Elvis Presley drummer D.J. Fontana dies, aged 87

DJ Fontana with Elvis and band
(Image credit: DJ Fontana (left) with Bill Black, Scotty Moore and Elvis (Getty))

Elvis Presley's first regular drummer D.J. Fontana has died, aged 87. 

His wife, Karen Fontana, told The Associated Press that her husband died in his sleep in Nashville on Wednesday night. Fontana had been suffering complications after breaking his hip in 2016.

Born Dominic Joseph Fontana in 1931, Fontana first played with Elvis Presley and his band – guitarist Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black – at the Louisiana Hayride in 1954. “They had a unique sound as it was,” he said, “so I said, the best thing I can do is not get in the way. Don’t play no crashes, no noise. So I just played a real easy rhythm for them. And it worked out fine. That’s why they wanted, I guess.”

Early promo shot of the Elvis Presley band.

Early promo shot of the Elvis Presley band. (Image credit: Early promo shot)

DJ Fontana went on to play for Presley for 14 years, from 1954 to 1968. While he didn’t contribute to Presley’s Sun Studios recordings, when Elvis moved to RCA Fontana was part of the studio band that recorded rock’n’roll classics like Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock, Blue Suede Shoes and many more. 

In total, it’s estimated that he played on around 460 Elvis tracks and appeared in many of his movies. 

In 1997, Fontana and guitarist Scotty Moore reunited for the All The King’s Men album, with Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood and The Band’s drummer Levon Helm. ”Elvis and Scotty and Bill were making good music, but it wasn't rock n' roll until D.J. put the backbeat into it," commented Helm.

Bruce Springsteen's Max Weinberg was among those who paid tribute: ”He was my hero, and he made me become a drummer,” he said. "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."

Contemporary guitarist Duane Eddy, commented:  “The band is back together now. Rest In Peace, DJ Fontana.” 

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Scott Rowley
Content Director, Music

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy of online and print brands like Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar etc. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine for 10 years and Editor of Total Guitar for 4 years and has contributed to The Big Issue, Esquire and more. Scott wrote chapters for two of legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's books (For The Love Of Vinyl, 2009, and Gathering Storm, 2015). He regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club, and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie