I recently e-mailed DJ Fontana’s wife Karen to ask who would be introducing DJ at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on April 4. She graciously wrote back and told me it would be Max Weinberg. Although this made perfect sense to me, I knew many Elvis fans might wonder “who?” So, here is the story of Max Weinberg’s connection with DJ.
First, Max Weinberg is a noted drummer in his own right. Max became a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in 1974, and he recorded and toured with Springsteen for fifteen years. Since 1993, he has been musical director of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, where his Max Weinberg 7 is widely regarded as the best band on late night TV.
Neither of these achievements provided the important contact with DJ. That occurred when Max did research for his critically acclaimed rock history, The Big Beat, in which he interviewed fourteen of rock's greatest drummers.
One of the famous drummers he interviewed was DJ Fontana, who had been his boyhood idol. At the age of five Max saw the 1956 “Ed Sullivan Show” on which Elvis Presley appeared. Unlike other people, Max was not fascinated with Elvis, but with Elvis' drummer, DJ Fontana.
In 2003, the Hall of Fame inducted its third drummer into the Sidemen category. It was Motown’s Bennie Benjamin, who was certainly deserving, but this caused Max Weinberg to think “Why not DJ?” Max contacted three other famous drummers from his book to ask them to co-sign a letter to the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. It would extoll DJ achievements and urge that he be inducted in the upcoming Class of 2004. These drummers were already members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Ringo Starr of the Beatles, Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, and Levon Helm of the The Band. All three drummers jumped at the chance to help.
You would think a serious letter from esteemed Hall of Fame members would get serious consideration, but it did not. The Hall turned down their proposal in a form letter. What a total lack of respect for these top-echelon drummers, who pointed out the major omission of recognition for one of their peers.
In 2005, Max Weinberg was still campaigning for DJ’s induction into the Hall of Fame. He authored an article in Elvis… The Magazine titled “Presley’s Drummer and Bassist Unjustly Excluded from Hall of Fame.”
Here are excerpts from his article.
…October 16, 1954… was the date of the first historic meeting between Presley and Fontana, his original and longtime drummer. Of course, as millions of Elvis fans around the world are aware, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black were with Elvis that evening when their struggling trio was booked to debut on the famous “Louisiana Hayride” radio show…
Elvis asked DJ, the house drummer at the “Hayride,” to sit in. When DJ laid into that big backbeat, the world exploded. Levon Helm… remembers seeing this new Memphis band play at a high school dance in Marianna, Ark. “With DJ planting the beat, the music suddenly had some architecture,” he said. Can you imagine? A high school dance?
From that fateful autumn day in 1954, DJ Fontana, along with Elvis, Scotty and Bill, cut a path unequalled in rock ‘n roll history….
Presley was among the first Hall of Fame inductees in 1986. Scotty Moore was in the first class of so-called “sidemen” inducted. In that light, DJ’s and Bill’s current status is simply unjust… These specific exclusions will not be satisfactorily addressed until time as DJ Fontana and Bill Black join their bandmates in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Max Weinberg’s magazine article had the very accurate subtitle “Two Sidemen Deserve Rock Honor.” On Wednesday, April 4, 2009, this will finally happen, and no one will be happier than Max Weinberg. He is the perfect choice to introduce DJ at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
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