Interview at Music City Recorders
This interview took place in May 1973
at Music City Recorders in Nashville, Tennessee, several years before the death
of Elvis Presley and the avalanche of Elvis books which followed. We found
Scotty to be very easy going and he genuinely seemed to enjoy reminiscing about
the early years of his career in the music business. The interview was originally
published in the August 1973 issue.
Scotty engineering in the '70s
You played guitar on Presley's very
first recordings and stayed with him until 1969 when you worked with him on the
NBC TV Special, but what happened before your run with Elvis? Where were you
born and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Gadsden, which is about
80 miles North of Memphis. My early life was of course country as I was raised
in the country. Later when I got into the service I started getting interested
in pop, R&B and so fort. I had three brothers who played and my dad played
but by the time I got old enough to understand what they were doing they'd left
home, got married and my dad gotten old enough to quit.
Do you play any other instruments
besides guitar and when did you actually get your first guitar?
No I don't play any other instruments,
just guitar. I got my first guitar when I was about 8 years old. One of my
brothers gave it to me and between my dad and a couple of friends who played I
started learning to play.
Was there anyone in particular who
influenced your style of guitar-playing?
Not really, I liked all guitar-players
that were around at that time; Chet Atkins... there were so many and I picked up
a little bit of everyone. A lot of the R&B guitar-players who I don't even
know their names other than B.B. King and people like that.
When Elvis came to SUN for recording
Sam Phillips used you and Bill Black for backing him up. Obviously Sam knew you
long before he met Elvis. How did you meet Sam Phillips?
I met Sam Phillips when I came out of
the service in 1952. I went to work for my brother in Memphis and I had had a
group together while I was in the service and so while working to make a living
I was still trying to get together a group, to play clubs. I met Sam when I was
trying to get the group on record because I realized that I had to try it from
that end to get the bookings go good. Sam was looking for talent, he was a very
small operation at that time and we became friends. So we started looking for
new talent together. From '52 until '54 I probably saw Sam about every day. We
tried two or three different artists who I cannot think of the names right now
and I had a group called "The Starlite Wranglers" in Memphis and the
singer was Doug Poindexter, we cut a record on Sun by him and with 5 or 6
members in the band it sold about that many records. But we were still trying
and that's when Elvis came along of course.
What was the line-up of The Starlite Wranglers?
Well let me see, we had Millard Yow on
steel, Tommy Sealy on violins Bill Black on bass, Poindexter singing and me
picking the guitar.
Bill Black on bass? Was this also
Bill's first group?
Well Bill was a little older than I was
and he had played in other put-together groups so to speak in and around
Memphis. But this was the first group that got together trying to do something.
How do you recall your first meeting
with Elvis Presley?
First actual meeting. Well to go back a
little, during this period where Sam and I would meet every day, drinking coffee
and kicking around ideas where music was going and what we should look for, in
our conversations he mentioned that a young fellow had been in some time prior
to cut a record for his mother. And he said he had impressed him very much and
they had kept his name on file and said would you get him in and audition. So
for a period of four or three weeks, every day that I saw Sam I asked him had he
contacted him and he said no he hadn't. Finally he gave me Elvis's name and his
telephone number and said why don't you call him, have him come up to your house
and just have him sing a few things for you and see what you think and then we
set up an audition here in the studio. So I said fine, so that night - I think
it was on a Saturday I believe - I called Elvis, told him who I was, who I was
working with and could he come over the next day which was Sunday. He said he
So Elvis came over ... uh he had all
the pink shirt, pink pants with the typical ducktail hairstyle at the time,
white shoes, which well he was a little ahead of his time for the way he was
dressed which didn't bother me one way or the other 'cause I was interested in
what he sound like singing. We sat around for a couple of hours and he sang
several different songs. At that time Bill Black lived just a few doors down
from me on the same street and he came over and listened for a while and Elvis
left and I asked Bill, well what do you think? He said, well he sings good, he
didn't really knock me out you know. I said well that's my opinion, I said if we
got the right song and record it the right way. So I called Sam and told him
basically the same thing; the boy sings fine and in my opinion it would only be
a matter of finding the right song and as to what direction, how he was
What kind of music was Elvis Presley
singing at that time?
