Congratulations to reader Randolph Crew for the funny caption below. Look for another Elvis Caption Contest next week.
“Who brought that dog in backstage?”
When I heard the news last week about DJ Fontana and Bill Black making the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I Immediately sat down and started writing about DJ Fontana. I wasn’t disrespecting Bill Black. I knew I would get to him next, and now it is time to give Bill Black a great big posthumous congratulation.
Scotty, Bill and DJ
It’s hard to believe he passed away forty-four years ago. Too bad he didn’t have the durability of Scotty and DJ, who are still carrying on in their mid-seventies. Those three guys made one heck of a band behind Elvis. Despite his short time in the spotlight, Bill Black is an interesting story.
I told part of it five years ago in the 50th Anniversary issue of Elvis International, The Magazine. It was a sidebar to an article about the Legends Salute, a concert promoted by Darwin Lamm at Elvis week 2004. The concert was in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Elvis’ first song, “That’s All Right (Mama).” It was headlined by Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, Boots Randolph, and The Jordanaires.
A SALUTE TO BILL BLACK — The Unsung Legend
By Phil Arnold
From: Elvis International, The Magazine…50th Anniversary Of Rock & Roll — August 2004
The 50th anniversary of the birth of rock & roll cannot pass without giving just praise to one of the men who was there: Bill Black. Scotty Moore and Bill were the old pros in Sun Records studio on July 5,1954, when “That’s All Right (Mama) was recorded. They were pioneers, just like Elvis, in the unearthing of this new sound. Their musical talents on guitar and base blended with Elvis’s powerful vocal to create history.
Scene from Jailhouse Rock reminiscent of the real thing at Sun Records
Scotty Moore is a headliner of the 2004 Legends Salute. Bill Black, unfortunately, will not be on stage, as he died in 1965 of a brain tumor. His memory should be honored, not just for his contributions in the studio, but also for the huge benefits Elvis’ early live shows got from his stage presence. Quite often Bill’s joking around warmed up the crowd and took some heat off Elvis. Scotty Moore states, “If it hadn’t been for Bill, there were a bunch of shows where we would have died on the vine.”
Bill Black riding his upright base on the Milton Berle Show, April 3, 1956
Bill Black’s bag of tricks included riding his stand-up bass across the stage. In his book “That’s Alright Elvis” Scotty Moore tells of the times on stage when Bill would take off Scotty’s belt while he was doing a guitar solo, and throw it out into the audience.
Elvis and Bill Black on stage in Austin, TX, August 25, 1956
Bill parted company with Elvis in 1958. He went on to considerable success with a string of instrumental hits by Bill Black’s Combo in the early 60’s. He is a true trailblazer in the birth of rock & roll, and should be remembered when “The Legends” salute the 50th anniversary of rock & roll. Bill Black’s spirit will be up on stage with them that night, a legacy from the ‘unsung legend.’
© 2004 Philip R Arnold
Here are the songs on that string of instrumental hits by Bill Black’s Combo. The first three were all million sellers.
Smokie Part 2 #17 – 1959
White Silver Sands #9 – 1960
Josephine #18 – 1960
Don’t Be Cruel #11 – 1960
Blue Tango #16 – 1960
Hearts Of Stone #20 – 1961
Ole Buttermilk Sky #25 – 1961
Twist-Her #26 – 1962
Almost all pictures of Bill Black show him with an upright bass, but here is one taken on September 1, 1957 at Sick’s Seattle Stadium that shows him wielding a Fender electric bass.
Here is a 1962 shot of Bill Black’s Combo. Did you ever see any other band on stage where the bass player is out front and the guitar player is in the back?
If you would like to read up on more about Bill Black’s Combo, here is a link to a story I wrote in 2000 for Elvis International, The Magazine titled “The Music of Bill Black’s Combo.”
So, that’s my tribute to Bill Black, Elvis’ original bass player. I am so glad he will be in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame.
Bill, you deserve it. Congratulations.
© 2009 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net
I just got some news that makes me very happy. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced it will induct DJ Fontana and Bill Black into the Hall on April 4.
