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RIP to rock 'n' roll's guitar legend

12:00am | & News

Next year will mark 40 years since the untimely death of Elvis Presley, the "King of Rock 'n' Roll".

But this week saw the passing of one of the undoubted 'kingmakers', the people who helped Elvis achieve fame and fortune. Pioneering rock 'n' roll guitarist Scotty Moore, the last surviving member of Elvis's original band, died on Tuesday at his Nashville home at the age of 84. He is credited with helping Elvis shape his unique sound and style, having played lead guitar on many of his earliest and biggest hits, including Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock.

Born near Gadsden, Tennessee in December 1931, Winfield Scott Moore III learned to play the guitar at the age of eight to entertain family and friends. After four years in the US Navy, having enlisted underage in 1948, Moore moved to Memphis and formed a country band, The Starlite Wranglers.

It was Sam Phillips at Sun Records who put him together with a teenage singer he had just auditioned – Elvis Presley. Phillips believed that Moore's lead guitar and the double-bass of his fellow Starlite Wranglers member Bill Black were all that was needed to back up Presley's vocals and rhythm guitar. It didn't take long for him to be proved right, as a string of early hits followed beginning with "That's All Right", regarded as a seminal moment in the birth of rock 'n' roll.

As Elvis's fame and popularity grew, he and his band – named The Blue Moon Boys and later joined by drummer DJ Fontana – toured the USA playing live concerts, appearing on TV shows and recording new material. Moore also became Elvis's first personal manager, helping shape his image, but there was an enforced break in their partnership when Presley was drafted into the army for two years in 1958.

During that time Moore worked with a number of other artists, reuniting with Elvis on his return from military service in 1960. He went on to play on many more hits, including Surrender, Rock-a-Hula Baby, Good Luck Charm, She's Not You and You're the Devil in Disguise. He and the other Blue Moon Boys also had small walk-on parts in several of Elvis's movies, including Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and GI Blues.

Influenced by guitar fingerpicking legend Chet Atkins, Moore developed his own distinctive style playing a series of Gibson hollow body electric guitars, notably the Gibson ES-295. It was nicknamed "the guitar that changed the world" for pioneering the rock 'n' roll sound in the hands of Moore and others.

In retrospect Scotty Moore is recognised as a true pioneer of the enduring rock 'n' roll style and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. He is also cited as a major inspiration by many later guitarists, including the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards.

"When I heard Heartbreak Hotel I knew what I wanted to do in life," said Richards. "It was as plain as day. All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play and sound like that. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty."

Moore would later work with Richards, as well as other artists including Carl Perkins, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood. He also played with Elvis again on the legendary NBC TV show known as "The '68 Comeback Special", playing many of the greatest hits and helping reignite Presley's career.

In 2009 Scotty Moore was ranked 29th in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, but for devotees of rock 'n' roll and loyal fans of its undisputed king, Elvis Presley, Moore will always be number one.

To watch a short video of Scotty Moore talking about his first Gibson guitar and the first time he met Elvis, click here.

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