Scotty Moore

Jul 05, 2016

Before the rock partnerships of lead singer & lead guitarist, exemplified by Daltrey/ Townshend, Jagger/ Richards, Plant/ Page and Tyler/ Perry, there was the tsunami of Elvis Presley.  But in 1956 there was no mention of a wild guitar player sharing the spotlight.  Yet Elvis's supercharged rockabilly growls of "you ain't no friend of mine" or "dancin' to the jailhouse rock" after the second choruses suddenly gave way to equally supercharged guitar solos, as wild as Elvis's vocal, the guitar equivalent to Elvis himself.

That was Scotty Moore playing his Gibson ES-295.  He later described his solo on Hound Dog as "ancient psychedelia" and has been credited with inventing the power chord with his sledge-hammer breaks on "Jailhouse Rock".  Indeed Moore's rhythms as well as lead work were often the startling characteristics of the early Presley recordings; his straight-8s against drummer DJ Fontana's swing in "Jailhouse Rock" is a sophisticated New Orleans trick brought into a Number One hit.  Critic Dave Marsh was among the few to give Moore full credit for his commanding work on the early Sun recordings including "Mystery Train", "Baby Let's Play House", "Good Rockin' Tonight" and the breakout single "That's All Right Mama".  His fingerpicking on "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" is still a challenge for guitarists to figure out.

Sadly the band wasn't the unit of stardom or signing of recording contracts in the 1950s.  While Moore, DJ Fontana and bassist Bill Black, known as "The Blue Moon Boys" when not with Elvis, did survive the move from regional Sun label to RCA for a few historic records, Presley's management, RCA execs and 20th Century Fox film studios did not see the value of Elvis's core band or its incredible guitarist.  But Elvis himself, when paired with a new touring band in the autumn of 1957, quickly re-hired his trio for his tour that year.

In a series of in-again, out-again layoffs, with no pay between engagements, Moore managed to play on over a dozen post-'50s Elvis cuts at RCA, including his manic work on "Too Much", "Such a Night" through 1963's "Bossa Nova Baby".  In a characteristic lack of crediting, his standout on "Little Sister" is sometimes credited to Hank Garland. 

Moore, Fontana & Black performed with Elvis for the last time during the 1968 Comeback Special for ABC Television, where Presley's Hagstrom guitar wasn't being heard in the mix; he borrowed Scotty's Gibson Super 400 for the remainder of the show.  It was the last time Moore ever saw Elvis. 

Moore was recognized over time, with induction to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame among other acknowledgements.  Jeff Beck and Keith Richards have cited Scotty as the reason they picked up guitars in the first place.  Says Richards, "Everyone wanted to be Elvis.  I wanted to be Scotty Moore." 

Moore died June 28 of this year at age 84.  The world media didn't take much notice, but to those who relished how Scotty Moore made Elvis Presley's records so excitingly special, his life and passing was big news indeed.