Bill Black, Scotty Moore, and DJ Fontana
This is a long overdue recognition. They will be inducted into the Sidemen Category, joining Scotty Moore, who was enshrined back in 2000. Considering the many years that DJ played and recorded with Elvis, it was a surprise he didn’t go in with Scotty. Ever since, DJ’s fans have wondered when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would correct this omission. I was among those who championed his cause, so I would like to reprint an article I wrote for the August 2005 issue of Elvis…The Magazine. It contains considerably more about DJ’s qualifications than the announcement on Graceland’s or the Hall’s websites.
DJ FONTANA BELONGS IN THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME
By Phil Arnold
If you were on the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee, which of these drummers would you pick for the relatively new “Sidemen” category?
DJ Fontana: The beat behind the King. Elvis’ original drummer, who performed and recorded with him from 1955 to 1968.
Benny Benjamin: Motown’s first drummer and the most beloved musician in Hitsville.
Hal Blaine: May well be the most prolific drummer in rock and roll history.
Earl Palmer: Probably the greatest session drummer of all time.
Pretty hard choice isn’t it? Well, the selection committee has already enshrined three of these drummers, and it is time for them to add one more – DJ Fontana.
There can be no arguing with the merits of Benjamin, Blaine, and Palmer. The capsule summaries above come right from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web-site. Benny Benjamin recorded with all the Motown greats like the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Gladys Knight, Martha and the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye. Hal Blaine was a first-call session drummer in Los Angeles, recording with the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Mamas and Papas, the Byrds, Johnny Rivers, the Association, Sonny & Cher, the Grass Roots, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, and Herb Alpert. Earl Palmer started in New Orleans and recorded with Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. Then he moved to Los Angeles and backed Ritchie Valens, Ray Charles, Duane Eddy, The Monkees, Neil Young, and Elvis Costello.
Looking at these resumes, you will note all three men were outstanding session musicians, but none was ever a sideman to one rock star for an extended period of time. DJ Fontana, on the other hand, was a sideman in the truest sense. He performed with Elvis on hundreds of live shows and played drums on 460 RCA Elvis cuts. Plus, he did other session work in Nashville for over 30 years, recording with a veritable who’s who of singers.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame created the Sidemen Category in 2000, and got it right when they picked Scotty Moore among the first five inductees. But, in a move that defies logic, DJ was omitted, and two other drummers, Blaine and Palmer, were selected. Scotty and DJ should have gone in together.
In 2001 the Hall enshrined the other Elvis guitar player of note, James Burton, of TCB band fame. No drummer went into the Hall that year. Another slight to DJ.
In 2002, only one musician, Chet Atkins, was added to the Sidemen list. Why not DJ? Who knows, but it surely wasn’t his lack of credentials.
In 2003, the Hall added a third drummer, Benny Benjamin. This is when the fans of DJ Fontana started to really get upset with the selection process. Rumblings of ”let’s get DJ into the Hall of Fame” were heard at Elvis Week and other gatherings, and on Internet chat groups. Hundreds of letters and petitions went to the Hall extolling the praises of DJ and cheerleading for his inclusion.
As reported in Elvis International magazine a year ago, four of the world’s most famous rock drummers formally approached the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Sidemen Nominating Committee about DJ Fontana’s qualifications. Ringo Starr of the Beatles, Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Levon Helm of The Band, and Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band had it right.
In spite of this intervention by all-star drummers with Hall of Fame credentials, the selection committee ignored DJ again in 2004. Incredibly, they did it again in 2005. The most frustrating thing is that they selected no one to the Sidemen category in either year. If there were no other notable musicians worthy of induction, how could they ignore DJ with such great qualifications?
Maybe we need more people championing his cause. How about a lot more? This writer thinks the time has come for the citizens of Elvis World to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame know we are fed up. We cannot e-mail them, because they do not publish an e-mail address. But they do have snail mail. Please take a few minutes to write a letter to:
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation
1290 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10104
There’s no need to remind them what stupid jerks they are. Instead, you might want to add substance to your plea by emphasizing DJ’s qualifications. To review, they are:
• Elvis’ original drummer.
• Performed and recorded with Elvis from 1955 to 1968.
• Played drums on 460 Elvis recordings.
• Top session musician in Nashville for 30 years.
• Supported by Hall of Fame drummers Ringo Starr of the Beatles and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.
