Elvis Presley and The Blue Moon Boys

At the foundation of Elvis Presley’s career is The Blue Moon Boys.

That’s where it all started for Elvis, alongside guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black – and later, of course, drummer D.J. Fontana. These guys created some incredible music and helped jump start the career of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

It all started in 1954. Scotty and Bill were working with Sam Phillips at Sun Studio with the group, The Starlite Wranglers. The band played country music, but in a few weeks, the guys would be playing rock ‘n’ roll.

Elvis spent about a year hanging out at Sun Studio, stopping by to talk to Sam’s secretary, Marion Keisker, and asking about possible recording work. He’d recorded two acetates but wanted to do much more. In the summer of 1954, Marion suggested that Sam give Elvis a chance, and he did. Sam was impressed by the young singer, and he introduced Elvis to Scotty, who later introduced Elvis to Bill.

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Bill, Elvis and Scotty – where it all began.

The trio made history on July 5, 1954, when they recorded “That’s All Right” at Sun. A few days later, Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played it on the radio, and listeners loved it.

The guys recorded “Blue Moon of Kentucky” to go on the B-side of the single, which was released on July 19, 1954. It became a regional smash.

The full band is on display on the cover for the "That's All Right" 45.

The full band is on display on the cover for the “That’s All Right” 45.

Scotty served as the manager of Elvis and the guys. In the early days, the guys toured regionally, never going too far – they all still had their day jobs, after all. The Boys appeared regularly at the Eagle’s Nest, a club in Memphis. Sam booked the trio on the Grand Ole Opry, but the show didn’t go over well.

Their next stop was the Opry’s competitor, the Louisiana Hayride, which went well – so well that the guys stayed with the Hayride until 1956.

The Louisiana Hayride helped launch Elvis' career - the radio show reached many fans who may not have heard him otherwise.

The Louisiana Hayride helped launch Elvis’ career – the radio show reached many fans who may not have heard him otherwise.

Bob Neal took over manager duties, and the guys’ careers continued to climb. D.J. (Dominic Joseph) Fontana also joined the band around this time. He was a drummer on the Louisiana Hayride show, but he played behind the curtain as drummers weren’t yet embraced by country music fans. He played for Elvis for the first time on October 16, 1954, behind the curtain, but later he played out front. He joined the band full time in August 1955.

Elvis, D.J., Scotty and Bill continued to make music, tour and appear on the Louisiana Hayride in 1955, and it’s during that year that the guys used the name The Blue Moon Boys. As Elvis’ career began to climb, more deals were made: he signed with RCA in November 1955, and Col. Tom Parker signed on as his manager in 1956.

Bill, Scotty and D.J. stayed with Elvis for several more years, playing on Elvis’ early hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” backing him up on his national television appearances and starring behind Elvis in movies like “Loving You.” Elvis was drafted in 1958, so the guys found other music to keep them busy while Elvis served his country.

Elvis was backed by the band on his many national television appearances in 1956.

Elvis was backed by the band on his many national television appearances in 1956, including this one, on the Milton Berle Show.

During Elvis’ service, Bill created a band called Bill Black’s Combo, and he didn’t work with Elvis again after that. Bill passed away in 1965 of a brain tumor. He has since been inducted into both the Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.

Once Elvis was released from active duty in 1960, Elvis, Scotty and D.J. picked back up again. They backed him up on the “Welcome Home Elvis” special of “The Frank Sinatra Show,” which served as Elvis’ official homecoming after returning from the Army. The last time Scotty and D.J. played with Elvis was on Elvis’ iconic ’68 Special.

Scotty continued his music career and worked in television, too. He also performed at several concerts honoring Elvis and continued to tour. Scotty was inducted into the Rockabilly, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Memphis Music Halls of Fame. Scotty died in 2016.

D.J. Fontana shared his memories of working with Elvis at Elvis Week 2016, where he was also given a Beale Street Brass Note.

D.J. Fontana shared his memories of working with Elvis at Elvis Week 2016, where he was also given a Beale Street Brass Note.

D.J. Fontana has also kept his career going, by touring and recording. Just like the other members of the band, he’s in the Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. During Elvis Week 2016, he was surprised with a Beale Street Brass Note. These notes line Beale Street as part of the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame.

Elvis’ bands changed over the years, but Scotty, D.J. and Bill – the Blue Moon Boys – are really at the heart of Elvis’ career, who were right by his side in those formative years. The music Elvis and these guys made together changed music forever.

If you love learning about Elvis’ music, you’re in luck.

Next month, we’ll open Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum, the world’s largest and most comprehensive Elvis museum in the world, at our new entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum will cover everything in Elvis’ career, from his start in music to his movies and everything in between. The complex will also include a Sam Phillips exhibit, as well as other Discovery exhibits that will cover many aspects of Elvis’ career and life, and much more.

The new complex opens at Graceland on March 2 – with a Grand Opening Celebration Weekend on March 2-5 – so get your tickets today.


5 Comments

  1. stephen stathis

    Elvis could have retired after Sun and he would still be known today for the purity of the early sessions with Scotty and Bill. A clean, stripped down style that worked as well as Elvis’ later style of having an orchestra and two groups on stage along with Kathy Westmoreland.

  2. Fred Tolerico

    Thank you very much for the insightful review of Elvis’s formative years. I’ve been to Graceland 4 times, and I am looking forward to my next visit and the opportunity to tour the new complex.

  3. Marilyn Rice

    Great blog, was good to see the early pictures of the Blue Moon Boys..and the picture of D.J. when he was there last year,, Thanks for sharing! Good stuff!

  4. Gerry Korstrom

    Elvis was and still is the greatest singer and person there is. he is missed by millions of people all over the world and is sadly missed.

  5. My future wife (we did not know each other at all until after college) both saw Elvis Presley and The Blue Moon Boys on March 29, 1957. in St. Louis, Mo. He wore his full golden suit and shoes for this performance.

    Unbelievable night!

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