D.J. Fontana, a Shreveporter and one of the rock world’s legendary drummers, will be honored in Nashville this weekend.
Fontana, who was Elvis' drummer during the singer’s pioneer years, will be honored Saturday with the Church’s Chicken Legends Series Award. Fontana will be one of three top drummers honored at the Music City Center during the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) / World’s Fastest Drummer World Finals. Those drummers are W.S. Holland, who played with Johnny Cash, and Richie Albright, who worked with Waylon Jennings.
Born Dominic Joseph Fontana on March 15, 1931, he performed with Presley 14 years, after being hired to provide percussion for the then-unknown Mississippi singer in late 1954, though some sources also say he was brought on board in 1955. Fontana had been an in-house drummer with the Louisiana Hayride, the popular radio show in the Municipal Auditorium sponsored by radio station KWKH and its owner at the time, The Times. Fontana performed on almost 500 RCA recordings for Elvis during that time and became one of the nation’s most recognized drummers. Songs on which he performed include “Jailhouse Rock", "Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “All Shook Up,” “Little Sister,” “Return To Sender,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and “Viva Las Vegas”.
The last time he performed with Elvis was on the career-changing 1968 NBC television special that served as Presley’s comeback vehicle after the hiatus of the "Movie Years". Fontana noted, “I learned the value of simplicity at the Hayride. I heard Scotty (Moore) and Bill (Black) and Elvis one night and knew that I couldn’t mess up that sound. That’s why I always play what I feel. If that won’t work, I just won’t do it again. I think the simple approach comes from my hearing so much big band music. I mixed it with rockabilly.” Fontana was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2009 and also entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the sideman category, an honor shared by another local music legend associated with Presley and a host of other performers, guitarist James Burton.