D.J. FONTANA - Elvis Presley's drummer from 1955 to 1969, born Dominic Joseph Fontana in Shreveport, Louisiana. D.J. originally start playing the
drums when he was around 13 or 14 years old in high school, and clubs like that. Since beginning his career as staff drummer, in 1954 at the Louisiana Hayride, D.J. has played behind a host of big name stars, both on records and on the road. The list is endless
and includes Webb Piers, Johnny Horton, George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, Claude King, Hank Thompson, Carl Perkins, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Merle Travis, Jim Reeves, Gene Vincent, Dale Hawkins, Waylon Jennings, Narvel Felts, Dolly Parton, Ringo
Star and Lynn Anderson.
Elvis Presley first met D.J. Fontana while appearing at the "Louisiana Hayride" on October 16, 1954. Fontana, the staff drummer, became the first
person to play drums on the "Louisiana Hayride", dosing so behind a curtain. Previously he had played his Gretsch drums for radio station KWKH's (Shreveport, Louisiana) studio band. Popular opinion has it that Fontana was first heard on "I'm Left, You're Right,
She's Gone", and then on other Sun recordings by Elvis Presley.
However, Fontana has stated that he did not play on any Elvis' Sun recordings.
The drummers on the Sun Records was Johnny Bernero and Jimmie Lott. Fontana, who played behind Elvis Presley on about forty-six recordings session between 1956 and 1968, left Elvis' band in
1969 to become a session musician in Nashville. He played drums on Ringo Starr's "Beaucoups Of Blues" album (The Jordaniares also appeared on the album). Fontana appeared in the 1957 movies "Loving You" and "Jailhouse Rock". He also played drums for a stripper
in the 1975 movie Nashville. Fontana authored the book "D.J. Fontana Remembers Elvis:
"My association with Elvis Presley all started, I guess, when Tillman Franks of
the Louisiana Hayride show in Shreveport called me one day and said, 'Listen to this boy's tape. He might want to use you on weekend'. I listened, I liked what I heard. Little did I know then this would start a twelve-year association with Elvis".
"When Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black arrived in town that weekend, Scotty asked me into their dressing room and we talked about what we were going to do on stage. Scotty was like their
road manager. We fiddled around back there about five or six minutes and I was ready".
"That first night on Hayride was quiet - your basic country music show. The people
were older and they were there to watch Webb Pierce. They weren't prepared for a young boy running all over the stage. I think what happened is they all went home and told their kids about what they had seen and the kids began coming. The crowds got bigger
and bigger each week through word of mouth".
"I started by playing weekends with Elvis, Scotty and Bill. Then they would go back to Memphis. They couldn't afford to take
me back to Memphis with them, so I would wait and join them the next weekend. Once they offered me four dates in east Texas following the Hayride. We would be touring with Jim Ed Brown through Longview, Kilgore and Tyler. Tom Perryman was booking the shows.
What started out to be four dates wound up being three or four weeks. After this tour, Scotty wanted to know if I would work for them if they got any jobs. I agreed. After all, I was making more money working one night a week with them on Hayride than I had
been making all week in other places".
"We began touring a lot with Jim Ed Brown in east Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. We worked the Big D Jamboree in the Dallas area
a couple of times. It was a package show, working with Hank Thompson, Webb Pierce and Faron Young and, when Tom Parker took over, Hank Snow. We were doing the warm-up acts for them, working thirty to forty minutes to warm up the crowds until the headliners
"We didn't have much of a play list in those days. Elvis sang "That's All Right", a couple of Sam Cooke tunes, "Maybellene". He was twisting and shaking from
the start and it didn't seem put on". We worked a couple of years constantly on the road. Little stuff. But each week things got hotter. We saw Parker two or three times along the way, but didn't know who he was at the time. He never really said anything.
Later, I learned he was checking us out.".
"Life in those days was doing a gig, breaking down, packing the car, driving four hundred, five hundred miles to the next place
and doing it all over again. The three of us split the driving while Elvis slept. He would take his turn driving in the morning. He was always filled with nervous energy. He was always playing the car radio, flipping from station to station to see if anyone
was playing his records. And he loved to play games. He loved firecrackers even then. If he caught you asleep in the car, he would light one of them and you weren't sleeping much longer. He would throw cherry bombs at street signs. If musicians were following
us in their cars to the next town, he would try to hit their cars with firecrackers and cherry bombs. He was just a big, overgrown kid. This never changed in him".
would drive into the next town. We had no reservations. We always tried to get the cheapest room we could get. We didn't have much money in those days. Until I joined the group, Elvis got the single room and Scotty and Bill shared the other room. When I came
on board, I, being the newcomer, had to stay with Elvis. He would stay awake all nights, listening to the radio and talking until he was just too tired. Then he would fall asleep".
we did a show, Elvis was always really keyed up. After we had driven awhile toward the next gig, we would stop at one of those all-night diners. One of us would be assigned to take Elvis walking down the highway while the other two would go in and buy the
burgers. We would try to wear him down, tire him out. The others would drive down the road and pick us up and as soon as Elvis would get in the back seat, he was asleep".
would drive into the next town between 8 and 10 a.m. He would sleep all day. We would awaken him, set up, then go out and eat about 5 or 6 p.m. Then we would go back to the motel and get him. Life in those early days was an endless string of nameless motels
and restaurants, places like the Al-Ida in Bossier City, Louisiana. It was cheap. They knew Elvis there. And we would go over to Harry's Bar-B-Q after the Louisiana Hayride shows and sit and drink and talk".
