The Guitarist Who Changed The World

This article appeared in the July 1997 issue of Discoveries magazine.

Scotty Moore The Guitarist Who Changed The World

Rock’s first sidemen are back in the role they created, and these old dogs are still learning plenty of new tricks.

Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana
Photo courtesy of Nashville Scene©

There is one rumor about Elvis Presley that has gone unchallenged as fact for more than four decades now. The tabloids have refused to broach the subject and even the music encyclopedias and fan magazines have turned the other cheek sheepishly when the subject comes up. The myth has been perpetuating for so long now that few even question its veracity.

That rumor is that Elvis was a solo artist.

Now, finally, the truth can be told: He was not. Elvis Presley always played with other musicians – a band – and though their names may have been largely relegated to footnote status by all but the most devoted historians, fans and fellow musicians (or, far worse, have been forgotten or never even learned), the contributions of Elvis Presley’s instrumental collaborators to both his style and his success are inestimable.

Of all the musicians who worked with Elvis over his 23-year career, none was more important than Scotty Moore. As Presley’s guitarist on virtually all of his key recordings of the 1950’s and early 60’s, starting with his first Sun sides in 1954. Moore was at Elvis’ side, giving shape and color to the sounds, helping Elvis realize what was in his head. Elvis probably would still have become the massive star and cultural force that he did if Scotty Moore had not been his guitarist, but those landmark records would have been very different.

The last time Elvis fans saw Scotty Moore was in 1968, on the legendary NBC-TV “comeback” special, in the segment that featured a homey reunion of Elvis, Moore and Elvis’ early drummer, D.J. Fontana. Both sidemen had long ago ceased working with Presley, but they’d agreed to take part in the historic program, and the nostalgic, informal, round table jam was easily one of the highlights of the highly-praised show that gave Elvis’ career a much-needed second wind.

For Moore, though, the program did not mark on a new beginning, but, rather, an end. After that 1968 gig – which also marked the last time he’d ever see his old friend Elvis alive – Moore put his guitar in the closet, and he rarely looked at it for the next 24 years.

That lengthy hiatus finally ended in 1992, when Moore got together with another friend from the Sun Records days, Carl Perkins. Together they cut an overlooked, limited-edition album called 706 ReUnion – the title refers to 706 Union, the Memphis address of the old Sun recording studios – which Moore released on his own Belle Meade label. That had been the first album under Moore’s own label since 1964, when he released his solo album, The Guitar That Changed The World, on the Epic label. Twenty-eight years had passed since the name Scotty Moore had last made its way to a record cover.

But this time Moore vowed to stick around. Another CD on Belle Meade,1993’s Moore Feel Good Music!, included some tracks Moore had recorded during one of his rare outings during that long break, in 1972, as well as other tracks left over from the ’92 sessions with Perkins. D.J. Fontana was among the musicians appearing on both Belle Meade albums. The next step for Elvis’ old bandmates was obvious: a new album. But where to begin?

Easy one. The list of artists who have called Scotty Moore and D.J. influences is long and impressive, and spans the worlds of rock’n’roll, country and blues. Moore made some calls, and before long, he and Fontana found themselves in the studio with a diverse cast ranging from Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Ron Wood to neo-country stars and honky-tonkers like Steve Earle and the Mavericks to blues favorites Joe Louis Walker and Tracy Nelson. There was also a session with of all people, rockers Cheap Trick, and other members of the Band, Jeff Beck, the Mavericks, Joe Ely, the BoDeans, Ronnie McDowell and Elvis’ old vocal group the Jordanaires.

The result is All The King’s Men, to be released on the independent label Sweetfish Records on August 12th, just four days short of the 20th anniversary of the death of the King referred to in the album’s title.

There is also a track on All The King’s Men titled “Back To Memphis,” which features the surviving members of Bill Black’s Combo. Bassist Bill Black, who died in 1965, was, along with Moore and Fontana , the other member of Presley’s original backing band, the Blue Moon Boys. One of the primary reasons for making the new album, said Moore was to make today’s audience aware of who Black was – and to make them aware there was a group called the Blue Moon Boys playing behind that guy with the sideburns who made all the girls scream.

