Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Late Great Scotty Moore

Scotty Moore, the guitarist who played on Elvis Presley's earliest records, died on June 28 2016 at the age of 84.

Scotty Moore was born on December 27 1931 in Gadsen, Tennessee. He learned to play guitar when he was only around 8 years old. Growing up he was a fan of both jazz and country music, in particular guitarists Les Paul and Chet Atkins. He served in the United States Navy form 1948 to 1952. After his service was over he worked at a dry cleaner by day and played music at night. He played with a country band called the Starlite Wranglers, who would be recorded by Sam Phillips of Sun Records. He also did session work at Sun Records.

It was on July 5 1954 that Sam Phillips brought Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black in to record with a newly signed singer named Elvis Presley. The session proved fruitless until late into the night when the trio recorded Elvis Presley's version of "That's All Right". In the next few days they also recorded a cover of Bill Monroe's  "Blue Moon of Kentucky". "That's All Right" was released as a single, with  "Blue Moon of Kentucky" as the B-side.

Eventually Scotty Moore and Bill Black would be named The Blue Moon Boys. They were later joined by drummer D. J. Fontana. They not only recorded with Elvis, but they also toured with him throughout the country and appeared on television with him. When Elvis Presley signed with RCA Records, The Blue Moon Boys continued to perform with him. Ultimately Scotty Moore appeared on some of Elvis's most famous records, including "Good Rockin' Tonight", "Mystery Train", "Baby Let's Play House", "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog", "Jailhouse Rock", "Surrender", "Good Luck Charm",  "(You're The) Devil in Disguise", and "Bossa Nova Baby". The Blue Moon Boys also performed in four of Elvis Presley's movies (Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, and G.I. Blues).

Unfortunately while Elvis Presley became a millionaire, Scotty Moore was not making nearly as much money. In 1956 he only made a little over $8000. He also did not get along with Colonel Tom Parker, the manager who exerted nearly total control over Elvis's career. Eventually both Scotty Moore and Bill Black left The Blue Moon Boys.

While Elvis Presley was serving in the United States Army, Mr. Moore worked at Fernwood Records and, among other things, produced the hit single "Tragedy" for Thomas Wayne Perkins. After parting ways with Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore released a solo album The Guitar That Changed the World! in 1964. He played with Elvis and D. J. Fontana one last time in 1968, on the legendary television special Elvis (informally known as the Elvis Comeback Special).

In 1977 Scott Moore released a second solo album titled What's Left. In 1997 he played on the Elvis Presley tribute album All the King's Men alongside Keith Richards, Levon Helm, and others. That same year he appeared on another tribute album, Elvis: A Tribute to the King. In 2001 he backed Paul McCartney on his cover of "That's All Right".

Scotty Moore was certainly among the most influential guitarists in rock history. He took the finger picking style of guitar playing utilised by Chet Atkins and used it for rock 'n' roll. This made him rather unique among early rock guitarists. In his book The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, rock critic Dave Marsh even credits Scotty Moore with having invented power chords on the single "Jailhouse Rock". While arguably the power chord was in use before "Jailhouse Rock" (it can be seen in the early Fifties in recordings by Willie Johnson and Pat Hare), there can be no doubt that Scotty Moore's use of them would have a lasting influence. Scotty Moore would have an influence on such rock guitarists as Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, George Harrison of The Beatles, and Jeff Beck. Quite simply, without Scotty Moore the history of rock music would be very, very different.

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