LifeNotes: Famed Rock ‘N’ Roll Guitarist Scotty Moore Passes

Scotty Moore. Photo: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Scotty Moore. Photo: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Scotty Moore, regarded as the founding guitarist of rock ‘n’ roll, died on Tuesday at age 84.

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was best known as the guitar player during Elvis Presley’s rise to fame in the 1950s. Moore was also a longtime Nashville recording studio engineer.

Born in Gadsden, Tennessee, Winfield Scott Moore III began playing guitar before he reached his teens. He initially modeled himself on country/jazz stylist Chet Atkins.

After service in the U.S. Navy 1948-1952, Scotty Moore formed The Starlite Wranglers in Memphis. Sun Records owner/producer teamed the group’s Moore and Wranglers bassist Bill Black (1926-1965) with his new signee Presley. Billed as The Blue Moon Boys, Moore and Black backed Presley on his breakthrough record “That’s All Right Mama” in 1954.

Moore also served as Presley’s first manager. Later augmented by drummer D.J. Fontana, The Blue Moon Boys backed the superstar on his earliest tours, TV appearances and films.

The distinctive guitar licks of Scotty Moore can be heard on such early Elvis Presley hits as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Mystery Train,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hard Headed Woman,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Too Much” and “Milk Cow Blues Boogie.” In 1957-60, Moore appeared in the Presley movies Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and G.I. Blues.

When Presley was drafted into the Army in 1958, Moore began working at Fernwood Records in Memphis. There, he produced the hit “Tragedy” for Thomas Wayne. Moore next became the production manager at Sun Records. After Presley resumed civilian life, Moore played on such RCA hits as “Good Luck Charm,” “Such a Night,” “Surrender,” “I Feel So Bad,” “Rock-a-Hula Baby,” “Devil in Disguise” and “Bossa Nova Baby.”

51EB2JC9A3LIn 1964, Scotty Moore released his first solo LP, The Guitar That Changed the World. In 1968, he joined Elvis Presley on the famed “comeback” NBC television special.

By then, Moore had relocated to Nashville. In 1964, he formed his Music City Recorders studio on 19th Ave. S. and launched Belle Meade Records. The studio is where he engineered the Ringo Starr LP Beaucoups of Blues.

He sold the studio in 1973 and began working as a freelance engineer, often at Monument Records. In 1976, he opened a tape-duplication business in the Monument building, which he bought. Over the years, he also continued to record as a guitarist. Among the artists he backed on disc were Sonny Burgess, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dale Hawkins, Alvin Lee, Mother Earth, Billy Swan, Ann-Margret, Charlie Rich, Ronnie McDowell and The Tractors. He produced records for Frank Frost, Tracy Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Steve Ripley and others.

Scotty Moore engineered many TV shows for Opryland Productions in the 1980s. The stars he worked with included Dolly Parton, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, Perry Como, Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash, Ann-Margret and Jerry Lee Lewis. He also worked on several albums by Carl Perkins.

During the 1990s, he participated in several Elvis Presley tribute events, concerts, tours and TV specials. One of the most notable was the 1997 all-star CD All the King’s Men. Also in 1997, Scotty Moore was inducted into the Guitar Center’s Rockwalk in Hollywood, alongside Chet Atkins, James Burton, Duane Eddy and Hank Garland.

In 1999, Gibson Guitars unveiled its Scotty Moore model. The company gave him its Lifetime Achievement award in 2002.

Rock greats such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Bruce Springsteen have all cited Scotty Moore as an inspiration. Following his 2000 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Moore continued to perform and tour. He worked with Ronnie McDowell, Lee Rocker and The Mike Eldred Trio, among others.

He was named a Memphis Music Hero by that city’s chapter of The Recording Academy in 2004. In 2007, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. He also announced his retirement from performing in that year.

He died at home in Nashville on Tuesday, June 28. No funeral arrangements have been announced.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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