Two people who probably had as much to do with Elvis’s successful career as anyone else have died in recent weeks.
He persuaded Elvis to record In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don’t Cry Daddy and Kentucky Rain at his own Memphis studio.
For the Presley sessions in January 1969 he broke with the usual practice by introducing songs in which Elvis, his manager and his song publisher had no financial interest, and by actively supervising the sessions, persuading the singer to go over each song many times in search of the best result.
Presley’s positive response won the admiration of Moman’s elite corps of session musicians, who had turned up in expectation of a decent payday but little musical reward.
In the Ghetto took Presley into the US top three for the first time in four years. But it was Suspicious Minds, released in the autumn, that gave him his first No 1 hit since 1962, although Moman hated the false ending that had been added in a Las Vegas studio after it proved to be a success in Elvis’s stage show.
This is the recorded version, not the overblown Vegas one.
Moman’s refusal to cede a portion of the song’s copyright to Presley’s manager and publisher created such bad blood that the partnership between the singer and the producer was never repeated, despite its artistic and commercial success.
But Moman, who died in June aged 79, had a much more extensive string of achievements. As a guitarist, (seen above with his cherished Gibson Super 400) he decorated the closing bars of Aretha Franklin’s epochal I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) with eloquent country-soul phrases.
As a producer, he instructed the 16-year-old Alex Chilton to sing “aeroplane” rather than “airplane” on the first line of the Box Tops’ The Letter.
As a composer, he co-wrote (with Dan Penn) The Dark End of the Street, a definitive and much-covered deep-soul ballad. The artists he worked with included Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette.
Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock – all backed by Scotty, bassist Bill Black and drummer DJ Fontana, aka the Blue Moon Boys.
In fact the first record Elvis cut at Sun studios, a cover of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s That’s All Right, was released as Elvis Presley with Scotty and Bill.
Moore was an inspiration to Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen as well as all the young wanna-be guitarist busy forming groups in the 1960s.
My personal favourite was the guitar work on Heartbreak Hotel – all that drama (and great bass and piano playing too). And there was a mystery about the inspiration for the song which gave Elvis his first number one.
Scotty Moore’s guitar may have changed the world but it didn’t make him rich. He and the rest of the Blue Moon Boys were paid a weekly salary of $100 (about $600 at today’s prices) with more when they toured.
He was Elvis’s managers in the early days but he stepped aside as Elvis’s popularity grew to be replaced by Colonel Parker who had been successfully promoting top country acts like Hank Snow.
When Sam Phillips sold Elvis’s contract to RCA records Scotty Moore and Bill Black were just seen as hired hands rather than as collaborators. And as Presley developed his movie career there was less need for the Blue Moon Boys as his songs became big studio productions.
However Moore backed Elvis in his 1968 come-back show on TV and was offered a residency with him in Las Vegas but the money was so poor he turned it down to be replaced with another guitar great James Burton. Moore reckoned he only earned about $30,000 during his fifteen year stint with Elvis.
But he never felt bitter towards Elvis blaming the rapacious Colonel Tom Parker – who had a lot to answer for. He ran his own studio for a while but went bust in the 1990s when he became a recluse.
He wrote a memoir “Scotty and Elvis aboard the Mystery Train”, which was re-published in 2013, and played his final concert in 2007 in Memphis as part of a commemoration to mark the 30th anniversary of Presley’s death before retiring quietly in Nashville. He died at the end of June aged 84.
Based on obituaries in The Guardian (Chips Moman) and the Times (Scotty Moore).