• Fellow Elvis sideman Scotty Moore already inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It’s time to stop the injustice to DJ Fontana. Please send a letter and help get DJ into the Hall of Fame.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold
DJ and Scotty backstage at the Legends Concert, Elvis Week 2004
There is no way to know what changed the mind of the selection committee, but I’d like to think my article played a small part, along with the urgings of those four famous drummers, and many other efforts, both individual and organized. There has even been a website petition to get DJ into the Hall of Fame. Maybe, the voice of the fans has been heard.
I have met DJ a few times at Elvis Week, thanks to Darwin Lamm, Publisher of Elvis…The Magazine. Darwin has promoted many of his “Good Rockin’ Tonight” concerts there, and Scotty and DJ are always headliners. I had breakfast with DJ and Darwin in 2004 and spent a lot of time backstage with DJ and his lovely wife Karen in 2007. DJ is a terrific guy and one of the most popular people in Memphis every August.
DJ, me, and Karen Fontana
I am just as happy that Bill Black was finally recognized, too. It had started to look like he and DJ were a lost cause. Although James Burton was enshrined in 2001, the Hall added no new sidemen inductees from 2003 through 2008. Now that DJ and Bill are in, we can start working on getting Jerry Scheff, Glen D. Hardin and Ronnie Tutt into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
© 2009 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.elvisBlog.net
When Elvis returned to live performances in Las Vegas in 1969, he did two shows a night, seven-days-a-week, for a month, followed by a break of three or four months. His third appearance at the International Hotel went from August 10 to September 7, 1970. It had all the excitement of the previous two, but there was something else going on. A complete MGM film crew was on hand to do the filming for the documentary movie, That’s The Way It Is.
This generated an incredible buzz, not just at the International Hotel, but for the whole city. And guess who was there stirring the pot? Yes, sir, of course, Col. Tom Parker. The Colonel at his best.
Everybody knows where Elvis stayed when he played the International: The Imperial Suite that covered the entire top floor of the hotel. But where did Col. Parker stay? Well, he didn’t do bad, either. He got the entire 4th floor.
So, why would the Colonel need a whole floor? Maybe, just because he could pull it off. You know a man with his negotiating skills would love the challenge of working that perk into Elvis’ contract. But what did Col. Parker do with a whole floor? It’s not like he brought along a lot of buddies like Elvis did, ready to party every night. No, but Col. Parker needed the space for something else.
He arrived in Las Vegas trailed by a staff of attendants from RCA Victor, MGM and the William Morris Agency. He kept all of them busy carrying out his plan for a heavy public relations blitz. And, he also had the complete assistance of many of the hotel’s staff.
Colonel Parker decided that the combination of live shows plus the filming for a movie was a big enough event to warrant its own special name. He decided it would be the “Elvis Summer Festival.”
The hotel staff assigned to him eagerly responded to his decree to staple stuff all over the walls near the 2000-seat Showroom International. The items included:
I hope these items were placed up pretty high on the walls. Otherwise, can you imagine how much of it was stolen by the fans? Hey, that was probably all part of the Colonel’s plan. He had plenty more up on 4th Floor. He could create a fresh buzz each morning by noting how many goodies were missing from the walls.
However, Col. Parker didn’t stop with the Showroom area. He also had the staff staple the PR stuff in all six restaurants, the bay-side pool, and a half-dozen bars. The “Elvis Summer Festival” was in full swing, and Colonel Parker was in the driver’s seat.
I’ll bet the hotel management shuddered when the Colonel had strings of flags hung up around the building’s entrance. Rolling Stone magazine said they “gave the entrance to the huge hotel the look of a used car lot.”
Colonel Parker wasn’t doing all this just to pack people into the showroom. He also had merchandise to sell. The luxurious carpeted steps leading to the casino were graced with brilliant crystal chandeliers – and Col. Parker’s Elvis souvenir stand. Pretty girls sold Elvis Presley photos for $1 and picture books for $1.50. We can imagine that just about everybody coming and going to the casino stopped and looked, and many bought.
The weirdest thing in Col. Parker’s saturation campaign was what all dealers and pit bosses were required to wear – white styrofoam fake straw-hats. And each hat had a wide banner around it, proclaiming “Elvis Summer Festival.” Don’t you just bet those pit bosses were so thrilled to be wearing them? Guests could pick one up for $3.50 at the hotel gift shop.
