Monday, August 01, 2016

Scotty Moore Influenced Me: Henri Gann Trekkers

On Jul 4, 2016, America's Independence Holiday Weekend, former Singaporean and an American citizen today, Henri Gann wrote:

Hi Andy,

When I received an email from my fellow
Trekkers George Wang on the passing of Scotty Moore, it brought back lots of memories on our days in Singapore playing the Elvis music in the 60's before we had The Trekkers. 

I would like to share my thoughts on Scotty Moore and how his music had inspired our band in later years. I am sure that your reader will have their own Elvis experience to share after reading this.

Who was Scotty Moore? 

Scotty Moore died recently. Who was Scotty Moore? If you have listened to Elvis's music, you have heard of Scotty.  He rose to prominence playing the lead guitar in Elvis first years and was hero to many musicians. As Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said,  "Everyone else wanted to be Elvis; I only wanted to be Scotty."

To the guitar enthusiast, Scotty Moore's name is synonymous with a finger-picking, open rockabilly rhythm on the acoustic guitar. His guitar playing definitely had the hallmark of Chet Atkins. He was one of the first to experiment with playing open chords and a pioneer in using the tape delay system to exaggerate the rhythm/solo guitar sound.

Scotty was Elvis's lead guitarist before Elvis gained national recognition. Together with his famous bassist Bill Black and later on with his drummer Fontana, Scotty and the "Blue Moon Boys" trio ( picture 5 ) accompanied Elvis in many of his earliest hits. 

These include classics like Don't Be Cruel, Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, Hard Headed Woman and Hound Dog, Mean Woman Blues, I've Got a Woman, Loving You, Don't, and Blue Moon of Kentucky. Many of these recording were done in Sam Philips' Sun Studio, which later on became famous because of Elvis. Scotty's unique guitar style is on full display on Elvis's "That's All Right Mama" and "Mystery Train."  

Scotty was not just central to Elvis's music, but was also a part of many of Elvis's early films like Loving You, G.I Blues, and King Creole. In the movie "Jailhouse Rock," starring Elvis, Scotty and his trio can be seen giving one of their best performances.

Scotty's style is perhaps one of the most imitated in rock music. Artists like George Harrison, Hank Marvin, Jeff Beck, and Chet Atkins all emulate the guitarist's style. Likewise, Scotty's rhythm and solo have been adapted by Eric Clapton and Mark Knopler. ( see YouTube link below )

I have been an Elvis fan since the early 1960's. Watching Elvis movies at the Cathay or Alhambra was a favorite past time of mine. Like many people in those days, I did not appreciate the fullness of Scotty Moore's contribution to Elvis' sound. 

Now, when I listen to Elvis's hits , I can fully appreciate the dimension Scotty added to the rhythm in Elvis's music.  His last performance with Elvis was in the Comeback Special TV broadcast of 1968.  In the broadcast, Scotty had his favorite Gibson Super 400 acoustic guitar  on stage. In that performance, it's clear how his guitar accompaniment completed Elvis overall performance. Without Scotty, Elvis's sound would have been very different.

I never realized how Scotty's style had influenced me personally until I came across an old photograph  of my friends and me in the early 60's playing Elvis's music. This was before we had the Trekkers*. With my best friend George Wang my and my lifetime buddy Brother Johnny Gan, we played Scotty's accompaniment to our lead singer Israel Lim to the Elvis tunes. 

Even though we had never performed on stage, we had great fun playing Elvis music and especially Hound Dog, Don't Be Cruel and Jailhouse Rock. Years later we found Israel playing bass with The Crescendos (Singapore 60's vocal group).

When I heard that Scotty Moore had passed away at the age of 84, reading about Scotty was the next best thing I could do to feel his pulse in Elvis's music. 

This was what he said on his first jam session with Elvis,

"We were getting ready to call it off, because, you know, we had to work the next day. The door to the control room was open about half way, and Elvis just started beating the snot out of his guitar—acting the fool and singing—and Bill grabbed his bass and started playing along with him. Sam poked his head out of the door—this was before mixing consoles had a talk back button—and he said, 'What are you guys doing? That sounds pretty good. Why don’t you keep doing it.' So I got my guitar, ran through it a couple of times, and that was it. That was the beginning of, how do you say it—all hell breaking loose!" 
                Watch Scotty Moore on the left. (Raw Elvis: 3 piece band)

They were rehearsing " That's All Right Mama" ( originally written and sung by blues singer Arthur Crudup ) with producer Sam Philips at his studio.

Seeing Elvis live in concert had to be a magical experience not to mention the concert of a young Elvis.  In his memoirs, Scotty was able to share this feeling with us in their first concert.

"Oh, yeah. The first live show we played with Elvis was at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, opening up for Slim Whitman. Elvis was trying to sing and play guitar—he was sort of standing on his toes—and, you know, back then you wore these big baggy britches. And he started going, and his legs were shaking those loose pants around, and the girls were screaming. 