He sang some Marty Robbins songs, some
Hank Snow songs, some Roy Hamilton some of the current R&B hits at the
time... a little bit of everything really. So Sam then did call him and set a
time for us to go into the studio the following night. It was just me and Bill
and all intended to be to fill up a background just to give us an idea of how he
would sound like on tape. Well the rest of course is history. The audition turned
into the actual first session and out of that came "That's all right
mama". We went in and went through several different songs and nothing was
really happening because you know it was an audition and then we were taking a
break, sitting around drinking coffee. Elvis started clowning around, he picked
up his guitar and started dancing around and started singing "That's all
right mama", and Bill picked up his bass, started slapping it, just more or
less clowning and I joined in and that's it ... really it's just one of those
Who was most responsible for the
Presley Sun Sound?
I cannot really say 'cause we were all
.... well it just happened. After we realized we had something, we knew it was
different but we didn't know if it was going to run out of town or what. Then
the songs following we had a base, a point to go from.
Did you play on any other sessions
with SUN? Like f.i. "Slow down" by Jack Earls has a backing with a
guitar break almost identical to the Elvis sides?
No I didn't play on a lot of other
recording sessions. A couple of things maybe but primarily the things with Elvis
was all we were doing. I don't think I played on "Slow down". Jack
Earl s? I remember the name but I don't know who played with him.
How important was Bill Black with
his slapping bass in the rockabilly sound?
Very, he was very important because the
things we were doing was mostly rhythm. It wasn't a thing where he had to hit
the correct bass note, it was just a blending, an overall sound you know.
How do you recall Bill Black, both
as a musician and as a person?
He was a good musician and a fine
person, a very close friend for many, many years.
How do you recall the Elvis craze
with the screaming girls, the so called obscene movements and the outraged
I think it was really amusing to all of
us. You know we were moving so fast, we really didn't stop and think about
anything like that. We were there to entertain and obviously we were
entertaining them and that was our job you know.
In March 1958 Elvis went into the
army and with the exception of a recording session in June of the same year
there was no work for the guitar of Scotty Moore. Bill Black had his own combo
already with that untouchable sound but what did you do?
I got into engineering and recording.
With a guy named Ron Wallis I started Fernwood Records and the first thing we
recorded was "Tragedy" by Thomas Wayne. From there - two years - I
actually went working for Sam as the head of production and engineering which
would be about 1960, and I worked for Sam four years before I moved out here to
Any names you can remember you
produced records on during this period at SUN?
I was involved with a lot but at the
time with Sam it was a kind of community project, there was not just one man
doing everything. So I worked with people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich,
Barbara Pittman... oh gosh there just was so many, at that period, that he was
recording. Sometimes I might play guitar, sometimes I might be engineering,
sometimes Sam might be engineering just depending on who what and the time you
This producing and engineering part
with Sun started in 1960. So in the early days with Sun Records you did not do
any producing at all?
Right, not at all, we strictly worked
The last project on which Elvis
Presley used the guitar of Scotty Moore was his 1968 NBC TV Special. In 1969
Elvis went to Vegas but without the usual crew of Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and
The Jordanaires. Why did Scotty not go to Vegas with Elvis?
The reason why I didn't go to Vegas,
The Jordanaires didn't go to Vegas and D.J. didn't go, was because we had to go
for six week at a time (then) and there just was no way that any of us could
leave here for that period of time. We had our clients here you know, we had a
business and you might as well close up and start all over.
Did Elvis ask you to come?
Oh yes, D.J., The Jordanaires and
myself, but it just was impossible.
What do you think of the Presley
sound like it is today?
Well I don't like it very much. I don't
like it in comparison to what we used to do but it's my personal opinion.
Do you think that he still can do it
the way he did it in the fifties?
Yeah sure, though I think it'll be a
little harder for him now because we've all aged somewhat, but he still works
out pretty good on stage and I don't see why he couldn't do it in front of a
mike too in the studio.
Do you think Elvis is happy with the
kind of music he is recording nowadays?
I really cannot answer that because I
haven't met him in three years. Last talked with him when we did the Singer
special but at that time I got the impression that he still wanted to do
basically the old style.
I think this was pretty obvious in
the part where you're jamming around with the Jimmy Reed song "Baby what
you want me to do", right?
Yes right, I still think that's where
he's at really. That's his music, that's where his roots are.
After the four years with Sam
Phillips as an engineer and producer you moved to Nashville and started your own
studio ; Music City Recorders. which became a very successful studio. One of the
albums made in your studio was the Ringo Starr album "Beaucoups of
Blues". A very good country album on which Ringo was backed up by all the
big Nashville musicians and it sounds like it !! What was it like to work with
such a strange combination as a Beatle and all the top Nashville side-men?
