That’s All Right, Elvis: The Untold Story Of Elvis’s First Guitarist And Manager
At first, That’s All Right, Elvis is presented to us as simply the story of Scotty Moore’s life. But, not unexpectedly, the Elvis-less chapters of Moore’s book (especially the seemingly endless details of Moore’s four years in the Navy) are unremarkable. Moore’s early years could stand as the generic life story of most any Tennessee country boy born around 1931.
But when, at Sam Phillips’ request, Scotty Moore takes a break from his country band, the Starlite Wranglers, to audition a pimply 19-year-old with a funny name, his story diverges from the masses, and his biography — told to and written in third person (at Moore’s insistence) by Memphis music historian James Dickerson — really takes off. That’s All Right, Elvis is a worthwhile book, then, not because it tells the Scotty Moore story, but because it is, finally, Scotty Moore’s version of the Elvis Presley story.
That version begins something like this. When unknown singer Elvis Presley hooked up with unknown guitarist Scotty Moore and unknown bassist Bill Black, they were rock ‘n’ roll’s first group, the Blue Moon Boys, and “they thought as one, created as one, performed as one.”
As rock history, this contention seems undeniable, not just because of details provided over the years by the principles and others close to the action, but simply because of how explosively unified those Sun hits actually sound. And as autobiography, this version of events seems no less true.
Flush with the thrill of creation and with the intense, intuitive musical connection he and Elvis shared onstage and in the studio, Moore must certainly have felt as if he and Black were equal players, or nearly so anyway. Of course, not everyone had the same perception. Phillips not only credited those Sun singles to “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill”, rather than the Blue Moon Boys. He also never even bothered to sign Moore and Black to recording contracts; they worked out their own short-lived 50-25-25 split with Elvis themselves.
As Presley soared from regional phenomenon to world-changer, and as charge of Elvis’ career passed from first manager Scotty Moore to, eventually, Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ early promises to share the wealth with his bandmates went unmet. During those whirlwind first three and a half years, a period that saw Presley emerge as a multimillionaire, husband and father Scotty Moore barely earned $27,000 (a generous estimate, really, since it also includes Moore’s film and soundtrack work, which Elvis wasn’t responsible for paying). Likewise, a promised RCA album of instrumentals, featuring Moore and Black as well as D.J. Fontana on drums and Elvis on piano, never materialized.
Moore continued to accompany Elvis in the studio in the late ’50s and early-to-mid-’60s, but his main income was from working for Phillips as a producer and studio manager. That relationship soon withered as well, though, the victim of more broken promises: A Scotty Moore instrumental album was repeatedly promised, then put off, and when a frustrated Moore finally went to Columbia Records to cut The Guitar That Changed The World, Phillips fired him. Along the way, he started his own label, Fernwood Records, to release Thomas Wayne’s “Tragedy”. The Elvis-influenced ballad went to number five pop in 1959, but Fernwood never scored another hit.
And then, after he joined Elvis on the famous ’69 comeback Christmas special, Moore’s story returned to the masses, for the most part, a place where the humble guitarist seems quite at home. The final few chapters of his autobiography are filled with details of infrequent Elvis tribute concerts, descriptions of his guitar collection, and anecdotes surrounding Moore and Fontana’s star-studded 1997 disc, All The King’s Men.
Moore offers no new insights into Presley’s fall (contending it was the Colonel’s fault) and has frustratingly little to say even about his own influential, Chet Atkins-inspired picking. But That’s All Right, Elvis does capture one working musician’s intersection with history. Most of all, it also seems to allow Scotty Moore a chance to forgive Elvis his broken promises, to say that’s all right, friend; thanks for the ride.