Scotty Moore, rock guitarist whose sharp, graceful style helped Elvis Presley shape his revolutionary sound and inspired a generation of musicians such as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Bruce Springsteen, died Tuesday. He was 84. Moore died at his home in Nashville, said biographer James L. Dickerson, who confirmed the death through a family friend.
“As a musician, I consider him one of the co-founders of rock ‘n’ roll because of the guitar licks that he invented,” Dickerson said, calling Moore an icon. Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, echoed that sentiment in a statement Tuesday night: “Elvis loved Scotty dearly and treasured those amazing years together, both in the studio and on the road. Scotty was an amazing musician and a legend in his own right. The incredible music that Scotty and Elvis made together will live forever and influence generations to come.”
The hip-shaking Presley soon rose from regional act to superstardom, signing up with RCA Records and topping the charts with “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up” and many other hits. Elvis was the star, but young musicians listened closely to Moore’s contributions, whether the slow, churning solo he laid down on “Heartbreak Hotel” or the flashy lead on “Hard-Headed Woman.”
“Everyone else wanted to be Elvis,” Keith Richards once observed. “I wanted to be Scotty.”
When Scooty Moore saw the Gibson ES-125 in 1953, it was love at first sight… “I was walking down the street in Memphis by the Houck Piano Company and I saw a guy in the window putting out a new guitar. It was this Gibson, all gold and shiny. It was the only gold guitar I’d ever seen. I said, ‘Wow, that’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.’ I absolutely had to have it, so I traded my Esquire and bought it then and there. It was probably only on display in the store window for 5 minutes.” But, like many guitar players, Scotty had to make some changes to his new instrument. Les Paul’s special bridge didn’t work well for him, so he found a Melita Synchro-Sonic with adjustable saddles that allowed him to intonate each string and added the trapeze Kluson tailpiece.
Moore, Black and Fontana backed Presley for his TV appearances and early movies. B y1957 had tired of what Moore called “Elvis economics.” In the memoir “That’s Alright, Elvis,” published in 1997, Moore noted that he earned $8,000 in 1956 while Presley became a millionaire. Moore also cited tension with Elvis’ manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker.
“We couldn’t go talk to Elvis and talk about anything,” Moore, who along with Black left Presley’s group, said in 1997. “There wasn’t ever any privacy. It was designed that way, but not by Elvis. It’s not that I feel bitterness, just disappointment.”
Moore worked again with Elvis, for the 1968 “comeback” TV special that helped return him to the top of the charts. But Moore’s compensation didn’t even cover his travel expenses, he would recall, and he was not asked to join Presley’s band for his tours in the 1970s. From left, Elvis Presley, bass player Bill Black, guitarist Scotty Moore and Sun Records and Memphis Recording studio head Sam Phillips pose during a recording session in Memphis, Tenn., in 1954.
Starting in the late 1950s, Moore worked on various projects. In 1959, singer Thomas Wayne had a top-five hit, “Tragedy,” on Moore’s Fernwood record label. Moore put out a solo album in 1964 called “The Guitar That Changed the World!” and with Fontana played on the 1997 Presley tribute album “All the King’s Men,” featuring Richards, Levon Helm and other stars. He and Fontana also backed Paul McCartney for the ex-Beatle’s cover of “That’s All Right.” In 2000, Moore was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame. James Burton