Elvis Presley’s Piano Man: Floyd Cramer

You know an Elvis song as soon as you hear his voice. Many of Elvis’ diehard fans have learned his backup musicians’ distinctive style, too, and can easily pick out anyone who’s on drums, guitar, piano or bass.

Here on the Graceland Blog, we’ve covered a lot of the musicians and producers who helped Elvis craft his musical magic, like The Jordanaires, Sam Phillips and the Blue Moon Boys, Scotty Moore and Bill Black. This week, we’re spotlighting Floyd Cramer, who played on numerous Elvis hits in the 1950s and 60s.

Floyd Cramer, a Louisiana native who grew up in Arkansas, taught himself to play piano. He got his first job in showbiz at the Louisiana Hayride, the Grand Ole Opry competitor which featured Elvis. Elvis made his Hayride debut in October 1954 and became a regular later that year. He ended his Hayride contract in 1956 as his fame grew. Floyd played with Elvis as early as the spring of 1955, when Elvis’ live show was recorded in Texas as a remote broadcast for the Hayride.

Aankomst Floyd Cramer (met The Anita Kerr Singers op Schiphol, Floyd Cramer (kop) *4 mei 1965

Floyd Cramer played on a slew of Elvis hits. You have also heard his work on “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, “Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison,” “(Til) I Kissed You” by the Everly Brothers, “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” by Hank Locklin and “I’m Sorry” by Brenda Lee.

Floyd moved to Nashville in 1956, where he quickly became one of the busiest session musicians in the business. In addition to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Floyd also recorded with Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold and the Everly Brothers. Floyd mastered the “slip note” style of playing the piano, and he, among with many other session players, helped form the famous “Nashville sound.”

Floyd played at Elvis’ first RCA session on January 10-11, 1956, where Elvis, Floyd, Scotty Moore (guitar), Chet Atkins (guitar), Bill Black (bass), DJ Fontana (drums) and Gordon Stoker, Ben Speer and Brock Speer (vocals) cut hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Got a Woman” and “Money Honey.”

Floyd also recorded with Elvis in Nashville in 1958, helping create hits like “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” and “I Got Stung.” After Elvis returned home from his service in the Army in 1960, he continued to record with Floyd on and off, when Floyd wasn’t working with other artists. You can hear Floyd on a number of Elvis’ 1960s hits, like “A Mess of Blues,” “Fever,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Surrender,” “His Hand in Mine,” “Crying in the Chapel,” “Little Sister,” and many more.

There aren't many photos of Elvis with Floyd, save for this candid shot taken during a 1958 session in Nashville.

There aren’t many photos of Elvis with Floyd, save for this candid shot taken during a 1958 session in Nashville.

You can also hear Floyd’s work on several of Elvis’ movie soundtracks, like “Follow That Dream,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Roustabout,” “Girl Happy” and more. The 1967 and 1968 “Stay Away Joe” sessions were the last ones Floyd worked on with Elvis.

In addition to his session work, Floyd many of his own albums. Some of his biggest hits include “Last Date,” “On the Rebound” and “San Antonio Rose.”

Floyd Cramer died on December 31, 1997. He has been inducted into both the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and he’s in the Louisiana Hall of Fame.

Today, Floyd’s grandson, Jason Coleman, carries on his grandfather’s legacy as a piano player. He has toured the country paying tribute to his grandfather and performing his own music.

Elvis' last session before entering the Army was June 10, 1958, in Nashville. Floyd Cramer was part of the band and Elvis recorded hits like "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I" and "A Big Hunk O' Love."

Elvis’ last session before entering the Army was June 10, 1958, in Nashville. Floyd Cramer was part of the band and Elvis recorded hits like “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” and “A Big Hunk O’ Love.”

Learn more about Elvis’ music and movies at Elvis: The Entertainer Museum at Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland! See the king’s gold records for hit songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” “and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and check out movie props, costumes and more. Then, tour Elvis’ beloved mansion Graceland, to get a glimpse of the man behind the hits. Start planning your ultimate music pilgrimage to Memphis today, and don’t forget to get your Graceland tickets.


5 Comments

  1. A Mess of Blues: great piano; too bad the A side was such a monster hit so this one was lost to the public.Big Hunk of Love too: this is the child to Burning Love with its refrain Hunk of burning love. Someone should put out a box set of Elvis’ blues songs: best white blues singer of his time.

  2. Arsène-Louis/EdVerb

    Very good , at last, that we honor the best pianist Elvis has ever had !!! Thanks to Floyd Elvis had
    quality hits + songs that until today we love to hear; also his fantastic piano virtuoso style on most movie ballads. SONY should release a two double CDs out of it. Phenominal talent Cramer was !!!

  3. Erik Rasmussen

    Floyd was a great pianoplayer.
    I missed the information that Floyd got his playing style from the great songwriter Don Robertson

  4. William Martin

    Excellent information that seems to have gotten little attention over all these years. The photo of Elvis with Floyd at the piano has garnered little attention also. You continue to do great work especially with Elvis trivia.
    Regards
    William Martin

  5. Lonnie Ann

    Floyd Cramer was a fantastic piano man. I have a couple of his CD’s and have played the heck out of them. Love that Elvis recognized his talent too.

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