The album, in fact, is tied in with a new documentary film on the Blue Moon boys, tentatively scheduled for release later this year, as well as with Moore’s autobiography (co-written with James Dickerson), That’s Alright Elvis: The Untold Story Of Elvis’ First Guitarist and Manager, Scotty Moore due out this summer from Schirmer Books. At age 65, Scotty Moore is definitely back.

So how did it feel to pick up his guitar after so many years away from the music? “Ouch!” is all Scotty Moore had to say about that during a recent phone interview from his home in Tennessee, although he added, “Let’s just say I had to learn a few licks off some of the old records.”

That may be true but All The King’s Men, its title aside, is anything but another retread of old Sun rockabilly records. Non of its 11 tracks has anything to do with Sun or Elvis. Moore who produced most of the record (Stan Lynch of the Heartbreakers also did some production), deliberately did not take that approach. Each of the guest artists was invited to bring along new material of his or her own choice, and the result is an utterly contemporary work that proves Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana are capable of stepping into any musical setting and adding exactly the right licks – just as they did back at Sun and later RCA. Rock’s first great sidemen are back in the role they created, and these old dogs are still earning plenty of new tricks.

The Kid with the Sideburns and Moore

Scotty Moore was older than Elvis Presley when he first met the ambitious young singer in Sam Phillips studio in 1954. He was born Winfield Scott Moore III on December 27, 1931, in Gadsden, Tennessee, making him just a little bit more than three years Presley’s senior. Moore came from a musical family – his father and three brothers all played – and Scotty gravitated toward the guitar at an early age.

At 16, after dropping out of school, he joined the Navy, which exposed him to other styles of music that would seep into his own playing. While at sea in China and Korea, Moore whiled away the hours trying out new guitar sounds, often crossing over from one style of music to another, intermixing them until they resembled nothing but Scotty Moore music. At home in Tennessee, Moore had heard mainly country music, or hillbilly as it was called then, and had been influenced genre’s great fingerpicking guitarists. But he’d always had an open mind musically, and he soaked in all of the new sounds he was hearing.

“It didn’t matter what it was,” Moore said. “I was listening to everything. Being on a farm, I probably heard more country than anything. Then I went into the Navy and I started loving jazz. Still do. I got to meet one of my heroes this year, Tal Farlow. He’s got fingers as long as your arm. Merle Travis was another influence. If there was guitar on a record it was fine with me. I heard lots of blues too.”

After being discharged from the Navy, Moore went to work at his brothers’ dry-cleaning business, but he spent his nights picking with a band called the Starlight Wranglers, which featured a vocalist named Doug Poindexter and bassist Bill Black, in addition to a fiddler and Steel guitarist. (One book claims that Moore had previously performed over Washington D.C. radio station WBRO and that he played on a record called “Hot Guitar” by Eddie Hill on Mercury.) In My 1954 the group cut a side at Phillips’ studio, “My Kind of Carrying On.” Phillips wasn’t impressed with Poindexter, but he found Moore and Black to be more than competent musicians, and asked them if they’d mind backing up an aspiring new singer from the area named Elvis Presley. A gig was a gig, and the pair said sure they’d be happy to.

Phillips had heard Elvis sing before, on the singer’s second visit to the Memphis Recording Service studio, in January of 1954. The first time he’d been there, Phillips’ assistant, Marion Keisker, had made a notation that the “kid with the sideburns” had something different, but Phillips had not heard Elvis himself. The second time, Phillips did hear him, and although he certainly hadn’t decided then and there that the kid could be a star who would change the course of music, it later occurred to him that Elvis Presley just might be the answer that he’d been looking for, a white boy who could sing, not exactly like, but with the feel of the blues singers who’d recorded at his studio, among them B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf.

Moore had spent enough time around the studio by the early summer of ’54 that he and Phillips often chatted about the state of the music. Phillips had voiced to Moore that he knew a change was coming, he just didn’t know what it would be. Once he mentioned the sideburned kid, though, Moore kept on his case to bring Elvis back.

On June 27th, 1954, Presley, Moore and Black met for the first time at Moore’s apartment (or Phillips’ house, depending on who tells the story) (on July 4th, 1954, at Scotty's NO QUESTION) and jammed on a variety of country and blues tunes. On July 5th, they convened again, this time at the studio, where they worked out a few tunes, among them the now legendary off–the-cuff version of “That’s All Right” that launched ‘Presley’s career on the spot. Released as Sun 209, the label copy credited the record to “Elvis Presley, with Scotty and Bill.”

