Elvis Presley Drummer D.J. Fontana Passes

DJ Fontana

Famed Elvis Presley drummer D.J. Fontana passed away in Nashville on Wednesday, June 13, at age 87.

Fontana played on more than 450 Presley records and toured with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll for 14 years. He was the last surviving member of Presley’s original band.

Born Dominic Joseph Fontana, he was a native of the Texarkana area who served an apprenticeship drumming in strip clubs. In 1953, he became the staff drummer at The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, where Presley became a regular performer.

Presley (1935-1977), guitarist Scotty Moore (1931-2016) and bassist Bill Black (1926-1965) hired Fontana to join their Blue Moon Boys band in 1955. Fontana played on such seminal Elvis Presley hits as “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” ‘Love Me Tender,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Teddy Bear.” He, as well as Moore and Black, also appeared on Presley’s Ed Sullivan Show appearances in 1956-57.

DJ Fontana and Elvis. Photo: Elvis Presley Enterprises

He also appeared in several of Presley’s movies in the 1960s, including King Creole, G.I. Blues, Jailhouse Rock and Loving You. He continued to appear with the superstar until 1969, when he left over a pay dispute with manager Col. Tom Parker (1909-1997).

In addition to Elvis Presley, Fontana backed such artists as Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Gene Vincent, Red Sovine, Faron Young, Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash and Webb Pierce.

Starr, Levon Helm, Max Weinberg, Charlie Watts, Stan Lynch and many other rock drummers have cited Fontana as an influence. His style was characterized by power, steadiness, accuracy and get-to-the-point directness.

In 1983, Fontana published D.J. Fontana Remembers Elvis, a pictorial volume of reminiscences.

He and Scotty Moore won a Nashville Music Award and were nominated for a Grammy in 1998 for their album All the King’s Men.

In 2009, he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as well as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (in the sideman category).

Funeral arrangements have not 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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