Perhaps you do the same thing I do when musicians we love pass away. Last year when Tom Petty and Chuck Berry died, I pulled out old albums and CDs and listened to their music as a way to connect with them and commemorate their impact on me.
But when DJ Fontana died two days ago, it didn’t seem as satisfying to listen to Elvis songs. I wanted something unique to DJ. Then I remembered I had his book.
Although I had read it when it came out in 2002, I sat down and read it again. I was wonderful. Everyone who has met DJ knows he is a down-home good ole boy, and his personality shines through the words.
But there was a special bonus in DJ’s book. It contained a CD titled “Life on the Road,” and for some reason, I had never listened to it before.
Well, I plopped that thing into the player and was mesmerized for the next 23 minutes. It was like DJ and I were sitting together at a bar, and he was telling all these wonderful old stories. Now, I’m going to miss him even more.
I’m not sure, but I suspect that the audio on this CD was the taped interview that publisher Darwin Lamm used to write the book chapter also titled “Life on the Road.” Of course, some language was cleaned up and some other editing changed things a bit. There were also short stories that ended up in the chapters titled “Recording with Elvis” and “68 Special.”
Tributes to DJ Fontana are all over the web now, and I would like to offer you something different than the same stuff you’ve already read. For example, DJ was a much in-demand session musician in his career after Elvis. This page from his book lists twenty artists he has played or recorded with.
Here are nineteen more. And you could add a few more that came along after 2002. I’m not sure why mostly pictures of Elvis were used on these two pages. There are plenty of other photos in the book, half or even full page shots, and DJ is in most of them.
Bet you won’t see this picture in any other tribute to DJ. It was taken on the set of G.I. Blues. All the guys playing in the band in the German bar were dressed in lederhosen. DJ tells a story in the book about how he had to allow make-up to be put on his knees “to give them a bit of color.’
DJ appeared in three other Elvis movies: Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole.
This is DJ’s solo scene in Loving You where he comes out of a high school after a spring hop and removes the sign that announced the performance they just finished.
This is DJ and wife Karen walking on the red carpet to his 2009 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Bill Black was also voted in posthumously.
This is DJ accepting his statuette. Beside him are Bill Black’s children, Nancy and Louis. At the far right is Max Weinburg, the drummer in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, who inducted DJ. Weinburg had campaigned for years to get DJ inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
This is a picture of me standing behind Joe Esposito and DJ Fontana at Elvis Week 2007. I was supposedly doing security detail (making sure nobody pushed in line or stole the books they were selling and signing), but all the fans were well behaved and it was just fun for me. I met Al Wertheimer a few minutes after this picture was snapped.
This is a shot from behind the table. DJ signed a lot of books that day. Everybody loved DJ.
I’d like to close with words from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as they remembered DJ:
Drummer DJ Fontana was a rockabilly icon and the indispensable pulse at the center of Elvis Presley’s songs. For fourteen years he played alongside of Elvis as part of the band. Together they recorded hundreds of songs and blew audiences away with rollicking, fun-loving, informal jams.
Goodbye DJ. We’ll miss you. Say hi to Elvis for us.
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