It was very enjoyable. Of course it was
the first time I'd met Ringo or any of The Beatles. I like to go on record
saying that when their first records were released over here and people were
saying well peep up today and gone tomorrow, I said "Well you'd better stop
and listen again, you know, because it's definitely good music". It might
be a bunch of noise to some folks but if you really listened deep to it they had
their own feeling, but to me they had the same type of feeling that we had when
we started. There was a certain spontaneous quality about it.
Do you feel you've been able to keep
up with the changes in the business?
Pretty much. It's interesting to see
how things run in cycles though. They may call it nostalgia but I think it just
goes back to ... people wanna go back to the base. If you know it over the
years, the pop-market when it starts getting tight they start recording country
songs because country songs are basically more simple, then they have a definite
message. Fifty-four when Elvis came along the time was right. Business as a
whole was in a big, big slump. People were wanting something new. People don't
know what they want until they hear it and that's what makes the business so
interesting I think.
What do you think about the general
attitude today where records are made in a studio with a lot of technical help
which makes it impossible for an artist to perform the songs in the same form on
Personally I don't care for it, I don't
care for it at all. I think it's deceiving the public because if they go to see
an artist that has so to speak a gimmick, and as you say there is no way he can
do it on stage unless he uses a pre-recorded tape or something, then this is
still deceiving the public. Artists don't make big money from selling records,
they make money true but their big income is from their personals. I just don't
like the electronic tricks myself.
The first record you ever made was
on Sun with The Starlite Wranglers (SUN
202). Did you make any other singles
after that before you did the album "The Guitar That Changed the
World" for Epic?
Yes I did one single while with
Fernwood. It was called "Rest" and on the b-side I had a tune called
"Have guitar will travel" named after the TV series.
What about a single we saw in an
auction list not too long ago, called "Fisher woman" by The Scotty
"Fisher woman" ... no I've
never heard of it.
Then you made the album for Epic?
Yes, and that one of course was
strictly of Elvis-tunes. We had basically the same personnel on the recordings
as we did with him. So really what it sounds like is like we took his voice out.
We had Boots Randolph on saxophone, The Jordanaires, D.J. Fontana and Buddy
Harman on drums, Bob Moore on bass and myself and Jerry Kennedy on guitar, and
the only one on there who hadn't worked with Elvis on his sessions was Bill
Pursell who played piano. Just for reason that Floyd Cramer was out of town and
we couldn't get him to play when we started cutting.
Do you still pick guitar on sessions?
Very, very seldom. I haven't actually
played in several years. I did put together an album about a year and a half,
two years ago which I'm holding back, just waiting for the right, I hope, the
right time to put it out.
Is it an instrumental one?
Yes and no. It'll have a lot of vocal
things on it by a boy named Willie Rainsford, we call him "Blue" Willy
and what I'm intending to show with this is - with the exception of a couple of
tunes - where we got our influence from in some of the early Presley things.
We'll go back and do one of Lowell Fulson's old songs, a couple of Junior
Parker's things and I tried actually to keep basically the same sound they were
done in. Some additions but I think it should be interesting to anybody who has
been in to all of it.
What does it sound like?
What does it sound like? Oh boy.... I
don't think I'd better answer that.
Got a name for it yet?
Yes but I cannot tell you now, I'd
How about some song titles?
Let's see ... "Reconsider
Baby", "Careless Love", which I did in a combination of Josh
White and a little R&B heaviness in it with a guest artist, Tracy Nelson of
Mother Earth doing the vocal. I cannot think of any other titles, my mind goes
blank. Oh we did "Raunchy" strictly instrumental, and we actually got
a western-swing in some of the things. It's pretty interesting how that came out
'cause some of the things had horns on in the original versions and we've taken
a guitar to do the horn parts and by doing so it comes out with a western-swing
How long is it going to stay in the can?
Hopefully not too long. I'm still
working on one or two things now and you'll be one of the first ones to get one
What do you specifically like about
being in the music business?
Oh the intrigue I guess, the uncertain
things. We don't know if we'll be here tomorrow or not you know. I'm sure that
everybody in the business has to be a gambler at heart in that sense.
Have you made a contribution to the
business and achieved what you wanted?
I hope I've made some kind of
contribution. Just meeting new people day in and day out has been very rewarding
personally to me. It's never been a big goal to become wealthy from the
business. I think everybody, if they can make a living of what they enjoy most,
they are way, way ahead of the gang.
This interview was found online at Elvis