D.J. Fontana

Born: March 15, 1931 in Shreveport, Louisiana

D.J. Fontana grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. As a budding young drummer in the 1940s, he was influenced by the sounds of the big bands, Western swing, and early rhythm-and-blues artists like Louis Jordan. By the early 1950s, the country music world was starting to embrace the drumset, and D.J. found himself in the right place at the right time to become the first house drummer on the “Louisiana Hayride,” a weekly radio and, later, television program similar to Nashville’s “Grand Ole Opry.”

At the same time, Elvis Presley was fast outgrowing his situation at Sun Records, the pioneering rockabilly label run by visionary engineer/producer Sam Phillips. Already a regional sensation, Elvis and his rockabilly-style trio (which included guitarist Scotty Moore and upright “slap” bassist Bill Black) were on fire. However, they knew that in order to satisfy the ever-growing venues and the screaming crowds, they were going to need a drummer.

Elvis and company found their man in October 1954, while making a guest appearance on the “Louisiana Hayride.” Although it took about a year, Fontana was eventually added as a full-time band member. Now armed with a beefier sound, a new manager (Colonel Tom Parker), and a new record deal (with RCA, a much bigger label), Elvis began the ascent that by 1956 would make him the biggest star in the burgeoning world of rock’n’roll.

D.J. Fontana worked with Elvis throughout the rest of the ’50s, touring incessantly with “the King” and contributing innovative parts to his biggest hits, including “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” In all, he would record 460 tracks with Elvis for RCA. When Elvis left the road and turned to moviemaking in the 1960s, D.J. came along for the ride, recording (along with Buddy Harman and sometimes Hal Blaine) the soundtracks to all of Elvis’ movies. He was also featured in the legendary televised event known as “The ’68 Comeback Special,” which marked Elvis’ return to live performance.

Although that show would prove to be D.J.’s last hurrah with Elvis, he graduated to a very busy schedule as a Nashville-based session man in the 1970s, working with a variety of artists including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings. Since the 1980s he has been celebrated for his role as one of the King’s Men, recording all-star sessions with the likes of Keith Richards and Jeff Beck.