Was Moore impressed the first time he heard Elvis sing? Yes and no.

“I was impressed,” he said, “because it seemed like he knew every song in the world: pop, country, you name it. He had a great sense of rhythm with his voice. But as far as his voice alone, it didn’t knock me out. He was still pretty young.”

Millions of words have been written about that voice, and about what began at sun on that July day, about the feared yet inevitable collision of black and white rural Americana and how it melded into some new post-War phenomenon that could speak directly to the new species called the teenager. In many ways, an entirely new era in music, with repercussions that would extend outward into the society itself, was ushered in when Elvis, fooling around with a blues number he’d heard and turning up the beat, was joined by Moore and Black in what has to be a textbook case of perfect symmetry.

Writing the Language of Rock Guitar

But Scotty Moore didn’t walk away from 706 Union on that day with his head in a cloud. The guitarist, whose licks on Elvis’ covers of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” and its B-side, Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” helped define rock ‘n roll, didn’t suddenly envision the kid with the curled lip becoming one of the greatest sensations in entertainment history. There was no discussion about their fusing divergent strains of American music into something so fresh and alive that it would forever alter music itself. Writers would later spend years of their lives trying to dissect the sequence of historical events and the changes in the American social makeup leading uo to this inevitable moment, but for the three boys sittin’ ‘round pickin’, they were just doing what came naturally, and maybe hoping for a payday.

”We were just trying to make lunch money,” Moore said, perhaps metaphorically, perhaps not, about the sound generated by Elvis and his two boys. “It was always number one on the list. When we accidentally fell into the thing on the first record, we knew it was different but we didn’t know how the public would accept it.”

As it turned out, the public did accept it, but, revisionist history to the contrary, it was hardly an overnight avalanche of fame and success that came to Elvis Presley. Although his star did rise exponentially with each new Sun single release, and audience (particularly the female members) were increasingly rabid in their appreciation, his following remained confined largely to the South until 1956, (1955) when RCA Victor bought out Presley’s contract from Sam Phillips. Only then did the national Elvis phenomenon hit, thanks largely to exposure via television, where those giddy pubescents could see for themselves what “The Pelvis” was all about.

Until that time, there were more records to be made for Sun, and plenty of tour stops to hit. When Doug Poindexter came to the realization that showbiz was not his calling, the Starlight Wranglers called it quits, freeing Moore and Black to join up with Elvis full-time. Now, of course, when we listen to the handful of recordings that have become known as the Sun sessions, we can only wonder why they did not all become number one hits instantaneously, or at least cause riots on a national scale. With each new coupling, both Presley and his musicians reinvented themselves once again, forging new syntheses and virtually laying down the blueprint for rock ‘n roll. Had Sun been able to expose these singles on a national basis the way RCA later would, who knows how the career of Elvis and the future of rock ‘n roll might have been affected.

Naturally, superlative upon superlative can be thrown at Elvis himself – instinctively he took his raw materials, drawing from blues, country, pop gospel and anything else that passed through his ears, and created Elvis Presley from them. But at the same time, Scotty Moore was not just going along for the ride. Moore’s own inventions during a relatively brief stint at Sun added up to quantum leap after quantum leap. With increased confidence and chops to spare, Moore, predating Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and the other acknowledged pioneers, was writing the language of rock guitar as he went along.

Of course, the humble Moore doesn’t accept all the blustery talk when he’s credited with such a monumental accomplishment. While he is well aware of the influence he has had, and All The King’s Men is nothing if not a celebration of that influence, he still reverts to aw-shucks-isms when its suggested that he and his cohorts were literally and spontaneously creating a new kind of music at those 1954-55 Sun sessions.

“I don’t think we felt it was a new kind, maybe just that it was just a different twist,” he said. “Around Memphis and the whole southeast – Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi – all your clubs had makeup [cover] bands in them, for the most part, and everybody played a little bit of everything, with whatever instrumentation you might have. We called it honky-tonk music. A little gospel too – regardless of the lyric. I always felt that we got a little bit out of all those fields and we put it together.”

