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Elvis' Drummer Dies

Backup band member D.J. Fontana was 87


Drummer D.J. Fontana, the last surviving member of the trio that helped catapult Elvis Presley to superstardom in the 1950s, died in his sleep Wednesday night at his home in Nashville. He was 87.

His wife, Karen, told the Associated Press that Fontana had been dealing with complications from a hip fracture two years ago.

Fontana was the house drummer for "Louisiana Hayride," a live country music showcase, where he met the 19-year-old Presley in 1954. Fontana was soon hired to join guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black in the Blue Moon Boys, the band that would back Presley on signature hits like "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog," and "Jailhouse Rock."

Moore was 84 when he died in 2016; Black died of a brain tumor at 39 in 1965.

Hailed for his simple, straightforward approach to drumming, Fontana backed Presley in the recording studio and on stage for 15 years. He was behind the kit when Elvis appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" as well as the critically acclaimed 1968 NBC special "Singer Presents…ELVIS," which has long been referred to as the '68 Comeback Special.

"I think the simple approach comes from my hearing so much big band music," Fontana once told an interviewer. "I mixed it with rockabilly."

Priscilla Presley, Elvis' widow, remembered Fontana as "a tremendously talented musician and a wonderful man."

Fontana was inducted as a sideman into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, three months after joining the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.