Magazine article Newsweek International

On Tour with Elvis, the Bashful Provocateur

Magazine article Newsweek International

On Tour with Elvis, the Bashful Provocateur

Article excerpt

ROAD WARRIOR: Rock and roll's first superstar made his first records without drums. Elvis Presley began touring the South with just guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. Drummer D. J. Fontana tells how he joined the band in 1954 and what those early years were like.

Oh, no, no, no, there was no audition. Elvis, Scotty and Bill come to Shreveport, where I was the house drummer for the Louisiana Hayride. In those days everybody played the Hayride. The headliners were people like Jim Reeves and Webb Pierce, and most of those guys didn't even like drums. I'd just stand backstage until somebody asked me to play. So Scotty come over and said, "Hey, we need a drummer. You want to work with us?" I said, "That's why I'm here."

To me touring with Elvis was just a job. But we worked hard. Heck, we'd play on the back of feed trucks, little bitty high-school gyms--we played 'em all. We worked all those little towns for a year and a half before Elvis even got known. He didn't really get known until he started doing those television shows nationwide. But he always got that same wild reaction. He was a good-looking kid, you know, and the music was different. We'd pack them little old gyms--I think the tickets were maybe 50 cents. We'd also do package shows with country acts, Webb or Faron Young. They were the main draw, the hot artists. Back then the country artists just basically stood up sang all their hit records. They didn't move. So they didn't know what to think of Elvis. There for a while they'd have him close the first half of the show. But see, when Elvis left the stage, there was nobody left to sing to. All the kids would follow him outside.

It got harder as he got bigger, because we didn't have no big sound system. I don't think the kids ever heard us play or him sing, either one. We only had one mike onstage, or sometimes an extra mike for Bill's bass. …

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