Still, the recorded evidence is proof that something extraordinary was happening each time Elvis, Scotty and Bill, as they were billed before they became the Blue Moon Boys in early 1955, went back to Sun. From the scorching rockabilly of Arthur Gunter’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” to Leon Payne’s surreal, otherworldly country ballad “I Love You Because,” with its jazzy noodling by Moore, to the hiccupy “Just Because” or the funky blues of Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” each song the trio tackled was a grand convergence of all they’d assimilated, yet undeniably something that had never been heard before. Elvis was a walking encyclopedia of songs – he had no qualms about interpreting a Rodgers and Hart pop standard like “Blue Moon” (although that interpretation is anything but conventional), but was just as comfortable tearing into Parker’s “Mystery Train,” perhaps the quintessential Elvis Sun side (and Moore’s own favorite of the bunch).

Amazingly, said Moore, the musicians didn’t even study or rehearse the songs they planned to record. “We would listen to the radio a lot and Elvis would remember things,” he said. “We done a couple of Junior Parker things and he just remembered them. I don’t think we even listened to the records, but maybe we did on a couple of tem. We never went in with anything. Well, I take that back. Maybe when we were on the road we’d hear something on the radio or one of us would think of a song and one of us would say, “We oughta try that when we go back to the studio.’ But I don’t recall any song that we approached that way that we actually did.”

Elvis’ mental song library was extraordinary for a white teenaged southern boy of the mid –‘50s. Although it would take a book to describe the state of radio during that period (and they have been written), and the role the medium played in forging the cross pollination of musical genres, particularly in that part of the country, where segregation greatly informed the music to which both blacks and whites were exposed, suffice it to say that Presley sought and found music others in his age group and social class would not have heard or appreciated. His thirst for musical diversity was insatiable, and he crossed color lines and musical genres to get to the music, filing it all away mentally for later use.

Elvis never documented for posterity his original sources for the Sun recordings, so we can only guess which version of a tune may have provided the definitive inspiration for his covers. The credits page of RCA’s The Sun Sessions CD lists numerous possible sources, speculating that Elvis’ listening habits ran the gamut from Billy Eckstine to Patti Page, Lonnie Johnson to Bob Wills. In retrospect, its not difficult to understand how he arrived at his synthesis, but at the time what he was doing was positively revolutionary.

For Moore, whose own approach to music was equally open-ended, Elvis’ experimentalism was a match made in a little corner of Memphis called heaven. Not only did he find it easy to switch between guitar styles, he found that his new boss’s willingness to take his music to new places gave him carte blanche.

“When I first started recording,” said Moore, “the thing that hit me was I didn’t want to play something that somebody else played on a record. I like being out on a limb, trying to do something a little different that would fit the song and hopefully not get in the way of the singer.”

He didn’t get in the singer’s way. In fact, they were a perfect complement to each other. They also became fast friends and when Elvis, pre-Colonel Tom, was suddenly in need of someone to give his career some guidance, Moore, barely a week after they’d cut their first Sun single together, became Elvis’ manager. Moore soon gave up the management role when he realized he didn’t have the time to be both manager and band member, though, and Elvis was managed by Bob Neal, who lasted until Colonel Parker came into the picture.

The Colonel and Elvismania

But once the Colonel did come into the picture, and got his charge signed to RCA, that picture changed immediately and drastically. No longer was it just a bunch of good ol’ boys seeing where they could take the future of music. Elvis was now a big business in the hands of an even bigger business, and from that moment on, make no mistake about it, Elvis Presley was the star and Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana – the resident drummer for the “Louisiana Hayride,” who came aboard as the Blue Moon Boys’ drummer in early ’55 at a hundred dollars a week – were mere hired hands, paid piecemeal for their work on sessions and the tours, and left to fend for themselves, even having to pay for their own stage clothes and hotel rooms, a state of affairs that would eventually result from the group splitting from its leader.

With RCA and superstardom now the name of the game, no longer was this small group of artists in control of its own destiny. In fact, no longer was it a small group. With the move to RCA, many other professional session players were brought in, and while the Blue Moon Boys still comprised the core of most of the RCA sides, and were allowed relative freedom by the RCA producers, their status within the organization diminished as the stakes grew higher. With worldwide sales in the millions standard from the minute Elvis broke in early 1956, the shots were being called by the Colonel and RCA.

