Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


MOORE, Scotty

(b Winfield Scott Moore III, 27 December 1931, near Gadsden TN; d 28 June 2016, near Nashville) Guitarist who practically invented an important sound in mid-century American pop. He started on guitar at age 8 and later said that he 'stole' from every guitar player he ever heard, and was particularly fond of jazzmen Tal Farlow and George Barnes.

After serving in the U.S. Navy he formed the Starlite Wranglers, and brought hillbilly singer Doug Poindexter to the attention of Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis; in May 1954 they recorded 'Now She Cares No More' and 'My Kind of Carrying On', with Moore and Poindexter sharing the writing credit. Then Phillips asked Moore to audition a young singer. Moore and his neighbour Bill Black, bassist with the Wranglers, jammed with Elvis Presley at Moore's house, allegedly on the 4th of July; Presley had a promising voice but wasn't sure what he wanted to do with it. Two days later they recorded 'That's All Right' and 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' at Sun, discovering a formula that caused a local sensation and is still selling today.

As Scotty and Bill, Moore and Black toured with Presley as a trio; soon drummer D.J. Fontana was added. Moore was Presley's manager until Col. Tom Parker smelled money and started cheating everybody, with Presley's cooperation. Scotty and Bill were said to have played on about 300 of Presley's records, and appeared in some of his films; according to one newspaper report they were each paid $200 a week while touring, and $100 a week while they were idle, while Presley was becoming the King and getting rich. When they finally quit, Black switched to electric bass and formed his own instrumental combo. But meanwhile Moore had helped to create a whole new genre with his guitar.

The electric guitar as a lead instrument had never been common in American music, and a lot of people didn't like the tinny sound of the rockabilly guitar, but the baby-boomers did, and they were turning the music business upside down. More to the point, Moore's skill with the instrument became the style everybody else had to deal with. He fused country, blues and jazz in a way that imparted drive to what are still regarded as among the best records Presley ever made, and he did it while fitting in, or 'filling windows', never trying to be the star. When Walt Dickerson helped Moore with a memoir, That's Alright, Elvis, published in 1997, Keith Richards told Dickerson, 'All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play and sound like that...Everybody else wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Scotty.'

Moore was a partner in a record label called Fernwood, and produced a top 10 hit in 1959 called 'Tragedy', by Thomas Wayne, in the 'death song' category (Thomas Wayne Perkins, b 22 July 1940, Battsville MS, killed in a car crash 15 August 1971, was the brother of Luther Perkins, who played in Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two.) Moore worked for Phillips at Sun until in 1964 he made an album of instrumental versions of Presley's hits for Epic, called The Guitar That Changed The World. (Phillips was displeased.) He worked as a freelance studio engineer (with Dolly Parton, Ringo Starr and many others), and gave up playing the guitar. He started his own business in 1976, went bankrupt in the early '90s, and started playing and touring again, in demand with younger players who had been influenced by him.

His 1997 memoir was revised and updated and published as Scotty and Elvis: Aboard the Mystery Train by the University Press of Mississippi in 2013.