February 8, 2002


"The Guitar That Changed the World!"--that was the title of Scotty Moore's 1964
solo album. But its hyperbole, while partially true, was out of character.

Moore may have played on many of Elvis Presley's most famous recordings, but
the soft-spoken 70-year-old musician has never been one to unduly dwell on the
past, or to boast about his accomplishments.

A native of Gadsden, Tenn., Moore started out as Presley's manager before sliding
into the role of the guitarist whose frenetic rockabilly riffing powered hits such as
"Heartbreak Hotel," "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Jailhouse Rock." He reunited with
the King after Presley's stint in the Army, stayed with him through the early
Hollywood days but left around the time of the so-called '68 comeback special to
watch as the man and his music declined.

Moore has never stopped
rocking long enough to rest on
his laurels. Now, he's touring
with former Stray Cats bassist
Lee Rocker, performing a mix of
that band's hits and the tunes he
immortalized with Elvis.

"I grew up with Scotty as my
hero, and now he's standing five feet away from me and playing the same licks just
as I remember him in old footage playing with Elvis," Rocker says. "You can't beat

I recently spoke to Moore from his home in Nashville.

Q. How did you hook up with Lee Rocker?

A. I actually met Lee through a guitar player, Mike Eldred, who worked with him
back when he had his Big Blue trio. Then Lee did an album in Memphis, I went
down and played on a couple of numbers, and we just hit it off. I've been doing
some stuff off and on with him ever since. He's a great bass player--right in the
pocket, y'know?

Q. Lee is from the generation that falls in between yours and the younger kids
who are just coming up today. Do you hear young players continuing in the
style you helped patent?

A. Yeah, quite a few. Some of them are really good, and some are not. A lot of
these guys play too fast, y'know? I don't know how I got the reputation, but most
of the early things were not that fast! But Lee, now he's mellowed a little bit. It all
mellows out after a while. [Laughs]

Q. It strikes me that there was always a certain swing to '50s rockabilly, and
that's been almost entirely missing in rock since the '60s.

A. I know exactly what you're talking about! Actually, that's the thing about D.J.
Fontana, who got the [drummer's] job with us with Elvis. He liked all the big bands
growing up, and then when he was young, he played a lot of the strip joints around
Shreveport [La.]. Everything he plays, if you listen, it always has a slight little swing
to it; it wasn't like a straight country beat. I always say, "It's like you're out there on
the edge just a little, but you're still relaxed."

When younger kids play Elvis tunes, I think they look to some of those '60s
television shows where he took all the early stuff and when he played up-tempo
things, he just threw them away. So, they miss that swing.

Q. One of the challenges for younger listeners is to hear those classic Elvis
songs with fresh ears. The good stuff and the bad stuff has all becomes one
big blur, and so much nonsense has been written, it's hard to get at the heart
of what was great in that music.

A. The one thing that we tried to do, the musicians--because Elvis just showed up
concerned about the song and his voice-- was that we tried to play on every song
something that fit that particular song. Nothing was written for us, it was strictly up
to us to put it together, and it was only for some of the movie tracks that they'd say,
"We really need you to play a certain chord here" or "Emphasize this bit"-- y'know,
for the picture. But for the most part, it was on us to come up with the arrangement
and everything, and we tried to keep things simple but interesting.

Q. How much of what you read or see in documentaries squares with what
you remember of those years and the Elvis that you knew?

A. Oh, about half of it, really. Maybe 40 percent.

Q. Are you still having fun? Is it still a kick for you when you're on stage?

A. It really is. My only problem now is a little arthritis in my left thumb that slows
me down a little bit once in a while. And of course the traveling. That's never gotten
any better! I've got some trips to Europe coming up this summer, and I'm dreading
them, not because I'm afraid to fly, but because of what you have to go through
now in the airport.