Among the many changes was the way in which Elvis decided what songs to record – no longer would he simply pull a favorite song out of his musical bag and rearrange it Elvis-style. With big money involved, RCA and the Colonel kept a tighter rein on the tunes being recorded, which meant that many of them – and not usually the best of them – were controlled by the Hill and Range Publishing Company.

Hill and Range was a New York-based company founded by brothers Jean and Julian Aberbach. They’d bought Sam Phillips’ Hi-Lo Music, and they also had a working relationship with the Colonel prior to the manager’s taking on Elvis, via Parker’s earlier management relationships with country stars Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. Hill and Range set up subsidiary companies, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music, which would secure a percentage of the songwriting royalties for Elvis and the Colonel whenever the singer recorded a song by a Hill and Range-associated songwriter. As most of the era’s top songwriters refused to succumb to this arrangement, Elvis ultimately ended up recording numerous inferior songs (including many of his movie songs), simply because they were controlled by Hill and Range.

“It [the way songs were chosen] changed because then [after going to RCA] we had to deal with Hill and Range Publishing and all that and they would bring in a stack of stuff,” conformed Moore.

“Usually the first hour or better we spent just sitting there playing demos. We’d have a maybe stack and a throw it across the room stack.”

Fortunately, Presley’s status in the industry insured that he still had his pick of the best non-Hill and Range material being offered at the time. From “Heartbreak Hotel,” the first RCA single – which stayed at number one for eight weeks – Elvis was unstoppable.

Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J (born Dominic Joseph) Fontana were present on most of the 1956-57 recordings that have gone down as Elvis classics: “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me,” “Love Me Tender,” “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Don’t,” Moore’s personal favorite Elvis performance. Increasingly, as Colonel Parker pushed his boy further into a movie career, that meant that more and more of the songs were being recorded for soundtracks, and that meant bigger productions, fancier studios (usually in Hollywood), more musicians and vocalists, and less input for the Blue Moon Boys. For Moore, who was no longer required to carry the music’s melody by himself, the use of more musicians on the records allowed him to, once again, try new things, albeit at the cost of some of the creative spark.

“After we started using piano and drums and background voices,” he said, “the load wasn’t on me as much. So that gave me time to lean back and have a little more thinking room. It wasn’t just raw energy.”

At Elvis’ live and television appearances, however, it was still just the leader and the Blue Moon Boys, rockin’ out as they’d been doing from the start. Live concert recordings from the period display a rawness not always present on some of the studio tracks, not that many of the kids in the audiences were paying much attention to the licks the guitarist was playing. As Elvismania became more and more frenzied, Moore and the band were naturally caught up in it. But, as Moore remembers it now, the whirlwind was such that the boys in the eye of the hurricane barely noticed the fuss they were causing.

“During the touring years, before he got into the movies,” Moore said, “we were moving so fast we really didn’t have time to think about it. We’d leave a town and maybe somebody would mail us a newspaper with an article about us.”

But one thing Moore and Black couldn’t help but notice was that Elvis and the Colonel were getting very rich very quickly, while the band members were still earning low salaries, reportedly $100 a week at home and $200 on the road, with a $1000 Christmas bonus, and being treated like hangers-on rather than an integral part of the Presley team, On September 21, 1957, Moore and Black resigned from the band. (Fontana stayed on for awhile – he had a different arrangement with Elvis that allowed him to pursue other offers while still under Presley’s employ.)

“It was strictly the bottom line,” said Moore, explaining why they left at the peak of Elvis’ fame. “We wasn’t getting paid enough. We’d reached the point where the crunch had come on. We couldn’t afford it.”

The two musicians were still called upon to record with Presley on a regular basis throughout the remainder of the ‘50’s (except, of course, while Elvis was in the Army) and the ‘60s, but both moved on to other pursuits. In 1959, Black formed Bill Black’s Combo, which recorded for the Hi label in Memphis, was highly successful in its own right, starting with the late 1959 hit “Smokie – Part 2,” and peaking in the spring of 1960 with the Top 10 “White Silver Sands.” Black kept the band together until his death from a brain tumor on October 21, 1965.

