Floyd Cramer was a pianist who made a lasting impact on the landscape of country music and rock 'n' roll with his unique piano-playing for artists such as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and more. Cramer also had a successful solo career and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's a look at the life and career of this piano legend.
Cramer was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1933 and grew up in Huttig, Arkansas. One of his first jobs as a pianist was playing on the radio show Louisiana Hayride. Cramer also began his solo career around this time, recording his first songs, "Dancin' Diane" and "Little Brown Jug" on the Abbott label. In the mid-1950s, Cramer met a pre-famous Elvis Presley when they performed together on tour dates. Presley soon came to perform on Louisiana Hayride, and after that performance, he hired Cramer as the pianist in his band. He also hired Jimmy Day, Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana. Cramer played for Presley for a while, but when the soon-to-be superstar asked his band to move to Hollywood with him, Cramer declined.
Instead of going to Los Angeles with Presley, Cramer went to Nashville, Tennessee, where he became an important fixture in country music. He began working as a studio musician for stars including Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Webb Pierce, and more. He also continued playing on records for Presley and can be heard on hits such as Presley's RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel." Cramer's piano playing had a large impact on the Nashville sound of the 1950s and '60s, and he especially made waves with the unique "slip-note" piano style he created. The style, which finds the pianist sliding from one note to the next, first came about when Cramer was playing piano on Hank Locklin's "Please Help Me, I'm Falling." Not only did Cramer's new style influence musicians for generations to come, but it gained him enough notoriety to begin recording and touring with his own solo music.
Prior to 1960, Cramer had released albums such as That Honky Tonk Piano and Hello Blues, but his solo career began taking off with the release of instrumental track "Last Date" in 1960. This song showcases Cramer's famous "slip-note" style and landed at No. 11 on the Country charts. It fell just short of No. 1 on the Hot 100, landing at No. 2 behind Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," which ironically featured Cramer on piano.
Cramer also found success with "On The Rebound," which landed at No. 4 in the US and No. 1 in the UK, and "San Antonio Rose." The artist also continued touring with the likes of Chet Atkins, saxophonist Boots Randolph and Eddy Arnold throughout his career. Other albums released by Cramer include I Remember Hank Williams, Floyd Cramer Plays The Monkees, Floyd Cramer and the Keyboard Kick Band, and many more. He would also release a Class Of album every year, wherein he would record his piano renditions of the biggest hits of the year. One of Cramer's last releases was his version of the Dallas TV show theme song, which he released in 1980.
Cramer made an indelible impact on the history of country and rock music, and after a successful career, he passed away in Nashville, Tennessee on New Year's Eve 1997 from lung cancer. He was 64 years old and was survived by his wife, Mary, and two daughters. Cramer's grandson Jason Coleman has since carried on his grandfather's legacy and has played piano on the Grand Ole Opry. After his death, Cramer was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. His hit "Last Date" was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.