Pianist Floyd Cramer, a self-taught player who became one of the key session players during the “Nashville Sound” era, was elected posthumously to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cramer joins a select group of topflight instrumentalists whose contributions are so monumental that they merit recognition even if they’re not ostensibly rock musicians.
Cramer’s trademark was the “slip note,” a technique in which he struck two notes simultaneously, doing it so smoothly that it seemed each one led into another. Cramer excelled on ballads, providing a seamless, floating background and embellishing the arrangement without ever dominating or overpowering it. Cramer’s versatility also made him a standout, as he could play country, rock, pop, or even jazz with ease. His peak commercial period came during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when his piano lines were heard on songs by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline and the Everly Brothers among others.
Cramer began pursuing a professional career after high school, and garnered some early fame by being the pianist on the heralded Louisiana Hayride radio show in Shreveport, La. During this period, Cramer backed such artists as Hank Williams, Sr., Webb Pierce and Lefty Frizzell. He moved to Nashville in 1955, where his reputation soared following his appearance on Presley’s 1956 Nashville sessions. The line-up also included guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, drummer D.J. Fontana, and lap-steel guitarist Jimmy Day.
However, Cramer wasn’t merely a great session star. He also enjoyed solo success, recording 50 instrumental albums and winning a Grammy in 1979 for Best Country Instrumental with the single “My Blue Eyes.” His most famous song is “Last Date,” a 1960 single that reached the number two spot on the pop charts. He had two other top 10 hits the next year, “On The Rebound” and “San Antonio Rose.”
Cramer died of cancer in Nashville in 1998. Other sidemen inducted included legendary Motown drummer Benny Benjamin and saxophonist Steve Douglas.