Moore took up working behind the scenes in the recording industry, as a producer and engineer. His greatest success was as the producer of “Tragedy,” the 1959 single on the Fernwood label by Thomas Wayne, which reached number 5 in Billboard. Moore also did some work for Sam Phillips, running a studio for him in Nashville, and engaged in sporadic recording, working with Dale Hawkins, for example.

In 1964, Moore cut his only solo album, The Guitar That Changed The World, for Epic. Working with producer Billy Sherrill, and several of the musicians he’d known from the Elvis sessions – bassist Bob Moore, saxist Boots Randolf, guitarist Jerry Kennedy, pianist Bill Pursell, D.J. Fontana and Buddy Harman on drums and the Jordanaires on vocals – Moore cut mostly instrumental versions of a dozen tracks he’d done with Elvis. From “That’s All Right” and “My Baby Left Me” from the Sun days to “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Loving You” from the RCA catalog, Moore once again reworked the licks that had helped make Elvis Presley an icon. But as the ‘60s wore on, Moore didn’t see Elvis much, except when called in to work on one of the records or at a date, on an as-needed basis.

Moore’s guitar can be heard on many of the movie soundtracks of the ‘60s, as well as many of the studio recordings, including some of the specialty albums such as the gospel and Christmas recordings. But for the most part, Moore was now out of the loop. When Elvis settled into Graceland and turned his home into a fortress, Scotty Moore was not among the “Memphis Mafia” members allowed to penetrate its gates.

Moore attributes the unkind treatment he received during the years of Elvis’ peak success to Colonel Parker and he didn’t shed many tears when Parker recently passed away. “Uh, he was a tough old bird. You can interpret that any way you like,” said Moore when asked how he remembered the manager who shaped and, some would say, controlled Elvis Presley’s career.

But Elvis remained loyal to his manager, even though some things never changed: The Colonel was still offering Moore insulting amounts of money to go back to work on a full-time basis. Moore was invited to join Elvis for the July 1969 shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas that would mark Presley’s return to the touring circuit, but when he found out how much he was to be paid, Moore finally decided to hang it up, literally.  Not only did he never work with Elvis again, or even see his “little brother” from Memphis, Moore virtually stopped playing the guitar for the next 23 years.

Said Moore, “The Vegas thing came up and they contacted all of us: the Jordanaires, D.J., myself, some of the guys that had done sessions with him in Nashville. And what they offered us to come out for two or three weeks was just so minimal that I just wouldn’t even consider it. They didn’t know he was going back on tour, that was strictly a trial thing, but I decided then the heck with it. It was time to move on to other things.”

Moore Music

Among those things was working as a recording engineer and starting his own business, Music City Recorders, in Nashville. Moore pulled the guitar out of the closet only on rare occasions, among them sessions for a self-titled Billy Swan album in 1976.

As they no longer spent any time together, Moore was unaware of any negative habits that may have come to haunt his old friend. But as the 1970s rolled on, it became obvious to Moore that Elvis was in trouble. Moore didn’t know that Elvis had developed a drug problem, but from afar he knew that something had happened.

“If he was doing anything [drugs] in the time that I was working with him, he sure covered it well,” said Moore. “But the first time I saw him after he’d put on all that weight, I knew that something had to be rotten in Denmark, as they say. But I’ve always said because of his vanity, I don’t think he could have grown old gracefully, like Sinatra has. He wouldn’t have let himself grow old.”

And, of course, he didn’t. Elvis Presley died at age 42 on August 16, 1977. Moore, like many others who had observed the changes in Elvis, was not completely surprised.

For the next decade and a half, the word recluse was the one most often applied to Scotty Moore when he was mentioned at all in the press. Although that is not entirely accurate, Moore did admittedly keep a low profile, did not grant many interviews or honor requests to sit in on recording sessions. As far as he was concerned, his days as a player were over. He ran his businesses (which also included a tape-duplicating facility and a print shop) and lived quietly. “I had more or less retired,” he said.

But then in the early ‘90s, “I sold the businesses. And I looked around and said, ‘Well, what do you want to do now?’ So I got together with Carl [Perkins] and we did our album and then I started doing some dates with [country singer] Ronnie McDowell. He’s not an Elvis impersonator but his voice, the timbre of his voice, is very similar. And he’s a great guy and a great entertainer.”

