Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s “Essential” Guitarist, Dies at 84
One of the essential ingredients for the formation of rock-and-roll died Tuesday at the age of 84. Scotty Moore, the famed guitarist in the formative years of Elvis Presley died in Nashville.
Moore went to see Sam Phillips, the owner and founder of Sun Records, who would go on to discover Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and, of course, Elvis Presley. Phillips, impressed with Moore’s talent, let him cut a country record with Doug Poindexter’s Starlite Wranglers, and the two became fast friends.
Then, as Moore recounted to Guitar Player in 2014:
One day, we went to have coffee with Sam and his secretary, Marion Keisker, and she was the one who brought up Elvis. We didn’t know, but Marion had a crush on Elvis, and she asked Sam if he had ever talked to that boy who had been in there. Sam said to Marion, “Go back in there and get that boy’s telephone number, and give it to Scotty.” Then, Sam turned to me and said, “Why don’t you listen to this boy, and see what you think.” Marion came back with a slip of paper, and it said “Elvis Presley.” I said, “Elvis Presley — what the hell kind of a name is that?”
Moore and Bill Black, the bassist of the Starlite Wranglers, met with Elvis on July 4, 1954, and played through a few tunes. When Phillips later asked what Moore thought, he said, “I thought he was pretty good.”
The next night, the three gathered for a true audition session at Sun, but it was going poorly — 19-year-old Elvis’s voice was too high for ballads, which all three found too slow anyhow. Moore packed up his guitar, and Black was about to.
Maybe in frustration, maybe as a last-ditch effort, Elvis began “beating the snot out of his guitar — acting the fool and singing,” according to Moore. The other two joined in, and Phillips loved it.
They recorded “That’s All Right” that very evening.
Together, they would record many of Elvis’s early hits, including “Mystery Train,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
“Elvis Presley wouldn’t have been Elvis Presley without Scotty Moore. I think my dad would agree with that,” Sam Phillips’s son Jerry told Commercial Appeal. “You gotta remember, there were only three instruments on those things. Scotty, Bill [Black] and Elvis. Scotty really just made everything work.”
But all good things must end, the Blue Moon Boys along with them.
A year later, Black died.
In 1958, Elvis was drafted into the army, putting the band on hiatus. A few years later, in 1964, Moore cut a solo record for Epic called “The Guitar that Changed the World.” Phillips long lost his top musicians to bigger labels, and he angrily fired Moore.
Although Moore and Elvis reunited in 1968 for ” ’68 Comeback Special,” their golden run had come to an end. Moore barely touched his guitar for another 25 years, instead focusing on producing artists such as Ringo Starr, Tracy Nelson and Dolly Parton.