Remembering DJ Fontana

DJ Fontana at center of Band

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.

DJ Fontana book - The Beat Behind the King


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.

DJ Fontana at Drums


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.


DJ Fontana - Life on the Road CD

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.”


DJ Played with 20 Singers

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.


DJ Played with 19 more Singers

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.


DJ in Lederhosen - G.I. Blues

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.

DJ's Solo Scene in Loving You

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.

DJ Fontana, Nancy Shockley & Louis Black at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

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.

Max Weinburg Article in Elvis the Magazine

Max Weinburg Article in Elvis the Magazine


Phil Arnold, Joe Esposito & DJ Fontana

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.

DJ Signing Books at Elvis Week 2007

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.



DJ Looking Spiffy at Elvis Week 2007


Goodbye DJ. We’ll miss you. Say hi to Elvis for us.


© 2018 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved


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Elvis, Elvis Presley, and Graceland are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.


19 responses to “Remembering DJ Fontana

  1. Hi Phil,

    A very touching tribute to DJ Fontana. He was a legend in his own right. I admired him; he always had kind words about Elvis & some funny stories! RIP DJ.
    I am very interested in his book. I can’t find it anywhere. I would be interested in buying this book or any of your Elvis books/pictures if you decide to put them up for sale.

    • Hi Deanna: Thanks for your nice words about DJ Fontana. I answered your other topic by private email.


  2. Karen Middleton

    What a nice tribute to DJ Fontana. Great job Phil.

  3. Paul Maringelli

    Sorry to learn that DJ died. He was an excellent drummer. I was fortunate to meet him once back in the late 1980s. He was performing with the “Sun Session” musicians at “The Lone Star Cafe” in New York City. During his break I offered to buy him a beer. He said, “No, thank you. They give me beer for free, but I’ll sit at your table.” He hung out with my wife and myself and our friends. He was such a nice guy, laughing and joking with us.
    I told him that he was a big influence on me to start playing the drums. I told him that when I was small and my mom watched Elvis perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, every boy in the whole world wanted to be Elvis, but I wanted to be the guy behind the drums!
    R.I.P. Mr. Fontana.

    • Hi Paul: What a wonderful experience you had with DJ. It beats my experience when he joined a table of folks at Elvis Week and had a cup of coffee with us.

      Phil Arnold

  4. Norton Coll Oliveira

    Re visit of D.J.Fontana to Brazil in 1991, some few exclusive photos showing him and Brazilian fans in Sao Paulo are available, if you can use them

    • Hi Norton: Thanks for the offer on the photos, but I’ve already got a file jammed full of pictures of DJ. We will both miss him.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

  5. Norton Coll Oliveira

    D.J.Fontana visited Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1991 to promote the re-release a lot of BMG Elvis Albums.

  6. I will miss him very much. He has played at the Tupelo Elvis Festival the first week of June for many years. Loved sitting at Charlies Club with Karen and DJ, listening to great stories.

    • Hi Carol: I treasure my contact with DJ backstage during the Good Rockin’ Tonight concerts at Elvis Week. But I believe you spent even more time with DJ than me. We are lucky we had the chance.


  7. Selma Snoodijk

    Hi Phil, what a great post for all of us to reflect on. It brought to mind the chance I had to host DJ for dinner one evening when he was in Brisbane Australia working with the ETA I was managing. Together DJ and Ross Henderson held a range of concerts to support the release of the Elvis perfume, gosh back in the 90s. It was such a pleasure to chat with DJ in the quiet, “unrushed” setting of my dining room. He shared some great stories but what I remember best was what a very nice person DJ was. And that smile of his – 1000 watts that lit up any area. As Elvis fans we owe so much to all these guys. Thanks again for another fab post, filled with facts and lots and lots of heart.

    • Hi Selma: Lot’s of folks have been fortunate to spend time with DJ, but you had real quality time with him in your living room. I’m envious. Thanks for your nice words about my post.


  8. Thank-You Phil, for that Beautiful and Touching Tribute to DJ!! I never had the pleasure of meeting him. He sure Loved Elvis and the fans! Thank-You DJ for the Wonderful Memories. God Bless You, RIP and God Speed.

    • Hi Tracy. Very nicely put. I know many fans feel exactly the same way as you about DJ. Thanks for the nice words about my post.


  9. Clementine Moriarty

    Loved your post, Phil. TYVM! I just may try to buy the book, too! He was always a Gentleman. Dominic Joseph Fontana RIP

    • Hi Clementine: Thanks for the complement. I will probably put DJ’s book up for sale on the next Offerings from the Fuzzy Room. I decided a while ago to sell all my Elvis books, but this will be a hard one to let go.


  10. Hello Phil: I make it a habit to check various Elvis news sites every day, and when I saw that D.J. Fontana had passed away, I felt a sadness that I can’t really explain. The end of an era for sure. I was so lucky and blessed to have met some of these people associated with Elvis Presley during all of those great Elvis Weeks when Darwin Lamm was hosting and producing the Good Rockin Tonight concerts. Those were the best Elvis Weeks. One could see Carl Perkins, meet Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, and listen to their stories about Elvis during Conversations On Elvis. I even met D.J. once in Tupelo in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn and he was as gracious and friendly as he could be. Sorry for waxing nostalgic, but boy, I sure do miss the excitement of being around these legends when they were in Memphis. I also remember when you worked that security detail.

    • Hi Gerard: I share your sentiments exactly. We were lucky to make it to Elvis Week when these great guys were still around.


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