We did two shows that night, and when we finished the first show, Elvis asked, 'What happened? How come those girls were screaming?' We told him, 'The girls were going crazy because you were up there on your tiptoes, shakin’ your legs. Do more of it!' And that’s really where it started—that first live show."

Without Elvis, we may never have discovered Scotty. His music was inspired only when he played with Elvis. When he broke up with Elvis, he stayed away from his guitar for many years. In those time, he revealed that he could not replay the stints he did with Elvis without his presence. 

His contribution to Elvis's music was not recognized for many years. Elvis died in 1977, and Scotty Moore was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until the year 2000 and the Memphis Hall of Famein 2015. 

A special thank you note to my daughter Carolyn Gan for editing this transcript on Scotty Moore.

Written by Henri Gann (left), an inspirational piece indeed. He is a successful business man in the US and takes time to reflect on his youthful days in Singapore 60's. Thank you Henri.

Images: from Personal Collection and Google as selected by Gann.
You Tube Videos: from Rolling Stone magazine.
                             Watch Moore again with 'Hound Dog' solo.


alan chrisman (you tube) said...

In honor of Scotty Moore, lead guitarist who passed on June 28, 2016 for Elvis... Here Moore is playing solo lead on, " Blue Suede Shoes" on Milton Berle's TV Show in 1956.

Shuggie B. Goode (You tube) said...

I like how Bill Black looks at Scotty Moore real quick so as to warn him that he's about to do his classic wing flapping move on the dog house bass! This footage is priceless. Scotty, Bill, Elvis and DJ Fontana = Rockabilly.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Henry,
Thank you very much for your article. It must have taken you some time to write such an interesting piece with images, videos and all, selecting them with precision and care.

i can understand why you are so successful in what you have been doing all these years, as a person who helps others to increase their wealth, again with precision and care.

Your article has given me a chance to put up Moore's performance video with Presley singing, "Blue Suede Shoes", and like Shuggie mentioned, the footage is priceless.


henri gann said...

Thanks Andy !
Enjoyed keeping up with the Singapore 60s on your blog.


Another great article from your blog. Congrats


Hi Andy... a wonderful blog... with lots of memories of the 60s local music... keep them coming buddy... Cheers

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you John and Randy for support. Henri Gann, with his group, THE TREKKERS came in 3rd placing for Cliff Richard and the Shadows competition in 1962 in Singapore. The winners were THE STOMPERS while THE STYLERS came in second (their rhythmist being Randy Lee, so popular on Facebook today).

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henri gann said...

For the record Andy, the Trekkers never participated in a Cliff Richard and Shadows contest. I believe we participated in two Shadows contest one in Refiffusion and the other at the New World. We won the Shadows contest at the Rediffusion and we were placed second at the New World. I know the latter show was in 1963 just before we disbanded and that was the one when Swee Leong came back stage after the contest to ask us why we could'nt kick our legs and do the Shadows walk. I thought the Quest came in first with their Shadows walk but I don't remember any group called the Stompers or Stylers. I thought I had to clarify this as my drummer George recently asked me what was all that about that he read on the internet. In any case I am just flattered that someone still remember the Trekkers after 50 plus years. Happy Trekkin' !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Henri for keeping the record straight. The information I received was from The Stylers write-up on their CD BOX SET called, "Our Songs. Lagu Lagu Kita" (Warner Brothers 2011) of which I have a set.

I always believe in authenticity and proper historical details even if it is about local pop musicians. Sometimes we make mistakes but sometimes facts are published without prior knowledge or research.

I shall try to clarify with Randy Lee (rhythmist) with whom I am in touch and inform you soon.

henri gann said...

D.J. Fontana ...Elvis Presley's first and longtime drummer, has died at 87, his wife said Thursday.
"Elvis and Scotty and Bill were making good music, but it wasn't rock n' roll until D.J. put the backbeat into it," the Band's Levon Helm told The Associated Press in 2004.
"He was my hero, and he made me become a drummer," Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen's longtime drummer, told the AP during a telephone interview Thursday. "I was 5 years old when I saw him and Elvis and Scotty and Bill play 'Hound Dog' on television and it just swept me away."
Fontana was there for Presley's first wave of success, from such hit singles as "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" to his increasingly frenzied live shows and hip-shaking appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and other TV programs. He played on many soundtracks — and was occasionally seen on camera — for Presley's '50s and '60s movies. He was on the "comeback" Christmas TV special of 1968 that featured Presley and fellow musicians jamming on a tiny stage before a studio audience, with Fontana keeping time on a guitar case. Widely cited for reviving Presley's career, that show was his first live performance in years and the last time Moore and Fontana worked with Elvis, who died in 1977.
"Elvis would always want to go back and talk about the early days when there were four of us in a car, Me, Scotty, Bill and Himself," Fontana told the fan site Elvis Australia.
"He told me one day, he said, 'You know, I wish I wasn't Elvis.' And that struck me funny — even back then. You know he kinda wanted to get away for a while. I think he should have retired for about seven or eight years, and then come back — you know. And then he might still be with us."- adrain sainz and hillel italie, The Associated Press