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Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s “Essential” Guitarist, Dies at 84

June 29, 2016

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.

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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.

Pit-Session

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2016 4:43 PM

    Gregory, you’re probably too modest.

    I too am self-taught (with the notable exception of one lesson from my jazz-&-classical guitar genius brother, who studied at USC and taught me Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues,” a song that probably features 3/4 of the jazz chords in existence). The great thing about going it alone is that you really need to push yourself to make sure you don’t suck. No settling for second best!

  2. June 30, 2016 4:17 PM

    Thanks for the advice—but I am SO at the other end of competency at the piano. I am self-teaching though James actually plays–it is just hard for me to have him be ‘the teacher’. So I am enjoying songs such as “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” and the old Don Williams’ “Amanda”. I also play some Southern Gospel songs that are standards. I did however find reason to smile when a guy who lives in our neighborhood walked by with his guitar last weekend and said he heard me play and wondered if we could play together some time. (Between you and me that will not be happening anytime soon as I am not at all ready to play like that–though I truly love my time practing.) I will however take note and listen to your ideas and thank you for responding so thoughtfully,

  3. June 30, 2016 4:06 PM

    I started playing piano when I was 10 (forced lessons) and guitar at 14 (borrowed my hippie girlfriend’s–I was kind of flummoxed trying to coax “Purple Haze” out of a nylon-stringed acoustic). For a budding keyboard player I strongly suggest studying the work of the late Rick Wright of Pink Floyd. He never tried to dazzle with his technical proficiency (although classically trained) but made his life’s work the Search for the Perfect Note. Most of the time he succeeded. A guitarist with much the same approach is Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Nothing wasted, everything right to the point. Listen to “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell” and tell me you don’t feel the ache.

  4. June 30, 2016 2:31 PM

    Second year of piano here, Peter. Couple more years we need to rent a bus and tour!

  5. June 30, 2016 11:52 AM

    As a longtime guitarist, I really appreciate stuff like this.

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