The King’s Men

It’s not an easy gig playing behind the “King of Rock and Roll” but two drummers rose to the challenge. In Elvis’ early years it was DJ Fontana (above) and in his later years it was Ronnie Tutt (below). Both drummers were the perfect complement to Presley’s sound at the time and his music was dependent on their unique groove. Fontana was Elvis’ drummer for the first 14 years of his career and appeared on over 400 recordings. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame on January 14, 2009, and on April 4, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the “sidemen category”. Tutt was the backbone of the famous TCB Band (Taking Care of Business) and participated in Elvis’ concerts and recording sessions until the death of Presley in 1977. Tutt went on to become the drummer for Neil Diamond. Both drummers can be heard on dozens of the most popular songs in the history of traditional rock-n-roll.

Not surprisingly, both drummers focused on the singer’s signature movements. Fontana spoke in an interview on how difficult it was to perform behind the singer that drove all the girls crazy. “He always worked us tight. Everybody was right up against each other. It was hard to hear a lot of times. But I know one time we went to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. There was about 45,000 people. And back in those days, that’s a lot of people. And we really couldn’t hear him do a thing. And he took his microphone and went way out to the gate of the fence. And we were like in the middle of the arena on the 50-yard line. So we was probably 75, a hundred foot from the fence and we couldn’t hear a thing – and he couldn’t, I’m sure. We only had three little pieces. But we knew by his movements, his hands, his feet, legs. We knew exactly where he was. So we had to watch him awfully close to find out where he was all the time.”

Tutt spoke about how Elvis’ moves influenced how he played the drums. “I’ve always said it was like working for a stripper in the old days of vaudeville. The drummers and musicians had to watch every move the stripper made to accent it with their instruments. As time went on, he would use more and more karate moves, to cut off songs and during songs, where there’d be musical interludes or solos. Because they’re almost quicker than the eye, those moves, I felt like there was only way for me to really understand them. And that was to study the same form of karate as he did. We’d have lessons and workouts up in his suite. It helped me a great deal to understand how he moved.”

 

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