The two albums Moore released on his Belle Meade label whet his appetite. The first, 706 ReUnion, featured Moore and Perkins trading lead guitar parts, joined by such familiar names as D.J. Fontana, Paul Burlison (of Johnny Burnette’s Rock and Roll Trio), Charlie McCoy, Marcus Van Storey and the Jordanaires. Subtitled “A Sentimental Journey,” the album, cut at 706 Union, was something of an intimate tour of the musical worlds that had given rise to Moore and Perkins. Among the material they took on was Bill Justis’ “Raunchy,” a few of the sides Moore had cut with Elvis at Sun (“Harbor Lights,” “Mystery Train,” “Milk Cow Blues Boogie”) and a handful of Perkins originals both new (the title track) and old (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “Match Box”).

Moore Feel Good Music!, released the next year, in 1993, included material from an aborted 1972 session at Moore’s Music City Recorders studio, when the singer booked for the session failed to show up and the musicians took to jamming, and outtakes and “living room recordings” from the ’92 sessions with Perkins. In addition to perkins and Fontana, the album includes guest appearances by singer Tracy Nelson, the Jordanaires and others. This time, the set list runs from Moore originals like “Scot-Mo” and “Spaced Out” to Paul Simon’s “Love Me like A Rock” and the traditional “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

That was until All The King’s Men, which began coming together last year. Moore had met the Rolling Stones after Keith Richards invited him to a show on the group’s Steel Wheels tour. Richards told Moore to call him if he ever made a record, and when Moore started putting together the concept that would eventually turn into All The King’s Men, Richards signed on.

So, too, did just about all who were asked, except for those who had scheduling problems, among them Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Elton John. “I didn’t want to do another Elvis tribute thing,” Moore said. “Although we can’t get away from the association, I wanted to show that we could play a little something else, anyway.”

Some might say that the album’s title, All The King’s Men, is a fairly blatant reference to Elvis, and Moore admits that he was reluctant to go with the title that everyone else involved with the project told him would be the best for it. But it is appropriate – with Moore, Fontana and the surviving members of Bill Black’s Combo, and even the Jordanaires, on the record, all the King’s men (or most of them, anyway) are together again, proving they can still do it.

Moore is especially pumped up about getting the musicians from the Black organization – Reggie Young, Ace Cannon, Jerry Arnold and later member Bobby Emmons – to work with him on the album. Black, he says, does not receive the recognition he should when the Elvis histories are written. He hopes to correct that.

“He was a great guy,” said Moore about the late Black. “He wasn’t, I’d say, that great of a bass player, but he had such a sense of rhythm. If he hit a note, especially when he was playing the upright, that wasn’t right on, he made up for it in feeling. Reggie found some footage of when they was on the Dick Clark show and we were able to get that for the documentary we’re doing.”

Among the other contributions of the album, perhaps the most intriguing are the collaborations. Richards is joined by Levon Helm and other members of the Band on the album’s opening track, “Deuce And A Quarter,” while Jeff Beck and Ron Wood team up for the first time in years on the closer, “Unsung Heroes,” a jam which celebrates the Blue Moon Boys themselves.

Rock fans may be most curious about how Cheap Trick, seemingly the odd men out here, got to be involved. Like the others, though, they owe much to Moore and Fontana and were thrilled to participate. They’d met Moore at a concert in Memphis and when they were later asked if they wanted to take part, the band came up with “Bad Little Girl,” a neat little garage-style rocker that gives Moore and Fontana a chance to indulge in some playing that’s rougher than they’re normally used to.

Moore produced most of the album, and he says he approached it much the same way those cats at Sun used to make records. “Most of the things were done like we used to do ‘em. If you have a suggestion to make, you make it. We’ll try this and if that don’t work we’ll try something else. Again, we’re looking for the feel of each cut. We asked each artist to bring their own material,” he said. “Each one, whatever they brought, we went with it. It was different from cut to cut, from take to take. Back then, with Elvis, if there was a little flub, or a note weren’t real clean, as long as the overall thing felt good, that was fine. I think ‘Hound Dog’ was 70-something takes. After we went to RCA, once you screwed up on the count it was take 2. But here, I think we got a pretty diverse thing going. And I could usually find a place to get in a blues note.”

This article was obtained from a copy of the July 97 issue of Discoveries Magazine.  The text is included here for preservation and consolidation purposes.
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