"One night, after playing a San Antonio gig, we had a bunch of kids hanging around us in the motel. Elvis decided we should all go jump in the pool with our clothes on. It was long after the pool had closed at 10 p.m. The manager
came and threatened to throw us out of the motel if we didn't get out of that pool right then and return to our rooms. We got out. Other bands in those days were known for tearing up motel rooms. we didn't want that reputation. In those days, in a lot of cheap
motels, if you told them you were a musician they wouldn't give you a room".
"After Tom Parker came into the picture, things got regimented. We had a schedule thirty
days in advance. We knew where we were going and what hotels we were staying in. We had phone numbers where we would be staying and playing. Even then, Elvis was up to his old pranks. It got to the point where every thirty miles or so he would want to stop
or slow down and throw firecrackers or something".
"When Elvis was up, he would talk about a lot of things. He wanted to know how his records were doing. He would flip
the radio dial to see if stations were playing his records. It concerned him to know how things were going. He was always planning changes in the act. He could control crowds well, even when he was young. If things were going slow, he knew what to do to liven
things up a bit".
"Bill Black was a comedian at heart. He would slap that stand-up bass, jump up and down and tell hillbilly jokes like those, 'why did the chicken cross
the roads' jokes. Once Parker took over the act, he put a stop to these antics. He told Bill to 'just play your bass, no more comedy. We're trying to sell my boy'. Bill had to back off".
"We were then making four hundred, five hundred dollars a week. In the early days, they each got an equal percentage from the gigs. When Parker took over, he put a stop to that.
Then, Elvis would get fifty percent and Scotty and Bill would split the other fifty percent. After they paid the expenses, they had little left. They walked out because of the money arrangements".
"In those days, they were booking any place that would take Elvis because they were trying to get his name out there. Like the Louisiana Hayride, for instance. I doubt they were making over a hundred dollars
over there, but it was good for them because it gave them radio exposure all the way into Canada".
"The split took place while we were doing Seattle and Vancouver. Elvis
asked if I were leaving too. I told him, 'You've always paid me what and when you said you would. Their differences are between you all'. Elvis offered Scotty and Bill more to stay and they did, on a day-to-day basis. At that point, he began paying me the
same as they got".
"Elvis was funny in a way. His feelings were easily hurt. You had to feel him out sometimes and you had to let him know exactly what you meant when
you did or said something. If you didn't, sometimes he would go home and worry about it until he figured it out for himself. He tended to take things too seriously when sometimes he shouldn't have. After twelve years, I quit. Sam Phillips had his studio going
and I tried to get some session work there and in Nashville. The Jordanaires were staying busy. I told Tom Diskin why I was leaving". "A year later, Elvis was in town and I went over to explain to him why I had left to that I had two kids at home and I wanted
to stay with them more; that I was doing a lot of sessions. Elvis told me, 'I had heard a lot of different stories. Now I understand. I don't blame you. If I could do it, I would do the same thing'".
"After that, I did one more gig with Elvis - the 1968 Singer Special. And after that, I visited him at Graceland maybe one or two times. He was always friendly when I visited. He was so proud of Graceland. He would always show
me the house, what was new since I was there last. We would talk about the changes in his life and he told me it was no fun anymore; that he was surrounded by security and was afraid to get out of his own house. He wanted to go back to the good ol' days, like
when we first started out". "Elvis had an uncanny memory. He could remember about all that had happened in those cities in the Sun years. He told me one time, 'I really get tired of being Elvis'".
Dominic Joseph Fontana died on June 13, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 87. At the time of his death, he was suffering from complications of a broken hip.
Bob Will's band had the first drummer to appear on the "Grand Ole Opry". He also played behind a curtain so that the audience wouldn't know he was there. Drums were not a welcome instrument to country music fans.
FLOYD CRAMER - Nashville session piano player, born in Samti, Louisiana, on October 27, 1933, who became well-known for his slip-note style of playing, which was taught to
him by Don Robertson. In his youth, Cramer played piano, when he was thirteen years old, Cramer in high school. In 1951, Floyd Cramer moved to Shreveport, and worked for the Louisiana Hayride. In 1952, Cramer moved to Nashville, Tennessee as session piano
player for many artists.
Cramer played as a session musician for numerous RCA artists including Elvis Presley, whom he had met on the "Louisiana Hayride". For two weeks
in October 1955 Cramer appeared on the same bill as Elvis Presley on the Jamboree tour from Abilene, Texas, to St. Louis.
Floyd Cramer was married with Mary Kitchens.
Floyd Cramer played piano on all Jim Reeves sessions for RCA. Floyd Cramer backed later Elvis Presley on all his Nashville recording sessions from January 1956 through January 1968, included the Elvis hits: "Heartbreak Hotel", "A Big Hunk O'Love", "It's Now
Or Never", "Crying In The Chapel", "I Feel So Bad", "Little Sister", "Devil In Disguise", and "Love Letters".
In 1955, Floyd Cramer moved for good to Nashville, and worked
for the Grand Ole Opry; worked with Marty Robbins on tour, and in 1960, Floyd Cramer recorded his first hit "Last Date" (RCA Victor 47-7775), reached at the Billboard Top 100 Country chart at number 2.
Floyd Cramer has always been able to sing notes (slip-note) with his fingers and phrase them with artistic soul, so by simply applying the Cramer technique to the songs he has create a truly magnificent piece of work. Floyd
Cramer died at long cancer in Nashville, Tennessee on December 31, 1997 at the age of 65.
OCTOBER 16, 1954 SATURDAY
Issue of Billboard, there was a small item in Bill Sachs' "Folk Talent & Tunes" announcing that "Bob Neal of WMPS radio, Memphis, is planning fall tours with Elvis Presley, the Louvin Brothers, and J.E. and Maxine Brown".
At Scotty's urging Bob Neal has agreed to help set up shows in the Memphis area and the Mississippi-Arkansas region, within reach of the strong radio signal of his early-morning and noon