Guitar Pioneer Scotty Moore Dead At 84

Elvis Presley’s first lead guitarist Scotty Moore passed away yesterday at the age of 84. He was the last surviving member of the pioneering sessions at Sun Records in Memphis that gave us Elvis’s first recordings.

When it comes to Rock guitarists, it doesn’t get any more elemental than Scotty Moore. In 1954, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were writing songs and honing their unique guitar playing styles while fronting bands. But Scotty Moore was the first lead guitarist in history, the first electric guitar sideman to support a lead singer, a role that didn’t exist before him.

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On July 5, 1954, Sun Records producer Sam Phillips brought in local musicians Moore and bassist Bill Black to accompany this scruffy farm kid Elvis Presley. Phillips knew Elvis had something, but he wasn’t quite sure what. After hearing the three musicians play together that day, Philips knew he had something big on his hands.

Listen to the first hit from those sessions, “That’s Alright Mama”. During the verses, Scotty Moore’s little licks after each line drive the song forward in a way Elvis’ voice and acoustic guitar could not. And Moore’s solo is a wonder, starting off with those country & western triplets before switching to the bendy blues notes. Together Moore and Black helped create the first template for Rock rhythms, even without a drummer.

After Elvis signed with RCA and hit the big time, they brought on a drummer, and Scotty Moore’s contributions became the second-most memorable thing in any Elvis song. Check out this enhanced video of the band performing “Hound Dog”. The guitar solo becomes the focal point of the song when Elvis comes by and admires Moore’s handiwork.

Sadly, Elvis and his manager chose to nickel-and-dime Moore and Black, refusing to acknowledge their value to Elvis’ sound. Moore began to tire of what he called “Elvis economics” and essentially quit the band in 1957. He never played with Elvis again until the big 1968 NBC comeback special, but Elvis didn’t even cover Moore’s travel expenses for the show.

By showing the world some of the new things that an electric guitar could do, Scotty Moore was an inspiration to a generation of musicians. But he never got the credit that other more famous guitarists of the era got — guys like Berry, Diddley, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Dick Dale, Link Wray and Lonnie Mack.

Keith Richards once said that while all the other blokes in his school wanted to be Elvis, he wanted to be Scotty Moore. That’s a testimonial worth framing. Today I’m going to raise a glass to this old soldier. He and his Gibson ES-295 were right there at the very beginning, the very start of this long strange trip we call Rock & Roll. For that we salute you, sir.


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