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Email Interview With DJ Fontana

Mar 18, 2003
A few weeks back we offered you the chance to ask Elvis’ drummer DJ Fontana some questions. We made a selection and emailed these to DJ Fontana. Unfortunately he became ill and couldn’t answer the questions directly. But fortunately he is well again and found the time to answer them. We’d like to thank Karen Fontana for her help in realizing the interview and of course our readers for mailing us the questions.

Introduction

Q: Elvis gained a lot of new fans last year with the remix of ‘A little less Conversation’ and the #1 album, so for the new fans, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Is there something about DJ Fontana most Elvis fans don’t know?

DJ Fontana: I worked with Elvis from 1954 to 1968. I was a staff drummer on the Louisanna Hayride when Elvis appeared there. The last thing I did with Elvis was the '68 Special.

Q: And by the way, what is you opinion on the “A little Less Conversation’ remix and the ‘new sound’ of the songs you played on the “ELV1S 30 #1 Hits” album?

DJ Fontana: I love the new sounds on the records I played with Elvis and Elvis would have loved them also. I think they did a great job on "A Little Less Conversation" remix.

Q: Besides Elvis, which other “famous names” did you work with?

DJ Fontana: I have worked with a lot of famous artists, Ron Wood, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Carl Perkins, Lee Rocker, Cheap Tricks, Levon Hehms, and a lot of Country stars.

Q: To get things started, some of our default questions, what in general, is your favourite Elvis stuff? Name your favourite Elvis song, album and movie (and why of course)?

DJ Fontana: Elvis' Gospel music is my favorite. My favorite Elvis movie is King Creole, I think he did his best acting in that movie. I think my favorite song, besides the gospel is Don't. I just like that song.

Q: You recently wrote a book with Darwin Lamm, this was a very interesting read with a lot of images form you and the guys on tour in the fifties. Do you have a story left which wasn’t in the book? And if you have several more, will there be another book?

DJ Fontana: I just finished a new book called “The Beat Behind The King” (see the link to the review below). It came out in August. Maybe in the future there might be another book, you never know.

Q: You also have your own website, do you use the internet for anything else than your own website? Perhaps as a way to be in contact with fans?

DJ Fontana: I have a website www.DJFontana-TCB.Com (see link below). The fans can reach me through there. All the letters get forwarded to my e-mail.

Some 50’s questions

Q: When you were on tour with Elvis, what was the typical stop in a city like? Did you have any favorite cities you stopped? Were you all able to go out to a restaurant for instance? What was Elvis's favorite meal to order out?

DJ Fontana: When I traveled with Elvis we only had a little time to get from one town to another, so we would just stop anywhere to eat, than get back in the car and drive to the next town.

Q: When Elvis came to Canada in April 1957 to play Toronto and Ottawa, what was his reaction to the Montreal show being cancelled due to complaints from the Catholic Church in Montreal. And do you have any special memories of Elvis' Canadian tour in 1957?

DJ Fontana: Elvis reaction to Montreal show being canceled was he never thought he was doing anything wrong. He could not understand. The Canadian tour was great.

Q: What did you do when Elvis left for the Army and even for Europe in 1958?

DJ Fontana: When Elvis left for the army I did session work in Nashville and did a little traveling with other artists.

Some 60’s questions

Q: When you played with Elvis in the 68 Comeback Special, did you know that would be the last time you'd play together? Did you expect him to have you in his live band? Did you ever meet again?

DJ Fontana: We did the '68 Special, it was the last thing I did with Elvis. Elvis asked Scotty, me and the Jordanaires to go back on the road with him, but we all decided to stay in Nashville and continue our careers here. I did see Elvis from time to time after the '68 special.:

Q: What is the one thing you remember ELVIS said or did during the 68 special that sticks out in your mind?

DJ Fontana: Elvis was at his best on the '68 Special and he loved it.

Q: What were the reasons for you deciding to cease recording and performing with Elvis (apart from the '68 special of course)? Do you regret the decision?

DJ Fontana: Scotty, the Jordanaires and I decided to stay in Nashville and do session work. I have some regrets about leaving, but I enjoyed every minute I was with Elvis.

Q: Could you tell us the difference between the drummers Ronnie Tutt and DJ Fontana

DJ Fontana: Ronnie Tutt is an excellent drummer and a great person, everyone has different ways of playing, I think Ronnie was prefect for Elvis in the 70's.

Q: Looking back at Elvis triumphant return to live act in 1969, do you think yours (and Scotty' one) style could have been updated when matched to Elvis' vision of his music, and what he really did from then on?

DJ Fontana: Scotty and I could have matched Elvis' music in the 70's, but like I said we decided to stay in Nashville and do the session work.

Questions on Elvis

Q: How do you rate Elvis' voice, in the different stages of his career like 1954, 1958, the early sixties, the 68 TV Show and Las Vegas Opening 69, and Elvis in the 70's and subsequent years? If possible with a professional technical analysis.

DJ Fontana: Elvis had the best voice ever. He had a range that most singers wish for, Elvis was just the best.

Q: What is the greatest memory of your time with Elvis and do you think you would have continued touring with the Blue Moon Boys had Bill Black still been with us?

DJ Fontana: I guess my greatest memory of Elvis is when he gave me the horseshoe ring. Scotty, Bill and I would have not continued touring with the Blue Moon Boys, because we each were doing our own things. Before Bill died, he had the Bill Black Combo.

Q: What is the most interesting thing that comes to mind when you think of Elvis Presley.

DJ Fontana: I have so many memories of Elvis, I am proud that is was my friend.

Q: Did you ever visit Graceland? If so, could you describe the experience(s)?

DJ Fontana: I went to Graceland as a friend of Elvis, so I was just visiting a friend. Of course it was a great experience for me.

Of course our readers had some “what if” questions for you:

Q: If you had known that the last time you met Elvis would have been the last time, is there anything that you would have wanted to tell him.

DJ Fontana: I would thank Elvis for being my friend. I would tell him he changed my life.

Q: A question a fan needs to ask to someone who was with Elvis in the studio. Can you tell from your memory if there are any unreleased tracks recorded by Elvis you know of that have still not been released?

DJ Fontana: It is hared to remember what you did 40 years ago, I don't know if there are any unreleased tracks.

Q: Elvis had always performed cover versions of all kinds of music. If Elvis were alive today, and you were touring with him, what kind of modern songs do you think you would perform?

DJ Fontana: I think Elvis would be doing a lot of Gospel and I am sure he would have his own new style.

Q: And finally, if by miracle you had the opportunity to ask Elvis one question - what would it be and why?

DJ Fontana: I would ask Elvis if he would want to go back on the road like we did in the '50.I think it would be fun.

Q: If you had known that the last time you met Elvis would have been the last time, is there anything that you would have wanted to tell him.

DJ Fontana: If the last time I saw Elvis I knew it would be my last I would thank him for touching my life. Elvis changed my life and I owe a lot to him.