Music

D.J. Fontana, Drummer Who Helped Launch Rock ‘n’ Roll Alongside Elvis Presley, Dead at 87

Legendary Elvis Presley drummer D.J. Fontana died peacefully at his home on June 13, per a Facebook post by his son David Fontana. He was 87 years old.

Before joining guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black in Presley’s backing band the Blue Moon Boys, Dominic Joseph Fontana worked as the house drummer for his hometown of Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride. In that role, he backed a who’s-who of country and rockabilly talents, including Webb Pierce and Faron Young. When the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll appeared on the program in 1954, he invited Fontana to join him for full-time touring–a job he’d keep until 1968. This led to appearances in films and on The Ed Sullivan Show. His career with Presley spanned from “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock” to the ’68 Comeback Special.

When it came time for Presley to set up shop in Las Vegas, Fontana decided to stay in Nashville, where he’d built a reputation as a session drummer. His post-Presley work with Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and Keith Richards overshadows an impressive country music back catalog. Fontana’s Nashville experience paired him with Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Steve Young, Melba Montgomery, Norma Jean, Vassar Clements, Carl Butler and other folk and country artists.

In 1997, Fontana and Moore commemorated the 20th anniversary of Presley’s passing with All the King’s Men. The album, recorded at Levon Helm’s Woodstock Studio, featured a rock and alt-country who’s-who of guests, including Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, Cheap Trick, The Band, Steve Earle, The Mavericks and Joe Ely.

A go-to drummer for acts spanning from Memphis to Liverpool, Fontana was a member of both the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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D.J. Fontana, Drummer Who Helped Launch Rock ‘n’ Roll Alongside Elvis Presley, Dead at 87