All of this was engineered at Elvis Central back in the Colonel’s 4th floor lair. Actually, it was called Col. Parker’s “Las Vegas Office,” and the hotel installed wood paneling in one of the large suites to give him a true office environment. However, on the walls outside his office, the colonel had staff hang a gigantic Elvis movie poster, plus banners and flags. A bit farther down the hallway were stacks of styrofoam straw hats.
The Colonel posted a 24-hour guard at the elevator door into his domain, and the guards kept busy by turning away everybody who didn’t belong. However, the disappointed fans were not sent away empty-handed. They were each given an Elvis postcard and an Elvis calendar.
Elvis also had guards at his penthouse suite, and they turned away fans – lots of them. But there weren’t any business meetings going on inside Elvis’ suite like there were down in the Colonel’s. No, Elvis and the boys were having some good parties, because “that’s the way it is.”
© 2008 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net
During the past week, I learned five new things about the blog world and ElvisBlog’s participation in it. Four of the things were good, and the fifth was funny.
The year-end numbers for 2008 are in, and ElvisBlog had a great year. Total hits jumped to 154,000, up from 88,000 in 2007. So, that was obviously one of the good things. Page views were up similarly to 306,000, and some consider that to be the more important measurement.
Also, I recently received an invitation to post ElvisBlog articles on a website called www.collectibles-articles.com. They manage a very thorough Collectibles Articles Directory. They had 1541 articles in 32 categories, but they had only one Elvis story. The decision to boost that led them to me. They are interested in eight or nine of my blog columns that have to do with Elvis goodies. No money, but they say I'll get a nice boost in traffic, because there is a little bio paragraph at the end of every story, with two links to ElvisBlog. I should pick up a bunch of new Elvis fans over time. I have sent in four old columns so far, and they all have been accepted. So, that’s more good.
The initial exploratory e-mail from Mr. Jack Straw at Collectibles-Articles.Com extolled their esteemed PR3 rating from Google. I had no idea what that meant, so I asked. Here is the answer:
“Google's Page Rank system is how they determine what pages are
most important and useful to searchers when they put in search terms.
The ranks go from 0 (lowest) to 10 (only a handful of sites). The
vast majority of sites are skewed at the low end (0 or 1), with
rapidly diminishing numbers of sites as you go up the scale.”
Well, that made me curious, and I e-mailed back and asked if he could look up ElvisBlog’s Google PR number. I was so tickled when he came back with:
“You should be quite proud of a PR4; few niche-focused sites get that high.”
OK, I will be proud. I never suspected ElvisBlog would get a higher number than the one he had been so proud of for his site. So, that was more good.
PR number was not the only thing Mr. Straw extolled. He also noted they were ranked in first place in their category by Google, so I wrote back and asked how he knows that fact. This time, I was a little embarrassed to hear the answer:
“Do a search for Elvis blog or other similar terms and see how Google ranks the sites.”
Duh!! I have done that dozens of times and the answer is still the same every time. If I type Elvis blog in the Google category box, the page that opens up will have ElvisBlog at the top of the list. So, all this time, I could have been saying: “Ranked #1 Elvis blog by Google,” but I was too stupid to know it. Other than the stupid part, this was another good thing.
E-mail brought me something else interesting. A PR lady asked if I would write an article about a party at a restaurant on Elvis’ birthday, January 8, 2009. The restaurant is MAC 24-7 in the Hilton Waikiki. This resulted in the article I posted last week. However, in an e-mail reply from the PR lady, she used a term that confused me. She said, “Great SEO!”
Here we go again. I had to e-mail back and admit my ignorance of that one. She replied:
“SEO means search engine optimization. It’s the process of improving your website traffic from search results. Basically, it means that when you type in “Elvis blog” into a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, you have the best content, link backs (other people linking back to your site), keywords, etc. that make your blog the topped rank.”
Wow. I was starting to get a big head about all this, but then I learned something else that brought me down a few notches.
My blog software allows me to see what people have been searching for on Google when they linked to ElvisBlog. Most of the search items make sense, like Elvis Jumpsuits, for example. But some of them are pretty weird. I couldn’t imagine why anyone had typed in one very strange search term last week, but ElvisBlog made the first page of results.
So, in the same week that it hit me ElvisBlog has this great #1 site rating, I also found out that my creation is #7 in “Crummy Elvis Shit.”
© 2008 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister, All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net