Former Elvis Presley Drummer D.J. Fontana Dead at 87
D.J. Fontana, who rose to prominence as a drummer for Elvis Presley and a host of other rock and country singers, has died.
According to a Facebook post from his son, David, Fontana died in his sleep at 9:33PM on Wednesday night (June 13). "He was very comfortable with no pain," David Fontana writes.
Fontana was 87 years old.
Nashville's Tennessean newspaper reports that Fontana was born March 15, 1931, in Shreveport, La, and began playing drums during high school. He landed a gig as the house drummer for the Louisiana Hayride, where he backed a string of country artists including Webb Pierce and Faron Young.
It was at the Hayride that he met a young Elvis Presley, who turned to the Hayride and its radio show to help break his career. Presley used the Hayride to garner national exposure, and Fontana was on board early, meeting Presley and his band in 1954.
"They sent Elvis' records from Memphis. I thought the sound was really incredible," Fontana recalled to the Tennessean in 1984. "It was really different...When Elvis, [guitarist] Scotty Moore and [bassist] Bill Black came down as a trio, Scotty approached me about drumming with them. We ran through about two or three songs backstage, including 'That's All Right, Mama.'"
Their chemistry led to Fontana joining the group, and he remained as Presley's drummer until 1968, playing on some of the most seminal rock recordings of all time including "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Heartbreak Hotel." According to his website, Fontana recorded on 460 of Presley's cuts for RCA and appeared in several of Presley's movies, including Loving You, G.I. Blues, King Creole and Jailhouse Rock. He was on hand for Presley's history-altering appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 also took part in Presley's famed '68 Comeback Special.
Fontana then settled in Nashville, where he worked with Ringo Starr post-Beatles on a country album titled Beaucoups of Blues in 1970. He went on to work with a large slate of acts, including Paul McCartney, Steve Earle, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner, Keith Richards and many more.
Fontana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman alongside Bill Black in 2009. He was also inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
No funeral arrangements have been announced.
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