EIN interview with Scotty Moore

Scotty Moore, Elvis' guitarist, talks with Arjan Deelen

‘Scotty Moore was in the delivery room when Rock & Roll was born, kicking and howling in the Tennessee night.
On July 5, 1954, guitarist Scotty Moore, bass player Bill Black and a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi, by the name of Elvis Aaron Presley recorded ‘That's All Right’ at the Memphis Recording Service - and the world was never to be the same again.’

It is noteworthy that 'That's All Right' (Sun 209) was credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill." Scotty, Bill Black & D.J Fontana were Elvis' key musicians through to 1958 when Elvis went into the army. Scotty Moore would return for Elvis' all important 1960 recording sessions and would keep on working with Elvis until the 1968 Comeback show.

Winfield Scott Moore III was born on December 27, 1931. To celebrate Scotty Moore's 75th Birthday EIN presents this exclusive Arjan Deelen interview.


Winfield Scott Moore III was born on December 27, 1931. Scotty Moore was a participant in the historic session at the Sun Studio, July 5th 1954, that marked the birth of rock'n'roll. It is noteworthy that 'That's All Right' (Sun 209) was credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill." Scotty would keep on working with Elvis until the 1968 Comeback show.

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones famously said "When I heard Heartbreak Hotel, I knew what I wanted to do in life. It was as plain as day. All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play and sound like that. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty Moore.'

Make sure you check out the wonderful 2005 DVD 'A Tribute To The King' - by Scotty Moore & Friends.


On March 28th, 1998, Scotty and D.J Fontana performed at an Elvis convention in Europe. That same evening, I interviewed them both in Scotty's hotel room. Actually, it wasn't easy to find good questions, as Scotty's That's All Right Elvis and Peter Guralnick's Last Train To Memphis describe the early years in wonderful detail. Nevertheless, the interviews were quite interesting in many ways. Especially Scotty is very straightforward and outspoken, and his viewpoints shed a new light on various issues for me.

Arjan Deelen: Why did you decide to do an autobiography?

Scotty Moore: I have a daughter in Memphis that knew the guy that wrote the book. She kept after me about it, and I finally told her that if she'd shut up, I'd do the book.

AD: Do you think Elvis was musically active before 'That's All Right'?

SM: In an amateurish way, yes. He was listening to bands, going to the Gospel all-night singings and so forth. He was definitely singing and playing, but not professionally.

AD: How many days are there between your first meeting with Elvis and the recording of 'That's All Right'? According to some it's a matter of months, while others say it all happened within a week.

SM: It's a matter of one day, really. I met him on Sunday, and we went in the studio Monday night. That was when 'That's All Right' was cut. But that was an audition, it wasn't meant as a session.

AD: You also tried 'Harbour Lights' and that kind of stuff.

SM: Yeah, those were just things that...everybody would try and think of a song. We'd try and play it, and Sam would record it. We'd listen to it and go on to something else.

AD: In an interview you said that Elvis' relationship with you was like that of an older brother.

SM: Basically, yeah.

AD: What kind of things did you discuss?

SM: Good God, it's been 47 years ago.. he was full of questions about a lot of things.

AD: I've read that he looked up to you because you'd been in Korea and so forth, while he'd only been in and around Memphis.

SM: Yeah, I'd been in the navy four years. He was just curious and he'd ask questions about different things. But he did that with Bill and D.J. too. He had a mind that...he was quick to grasp .......

AD: Eager to learn.

SM: Yeah.

AD: What kind of music did you listen to on the car radio during those early tours?

SM: Jazz when Elvis was with us. There was a late night radio-show out of New Orleans. It was around midnight. (to D.J.Fontana) Was that Moonglow Martin?

D.J.Fontana: Yeah, Moonglow Martin.

(Scotty continues) He had about three or four hours of jazz. Played all the big bands, trios and stuff, and you could pick that program up almost all over. Just about anywhere in the country.

 

(Right: Elvis & Scotty perform 'Baby I Don't Care' in Jailhouse Rock)

AD: About eight years ago, ABC produced the television-series 'Good Rockin' Tonight', about the early years on the road. Was it reasonably accurate?

SM: Some of it was, and some of it was absolutely made up. The network wanted it to be a sort of 'Dukes of Hazzard'. We'd stop at a service-station to get gas, the place would get robbed and we'd chase them. (laughing) We didn't do that!

AD: Is it true that you, Elvis and Bill jammed with Lowell Fulson in a club in Houston?

SM: Yeah. I can't tell you the name of the club, but we actually did. It was an all-black club, and we played a couple of numbers with him.

AD: Is that where Elvis got 'Reconsider Baby' from?

SM: No, he already knew it. When I first met him it seemed like he knew every song that had ever been recorded. Pop, R&B, country. you name it.

AD: How did you come up with new songs for studio-sessions and live-shows in those days?

