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Interview with Scotty Moore August 1974

'It Was Just Like an Atomic Bomb Going Off”: Elvis Presley Guitarist Scotty Moore Recounts the Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
By Douglas Green | original article August 11, 2022 - From 'Guitar Player' Magazine , August 1974.

The pioneering guitar player reveals the seminal moments of his groundbreaking career in this incredible interview from the GP archives.

Long before there was rock 'n' roll, Scotty Moore (1931-2016) was a rock 'n' roll guitar player.

As Elvis Presley's first guitarist, every note the young man played - including such groundbreaking classics as 'Hound Dog,' 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'Heartbreak Hotel' - was memorized by countless budding guitar players (many of whom have gone on to become legends themselves.)

Moore was among the handful of musicians in the early '50s of whom it can be said, 'They invented rock 'n' roll'.

The following interview extract originally appeared in the August 1974 issue of Guitar Player…

Tell us about your childhood and your early interest in music.

I was born in West Tennessee - Humboldt. My father and two brothers all played, so that's where my first interest came from. They mostly played the country songs of the time.

I was the youngest in the family, so by the time I was old enough to start playing, my brothers had left home, and my dad was too old to care anything about it anymore. So I didn't pursue it very much until I got into the service and formed a couple of bands.

When I came out in '52, I went to Memphis to work for my brother who had a cleaning plant. And in my spare time I formed a band and met Sam Phillips [of Sun Records ] and began getting into recording a bit.

Scotty Moore.
Scotty Moore.

Were you a studio musician with Sun?

Yes, I guess you could call it that. Sam had been into rhythm and blues before that, and with the band that I'd put together we started working on some country product.

What was the name of the group?

The Starlight Wranglers! [laughs] Bill Black was the bass player. The singer's name was Doug Poindexter. We put one record out and were playing some of the clubs around Memphis.

Then along came Elvis.

Bill Black and myself auditioned with him. Sam also had a custom record service, and Elvis had been in a year before and made a record for his mother. Sam liked his voice, and kept his name on file.

At the time, the music business was at a very low ebb, and we were all looking for something that would sell. Sam had me get hold of Elvis, and so Elvis came over to my house one Sunday afternoon. We sat around and played, and Elvis sang a little bit of everything - pop, country, R&B.

So after that I called Sam and said, 'Well, the guy sings good. He doesn't really knock me out, you know, but…'

So Sam says, 'Let's go into the studio and see what he sounds like on tape'. So that's what happened, and the first record came out of that first session.

Scotty Moore and Elvis Presley.
Scotty Moore and Elvis Presley.

What guitar were you playing at the time?

I had a Fender. I don't remember if it was a Telecaster, a Broadcaster, a Lancaster - it was one of those 'casters, I do know that.

Then shortly after that I went to a Gibson, and I've been playing Gibsons ever since. I had a Les Paul model, made just like the small Les Pauls, but it had a bigger body.

An ES-295 with a gold top?

I'm not sure of the number. I played it for about a year, then went to an L-5, then to a Super 400. I've been playing Super 400's ever since.

What was your amp back then?

It was a custom-built Echo-Sonic, made by Ray Butts. Chet Atkins had one, I can't think who had the second, and I had the third one built.

It had a tape, more like a slap-back effect - not the Echoplex we know of now with a repeater. But it just gave a little boost to the sound.

It was awful good if you missed a note. It wouldn't come out so bad. [laughs] I still have that same amp, but of course I also have two or three others.

How did you get a rock 'n' roll sound out of a hollowbody?

That's hard to say, because there wasn't any rock 'n' roll before. So that was it! We couldn't get the highs or bend the strings as far as many players do now, because we didn't use light gauge. We just had to work harder.

The Gretsch Chet Atkins strings were the only ones that would hold up on that particular guitar.

On a couple of earlier guitars, I'd used different ones though. I still use the same Atkins strings now by today's standards they're like rope, they're so big.

So then what happened after the release of Elvis' first record?

The first one wasn't a nationwide thing. It was more in the Southwest: Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas...

We started doing some shows, and it was rough, it was wild. It wasn't an overnight success, by any means. But even in those early days the crowds were just as ecstatic as now, but not as large.

Then we

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