires were there and of course Ronnie and his band. They all are fine musicians.
Do you still play the rock and roll music from the ‘50s?
Not all of it. We try and play a little of all of it, starting from day one and picking out a few songs all the way down the line.
Are you coming up to play New York City anytime soon?
I haven’t got anything scheduled right now. I’m going to try and play around two or three days a month, just enough to try and keep on top of everything. If you sit down and just start the television you’re not going to get anywhere.
Also new on the Elvis front, RCA Records is making the most of the 50th anniversary celebration of “That’s All Right” this July, starting off with a new CD at the end of June 2004 called Elvis At Sun.
Haven’t heard any word on that yet. I guess Jorgenson has that all sowed up. He’s the official word on everything if it has to do with Elvis.
They say the CD features 19 essential Sun tracks you and Bill Black made with Elvis in the best ever sound quality and they add, it’s like night and day compared to what’s come out before.
Well the sound quality’s fine if they don’t mess with it, don’t start running it through Pro-tools and doing all kind of games to it.
I heard for some tracks on the new Elvis At Sun CD like, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”
they remastered from a Sun Records 78! That’s how they actually came out back pre 45rpm? They said the sound quality is better than the tape they have. Where did they get a 78 to remaster from?
I don’t know...there’s a few around. I’ve got one on my wall in here.
The guy at RCA, Jorgenson said they also found a new tape of “That’s All Right” and six other tracks like “Good Rockin’ Tonight”.
And they say on the new tape, there’s a full fade out version of “Mystery Train”.
It’ll be out. I guarantee you.
Coinciding with the Elvis At Sun CD, RCA is also releasing a 3 DVD package on the Elvis: ‘68 Comeback Special.
Oh, that’ll be good.
Elvis, Charlie Hodge, Scotty, Alan Fortas and D.J. at NBC-TV
Studios June 27, 1968
Can you share some memories how you felt reuniting with Elvis for the ‘68 comeback special that was recorded for Television at the NBC studios in Burbank?
We’d been playing all along with him, we were doing all of his sessions stuff. But when he did the
comeback special, that was the first thing, see he’d been in the movies all this time. But that was the first thing he’d done on television or anything else. And it was fun. We had a ball going out there and doing that. What I’m trying to say is, it wasn’t a comeback for us, we had been working with him on record sessions all along. I had a studio here in Nashville and D.J. and Jordanaires and the other musicians were working their butts off.
RCA said they interviewed both you and D.J. for the ‘68 comeback DVD but they’re going to save the ‘making of’ the DVD for yet another DVD documentary release!
(laughter) I don’t know anything about that either!
But they did interview you and D.J.?
Well...D.J. and I went down... See we had never seen the second show. We did two. And they had took pieces out of both of them and put ‘em together. And we went down somewhere here in town and watched both shows and they had a mic and they just asked us to make comments during it. But it wasn’t a real...I don’t remember anything being an actual interview y’know? We just kind of talked along when things were happening.
They said only a small portion of what got shot actually made it to the original ‘68 TV broadcast.
They could have. I don’t really know.
I hear the Elvis estate is also planning a be-all and end-all Elvis documentary to be completed by 2006 or thereabouts...
They can say be-all and end-all...it won’t be the end of it! (laughter)
And they’re also planning an Elvis mini-series for next year and another network special for this year? The Elvis phenomenon just keeps getting larger than life.
That’s great but the thing I enjoy most is the music. As long as the music is staying up there, it’s okay. I don’t care what they do.
You and Carl Perkins recorded and album released on your Belle Meade label called
Any memories of making those albums with Carl Perkins. When did you first meet him?
Well I’ve known Carl from practically day one and I was born just about, oh I’d say about fifteen miles or something like that from each other. And I was about four months older than Carl. We’ve just known each other off and on through the years. Used to be close friends. The reason I didn’t try to put it out through the normal channels is we talked throughout the whole thing. We talked in between each song. The fans I found really love it, but I couldn’t get a big label interested at all...’nobody’ll buy something like that’...y’know? It’d be interesting to get your output on it.
You also had a hand in the critically acclaimed 1997 CD All The King’s
Scotty, D.J. Fontana and Ron Wood - Nashville 1998
That found you in the company of some great musicians like Jeff Beck, Keith Richard and Ron Wood. How did you assemble so many great players for that album? Will there ever be a follow up to that?
Well, I don’t know. I’d like to do another one but like I said, they drilled in my head last December. That’s why I missed that party. I’ve been working on my coordination. It’s not up to snuff like I want it to be. But I’m working on it. I’ve been going to a chiropractor and he’s been getting my hand back and it’s working pretty good. So, I don’t know, but I would love to do another one. Really would.
In 2000 you were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame by the songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Can you remember how did you and Elvis meet Leiber and Stoller in the first place?
Well, that was actually through the publishing company that was hooked up with RCA. They just started bringing in piles of songs and stuff to listen to and that’s where we met ‘em. And then, when they saw that he was going to make ‘em some money, well they put his name on it and started up a publishing company and gave him part of it of course.
