Scotty Moore, the pioneering rock guitarist whose sharp, graceful style helped Elvis Presley shape his revolutionary sound and inspired a generation of musicians that included Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Bruce Springsteen, has died. He was 84.
Moore died at his home in Nashville on Tuesday, said biographer and friend James L. Dickerson, who confirmed the death through a family friend.
“As a musician, I consider him one of the co-founders of rock ‘n’ roll because of the guitar licks that he invented,” Dickerson said, calling Moore an icon.
Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla Presley echoed that sentiment in a statement on Tuesday night: “Elvis loved Scotty dearly and treasured those amazing years together, both in the studio and on the road. Scotty was an amazing musician and a legend in his own right.
“The incredible music that Scotty and Elvis made together will live forever and influence generations to come.”
— Jimmy Page (@JimmyPage) June 29, 2016
Moore, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was the last survivor of a combo that included Presley, bassist Bill Black and producer Sam Phillips.
Moore was a local session musician when he and Black were thrown together with Presley on July 5, 1954, in the Memphis-based Sun Records studios.
For the now-legendary Sun sessions they covered a wide range of songs, from That’s All Right to Mystery Train.
After That’s All Right began drawing attention, Presley, Moore and Black took to the road playing any gig they could find, adding drummer DJ Fontana and trying their best to be heard over thousands of screaming fans.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) June 29, 2016
The hip-shaking Presley soon rose from regional act to superstardom, signing up with RCA Records and topping the charts with Heartbreak Hotel, All Shook Up and many other hits.
Elvis was the star, but young musicians listened closely to Moore’s contributions, whether the slow, churning solo he laid down on Heartbreak Hotel or the flashy lead on Hard-Headed Woman.
“Everyone else wanted to be Elvis,” Richards once observed. “I wanted to be Scotty.”
RIP Scotty Moore. You will be deeply missed. One thing’s for sure… the King is rockin in Heaven tonight!!
— Billy Ray Cyrus (@billyraycyrus) June 29, 2016
Moore, Black and Fontana backed Presley for his shocking TV appearances and early movies, but by 1957 had tired of what Moore called “Elvis economics”.
In the memoir That’s Alright, Elvis, published in 1997, Moore noted that he earned just over $US8000 in 1956, while Presley became a millionaire. Moore also cited tension with Elvis’ manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker.
“We couldn’t go talk to Elvis and talk about anything,” Moore, who along with Black left Presley’s group, told The Tennessean newspaper in 1997.
“There wasn’t ever any privacy. It was designed that way, but not by Elvis. It’s not that I feel bitterness, just disappointment.”
Starting in the late 1950s, Moore worked on various projects. In 1959, singer Thomas Wayne had a Top 5 hit, Tragedy, on Moore’s Fernwood record label.
Moore put out a solo album in 1964 called The Guitar That Changed the World! and with Fontana played on the 1997 Presley tribute album All the King’s Men, featuring Richards, Levon Helm and other stars.
He and Fontana also backed Paul McCartney for the ex-Beatle’s cover of That’s All Right.
R.I.P. Scotty Moore. His solo on Blue Suede Shoes is still one for the ages. https://t.co/mikbzkyhzC
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) June 29, 2016
In 2000, Moore was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame. More recently, he was a recording studio manager, engineer and businessman.
“He was a class act as a human being,” biographer Dickerson told The Associated Press late on Tuesday.
“Besides being one of the best guitarists that ever lived and most inventive, he was a great person, and you don’t always find that in the music industry.”