SM: Some of the stuff at Sun was just a matter of... well Sam, myself, Bill and Elvis would just think of a song and say: 'Do you know that one?'. We might run it three times and see. If it didn't feel like anything happened, we'd go on to something else. Of course, when he went to RCA, the publishing companies would bring in stacks and stacks of demos.

AD: Like publisher Freddie Bienstock.

SM: Yeah, him mostly.

AD: In December 1955 Hill & Range published the songbook 'Elvis Presley Album of Jukebox Favorites', which included songs like ‘That's The Stuff You Gotta Watch', 'Tennessee Saturday Night' and 'Always late With Your Kisses'. Were any of those songs ever performed live or in the studio?

SM: No, they would put in fillers, songs from their own catalogue.

AD: I have read that Elvis sang the Platters-hit 'Only You' live in 1955/56. Was it performed on more than one occasion?

SM: Yes, I think so.I remember doing it, but I don't remember any dates. We did it some, but not very much.

AD: What about 'Rock Around The Clock'?

SM: We tried that a few times, that was really in the very early days. I don't think it ever got recorded on tape, live or anything.

(The iconic first LP photo. At the concert with Scotty Moore)

AD: They recently found Louisiana Hayride recordings of 'Hearts Of Stone' and 'Little Mama'.

SM: Who is "they"?

AD: Ernst Jørgensen from RCA.

SM: I remember 'Hearts Of Stone', but I don't remember the other song.

AD: It's a Clovers song, and there's steel and piano on it.

SM: We used the other guys on there some. Steel players, drummers...

AD: Floyd Cramer also played at the Hayride, didn't he?

SM: Yeah, but I don't remember him playing anything with us at the Hayride. He played some club dates with us. There's another guy that I do remember playing piano with us, and his name is Leon Post. See, it was a big stage with different acts, and they all intermingled. It was like a big family. It was like: "Hey c'mon, play with me on that song" - you know, that kind of thing. That's how we ended up with piano and steel sometimes.

AD: Can you remember if you, Elvis and Bill performed on Roy Orbison's television-show on KOSA in Odessa, Texas in 1955?

SM: We may have, I don't know. I don't remember it.

AD: Did Elvis talk about his contemporaries?

SM: We talked about every sucker that we heard on the radio!. That was just natural.

AD: Who did you admire from that era?

SM: Not too many! (laughs)

AD: How did the first session alter Elvis came out of the army go?

SM: That was in March '60. It was an all-night session to cut a full album. It felt just like any other: a session is a session. We went on the train the next day to go to Miami to do the Sinatra show.

AD: It's been rumoured that Elvis hated 'Stuck On You'.

DJ.Fontana: I don't blame him!

AD: Were you surprised by his change of style with songs like 'It's Now Or Never'?

SM: No, I liked those. 'Suspicion', 'It's Now Or Never'... they were fun to do.

AD: Jumping a few years ahead to the NBC Special in '68, was it planned that Elvis would take your guitar?

SM: No. He was watchin', he looked at the look on my face, seeing if I was agitated by his playing or not! (laughs).

AD: Did you get any directions from the producers?

SM: It was a jam session, that's all we did. The director said: "There's the stage. Don't worry about the cameras, just do what you want to do".

(Right: Elvis and Scotty at the 68 Comeback Special)

AD: So the songs were not selected by the producers?

SM: No, it was just whatever came into Elvis' mind, whatever he felt like doing.

AD: How would you rate Elvis as a guitarist?

SM: Fair. He had a good sense of timing and rhythm. He didn't know a whole lotta chords, but those he knew, he really could use 'em. And he'd play a little bass, a little drums...He had rhythm in his voice, he just had a natural thing about that. He could hear a song, and he knew what he could do with that song. And nobody else could do it. They're still imitating him today but they just can't do it. They just don't have whatever it is that Elvis had.

AD: Do you keep up with new releases?

SM: No, in fact I'm kind of hacked off by all these what they call "alternate takes". They're not alternate takes, they're outtakes - throwaway stuff that was supposed to hit the garbage can. All that does is show us working on a song, mistakes and all, 'till we finally reach the point: "That's a master".

AD: You're not too happy with it being released?

SM: No, I'm not. In fact, we got the Union after them now 'cause they're saying it's part of the session, and the Union is saying: "No, it's new material you're putting out".

AD: Fans are looking at it from a different angle. They simply enjoy hearing Elvis singing a song with a different phrasing, or in a different arrangement.

SM: Oh sure, the fans will eat it up, but that's not the point. You think Rembrandt would enjoy all his throwaway drawings being out on the market? He went for the master, and when he found it, that was it. It's an invasion of privacy as far as I'm concerned. Not only Elvis', but all of us, everybody working with him. But I can see the fans' point. And anything that they haven't heard him do is gonna make money for the record company But I don't think Elvis would appreciate it if he was here. If he was here, he'd do something about it. The only reason they're getting away with it, is that he's not here!

 

EIN thanks Arjan Deelen for this interview.

Copyright Elvis Information Network 2006/Arjan Deelen 2001. Do not re-publish this interview

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