Former Elvis Presley Drummer D.J. Fontana Dies at 87

D.J. Fontana, the drummer on early Elvis Presley hits like "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Heartbreak Hotel," died on Wednesday at 87.

Fontana's son, David Fontana, shared the sad news on his Facebook page late Wednesday.

"I told everyone that I would keep you posted," David Fontana wrote. "My Dad passed away in his sleep at 9:33 Tonight. He was very comfortable with no pain. I will post more [tomorrow] when I have more [information]. We ask for privacy at this time. Thank you for your love and prayers."

Fontana played drums for Presley from 1954 to 1968, a period that stretched from Presley's early songs to the famous '68 Comeback Special. According to The Tennessean, he appeared on more than 450 Presley recordings.

Fontana was born Dominic Joseph Fontana on March 15, 1931 in Shreveport, Louisiana. A self-taught musician, his professional career started in 1953 when he joined the Louisiana Hayride. In late 1954, he met a young Presley.

"They sent Elvis' records from Memphis. I thought the sound was really incredible," Fontana told The Tennessean in 1984. "It was really different...When Elvis, (guitarist) Scotty Moore and (bassist) Bill Black came down as a trio, Scotty approached me about drumming with them. We ran through about two or three songs backstage, including 'That's All Right, Mama.'"

From then on, Fontana drummed on most of Presley's songs and even appeared in some of his films, including Jailhouse Rock, G.I. Blues and King Creole. The other members of Presley's original band included guitarist Scotty Moore (1931-2016) and bassist Bill Black (1926-1965). Moore and Fontana later released the Grammy-nominated All The King's Men (1998).

“Lisa and I, and the entire Presley family, join the staff of Graceland in expressing our deepest condolences on DJ Fontana's passing. DJ was Elvis' original drummer and good friend. He was a tremendously talented musician and a wonderful man. Together with Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black — DJ made history as part of the legendary 'Blue Moon Boys' — creating music that will live forever and influence generations to come," Priscilla Presley said in a statement.

Fontana's drumming can also be heard on "Don't Be Cruel," "I Got Stung," "Are You Lonesome Tonight," "It's Now Or Never" and "A Big Hunk O' Love."

The drummer moved to Nashville in the 1960s and became a popular session musician. He even worked with Ringo Starr on his 1970 country album Beaucoups of Blues.

According to Fontana's website, he also played with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Goldie Hawn, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Ron Wood, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick and Paul McCartney.


Fontana joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 as a sideman. He is also a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He also took part in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's "Nashville Cats" program to honor session musicians in 2011.

Photo Credit: Graceland