Doc Pomus also wrote some great songs for Elvis like the 1961 single release “Little Sister” which was backed with another Pomus / Shuman song “His Latest Flame”.
Right, that was a good one.
Can you recall how you and Elvis met Doc Pomus?
I really don’t. I met so many people. Lieber and Stoller, of course we did quite a few of theirs and I do remember them. But most of them, weren’t too many songs. Just one here and there. Some of them I never even saw. We’d have a demo, we’d hear it and cut it.
Hank Garland also played guitar with you and Elvis on a lot of those early ‘60s Elvis Presley sessions.
Right, Hank did one session that I wasn’t even on period when Elvis came home on boot leave, he went in the army. But Hank had been on
a lot of the sessions with us but he’d be playing six string or something else...he wasn’t playing lead on those. And then he played on one, Hank played on one show in Tupelo. It was Elvis’ hometown. We’d been there once before and played one and next time we went back. It was when Bill and I had quit the organization.
Chet Atkins also played guitar on some of the early Elvis sides like “Heartbreak Hotel”.
Chet played rhythm guitar on “Heartbreak Hotel” and then one other song from the same
session that he played rhythm guitar on. When we were working up the song, I turned to Chet and I said, ‘cause I mean everybody in the world loved Chet. He was a great guitar player. And I remember when we were working on that song, I turned to Chet and I asked him, I said, ‘do you think what I’m playing is okay?’ He said, ‘I don’t know man, I’m playing rhythm.’ (laughter) He wouldn’t say yes or no. (laughter)
Chet Atkins, Steve Sholes, Elvis, Gordon Stoker, Ben and Brock
Spear - April 14, 1956
Photo by Life
It’s amazing how many guitarists were influenced by the sound of you Elvis and Bill back then. Were you and Elvis friendly with other icons back then like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry?
The ones that we got to meet and see, yes we were. In the very early days they booked us night after night. Figure three guys in a ‘53 Chevrolet with the bass fiddle inside. (laughter) And two or three hundred miles to go too!
Was there ever talk about Buddy or Chuck writing for Elvis. Was that out of the question?
Oh, I mean we discussed all of ‘em and heard all the records. It was all positive for sure. I can’t think of anybody that any of us didn’t like, really.
I was eight in ‘62 when I bought my first Elvis single, “Return To Sender”. Did you play on that song?
Yeah. I can’t even remember what I played to tell you the truth. Yeah, I played on that. He was in his Mario Lanza...”Now Or Never” is along the same line.
“Return To Sender” lists you, Barney Kessel and Tiny Timbrell on guitars.
Tiny Timbrell I know Tiny was on it. I don’t remember if Barney was on that one or not. Maybe so.
Do you remember the way the guitars were recorded on that track?
I’d have to listen to it. When he was doing movies with different players...I can’t tell till I listen to something. (laughter) I don’t know if I was playing rhythm guitar or lead or what.
“Return To Sender” was written by Otis Blackwell, who was a pretty amazing songwriter back then.
Yes he was.
Could you mention a few of your early guitar influences?
Well, when I came out of the Navy, I started getting real interested in playing. Nobody tells you who was playing on it, except who was singing. So it was years later before I found out...Of course Chet and Cory did instrumentals, they will tell you of course. And a couple others like that.
I know you’ve jammed with Les Paul?
Yeah, but nobody could play what he played ‘cause he did all the overdub stuff! (laughter) We could play the melody and that’d be it. Oh, Les is great. He’s a fun guy. I still see him every chance I get.
Les Paul Trio with Scotty at the Iridium in NYC
Les just celebrated his birthday...
I believe it was 89 and he’s still playing! Great. He was down here last year I think it was.
What kind of influence do you think Les had?
I think Les was an influence on many, many players especially if they saw him. Like I said, the records of course, when he did all the stuff with Mary Ford, were things that were publicized...so, there were so many guitar licks on there you couldn’t even figure them out really.
Because you weren’t only interested in country and western, you were influenced by jazz players too.
Oh, yeah. I just love music period.
You mentioned Tal Farlow.
Oh yeah, Tal was great. Kessel was great too. I liked Barney.
How about Django?
I loved to listen to him. I didn’t play the things he did.
Any other recording or concert plans or any other news you could fill us in on?
Like I said, I’m getting this arm back in shape. I’m all for doing some stuff. I really am but I just want it to be right to me even. Whether it’s right to somebody else or not! (laughter)
Again congratulations on the 50th anniversary of rock and roll!
It’s going to be a real hoot, I tell you, when we get down there...I appreciate your calling. Anything you think of that I didn’t touch on, well feel free to give me a call.
I’ll call Gail.
She’s taking care of me good. Well, she knows most of it anyway. Alright, bye-bye...
Scotty Moore - July 5, 2004
This interview and an interview of Alvin Lee was conducted by
Robert Silverstein for the August 2004
Issue of 20th Century Guitar
Magazine. Visit his site at mwe3.com for
the interview with Alvin and other great recording artists.