How guitarist Scotty Moore changed music history with Elvis Presley

Mr. Moore may not have reached the same level of fame as the King, but the guitarist is considered a legend in its own right by many musicians.

Fred Prouser/Reuters
Scotty Moore appears in Hollywood in 2002.

Elvis Presley may be the king of rock and roll, but for many musicians, his guitarist Scotty Moore, who died June 28 played just as big a role in shaping the sounds of modern rock. 

“Everyone else wanted to be Elvis," Rolling Stones frontman Keith Richards told the Associated Press. "I wanted to be Scotty.” 

Mr. Moore who performed with Mr. Presley on famous songs such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog," was first paired up with the King by Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who had Moore and Bill Black, a bassist, perform with Presley on the song “That’s All Right (Mama).” The song was released in 1954.

Moore would go on to play with Presley on many of the singer’s most well-known songs, including “Jailhouse Rock” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” The guitarist joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and also worked with musicians including Paul McCartney, with whom he recorded “That’s All Right,” and Levon Helm, who along with Moore and other artists appeared on the album “All the King’s Men.”

Rolling Stone magazine included Moore on their list of the 100 best guitar players of all time. Following Presley, Moore, and Mr. Black playing “That’s All Right” in 1954 at Sun Records, Rolling Stone staff wrote, “The guitar would never be the same.” 

Moore's concise, aggressive runs mixed country picking and blues phrasing into a new instrumental language. The playing was so forceful that it's easy to forget there was no drummer. If Moore had done nothing but the 18 Sun recordings – including ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Good Rockin' Tonight’ – his place in history would be assured. But he continued to play with Elvis, contributing the scorching solos to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Hound Dog.’ And when Elvis wanted to get back to his roots on the 1968 'comeback special,' he summoned Moore, for the sound that helped change the role of the guitar in pop music.

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