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Scotty Moore, Rock Pioneer and Elvis Presley’s Guitarist, Dies at 84

Variety logo Variety 29/06/2016 Christopher Morris
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Scotty Moore, the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll guitarist whose fluid picking propelled Elvis Presley’s first recordings for Sun Records, died Tuesday in Nashville, according to Memphis newspaper the Commercial Appeal. He was 84.

Moore was a member of a local country combo in Memphis when he was drafted by Sun owner Sam Phillips to support with the young, untested teenage singer on his debut recordings.

His crisp, flowing, melodic guitar lines, heavily influenced by Chet Atkins’ early work but also infused with deep blues feeling, highlighted the singles issued by Sun during Presley’s rise to fame in 1954-55.

Moore went on to work behind Presley after he moved to major label RCA in 1956, appearing on such major hits as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” He also took supporting roles in several of Presley’s early feature films, and took a key instrumental role in his 1968 “comeback special.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Born Winfield Scott Moore III on Dec. 27, 1931, on a farm outside Gasden, TN, Moore, the youngest of 14 children, began playing guitar at 8. He enlisted in the Navy and served in Korea from 1948-52.

Moore founded the Starlite Wranglers shortly after his release from the service; the sextet also included the comedic bass player Bill Black. The band had recorded a single for the young, blues-oriented label Sun in May 1954.

At the suggestion of Sun office manager Marion Keisker, Moore called up Presley – whose name, he later said, sounded like “a name out of science fiction.” After Moore and Black had rehearsed with the vocalist, they entered the studio on July 5, 1954. After running down several tunes they knew in common, at Phillips’ urging the trio cut a version of Arthur Crudup’s blues “That’s All Right.”

Released as a single later that month, the song took off regionally and jump-started Presley’s career. Moore was employed on all of the singer’s subsequent Sun 45s, including such classic performances as “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Mystery Train” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

As a member of the “Blue Moon Boys,” Moore also backed Presley on the singer’s early, sometimes riotous tours through the South, in which the rising rock ‘n’ roll star was sometimes billed on a package bill with his Sun label mates Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

After Presley was signed to RCA for the then unprecedented sum of $40,000, Moore followed him into studios in Nashville and New York, playing on his immensely successful early 45s and LPs. He also backed Presley on his famous, scandalous early TV appearances on the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan variety shows.

After Presley was drafted into the Army in 1958, Moore segued into production as the VP at Fernwood Records, an indie Memphis label founded by Phillips’ former right-hand man Jack Clement and club owner Slim Wallace. He produced Thomas Wayne’s hit ballad “Tragedy” and sides by guitarist Travis Wammack for the label.

Upon Presley’s return from duty in 1960, Moore re-upped with the singer, appearing on Frank Sinatra’s “welcome home” special that March.

The association between the singer and guitarist may have had its apotheosis on the December 1968 NBC special in which Presley roared back to musical prominence after years in the Hollywood wilderness. The show was highlighted by intimate, dazzling small-group performances featuring Moore on lead guitar.

In later years, Moore founded a Nashville studio, Independent Producers Corp. (which was housed in Monument Records’ old facility) and engineered TV shows for Opryland Productions.

In 1992 he appeared with his onetime label mate and rock guitar peer Carl Perkins on the summit meeting “706 ReUnion,” issued on his own Belle Meade Records; the title was a play on the Union Avenue location of Sun Records’ fabled studio.

The 1997 album “All the King’s Men” found him working with Presley’s former drummer D.J. Fontana and such stars as Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, Levon Helm of the Band, and guitarist Jeff Beck.

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