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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Jazz Café, London, 15th August, 2005
by Nick Morgan

If you’d have asked me about Scotty Moore two or three years ago then I would probably have told you that he was dead, and as you can read in a painful amount of detail on his website, I wouldn’t have been too far from the truth. Then a chum handed me a CD with the instruction, “listen to it, tell me who it is …”. About a week later, having thoroughly enjoyed the music but floundered in my guesswork, I was told it was All the King’s Men, a 1997 tribute album to Scotty Moore and his sidekick D J Fontana, featuring notables such as Keith Richards, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Jeff Beck and Ronnie Wood.

And shortly after that I became aware of a frenzy of Scotty activity – a concert in London last year that we missed, and four albums on which he plays: Scotty Moore and Friends, Alvin Lee’s In Tennessee (recorded when Scotty was unwell and only able to appear on a couple of tracks), Liam Grundy and Pete Pritchard’s Western Union and Paul Ansell’s No9 Live at Sun. So much for being dead. But when the chance came to see him this year we leapt at it…just in case.
Now for those of you who don’t remember Winfield Scott Moore was the hillbilly guitarist brought in (with bass player Bill Black) by Sam Philips on the fateful day in 1954 to back a young singer, Elvis Aaron Presley – who Philips believed might be able to realise his dream of a crossover artiste – a white boy who sounded black. The session went badly until the threesome started ‘fooling around’ with an Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup song – ‘That’s all right’. The rest, as they say, is history. Well almost. Joined by D J Fontana on drums, Scotty played with Elvis through the early Sun days (when he briefly became his manager), the RCA years and the lost times in Hollywood. In 1968 he was there playing the old tunes live with Elvis for the famous TV Special (get the DVD if you don’t have it) and was then, at least as it seems to me, unceremoniously dumped – without, it should be noted, a word of complaint – as Elvis moved to the bigger and undoubtedly more sophisticated setup of the American Sound Studios in Memphis.

Scotty Moore autobiography, 1997
Not to say that Scotty didn’t continue working – as you can read elsewhere. But in that little crudely soundproofed room on a street corner in Memphis Scotty created a sound that would last forever, and in the course inspired generations of musicians. “Everyone else wanted to be Elvis” said Keith Richards, “I wanted to be Scotty”.
And if you get the chance you should go to the reconstructed and now working again Sun Studios (after it first closed down it was used as a garage store and a barber’s shop) and do the tour. It’s one of those “and this is probably where…”, “I like to believe that what happened next was ..”, “and I’m sure if he was here today he’d say that…” experiences, but nothing can take away from the atmosphere in the studio itself – and if you’re a ‘being there’ sort of person, then this is one you should tick off the list – a bit like going to see Scotty if you get the chance.
So we’re sitting upstairs at the Jazz Café, sharing a table with a couple of Elvis nuts (average age 32) who are on the Atkins diet (no burger jokes please). Around the balcony is a United Nations of young and old, downstairs is heaving and similarly mixed (including the German guy who stand transfixed in front of the stage taking notes of every Scotty lick), and somewhere there’s the drunk woman from Colchester (intelligence gained at the start of the evening by the Photographer in the cloakroom) who staggers alarmingly onto the stage half way through the set with a rucksack on her back. Phew! But our shared apprehension is not about her, it’s whether Scotty can hack it. We shouldn’t have worried.
And then there’s the quite excellent band. Pianist, composer, vocalist, session man Liam Grundy; bass player to the stars (including the Photographer’s favourite, Alvin Lee) Pete Pritchard; drummer Jimmy Russell (ex Curved Air, Elmer Gantry etc. etc. etc.); ‘guitar legend’ Dave Briggs (ex pioneer R&B band from the 70’s Red Beans ‘n Rice) who among other things teams up with Barcodes Glenn and Coccia in the Incredible Blues Puppies; guest guitarist and former Roy Orbison sidekick Bucky Barrett; and on vocals and guitar Paul Ansell, with a superb rockabilly voice (and I should stress not an Elvis impersonator) and a great way of dealing with drunken ladies with rucksacks. From what I gather these good old boys are at the forefront of what is called a ‘roots music’ revival – in fact my in-the-know daughter tells me that roots rockabilly is going to be the next big thing, but bad news chaps, you’ll only get a big signing if you’re “young and beautiful”.
Scotty stands to the left, at the back of a crowded stage. He grins, chats a little with the band, but says not a word to us all night – his speaking is done by his “very good friend and companion” the gracious and delightful Gail from Nashville, who tells us all how pleased Scotty is to be here. And he looks happy enough. And after a shaky start he really warms up, picking (with a big thumb pick) at his gorgeous personalised Gibson (and it’s not often I say that) ES-295, as the band move through (among others) ‘Mystery train’, ‘That’s alright’, ‘Blue moon’, ‘Heartbreak hotel’, ‘Milk cow’, ‘My baby left me’ (my notes say a particularly impressive Scotty solo here) ‘Kid Creole’, ‘Blue suede shoes’ and finally ‘Mystery train’ again. Now I should say that Scotty never was the best guitarist in the world – that’s rarely the point – and technically he would be blown away by today’s School of Rock hot shot Stratocaster merchants. But it’s that picking sliding riff style (think ‘Heartbreak hotel’) and the sound he achieves from guitar and amplifier (I’m told he still uses his original Ray Butt’s amp that dates back to 1955, ‘though I can’t swear he had it with him on Monday) that is just electric.

The hand that touched Scotty Moore
And you could see everyone slowly lighting up with smiles as Scotty got into his stride and hit those notes. Quite how a quiet, unassuming, and rather frail old man in his mid-seventies managed it I don’t know, but even the 14 year old boy at the next table put down his Gameboy and started to watch (much to the delight of Mum and Dad, and everyone else in the place). Oh yes – and as he had to walk along the balcony to get back to his dressing room at the end of the gig, I did that thing, gently held his arm and said “Thank you Scotty”, on behalf of Serge, Mike, and all you Whiskyfun rock and rollers out there. - Nick Morgan (photos by Kate and Nick except Gibson Scotty Moore signature ES 295).

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