NASHVILLE, TN (CelebrityAccess) — Dominic Joseph “D.J.” Fontana, a pioneer of early rock n’ roll who was best known as the longtime drummer of the late Elvis Presley, has died. He was 87.
According to the Associated Press, Fontana’s wife Karen said that her husband died in his sleep in Nashville Wednesday night. She told the Associated Press that he had been suffering from complications related to breaking his hip in 2016.
A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, Fontana first made a name for himself performing as a drummer in local nightclubs and strip clubs, performing with T. Tommy Cutrer, a local radio personality and country performer.
The next step in Fontana’s career was when he was hired as the house drummer for the Louisiana Hayride, a popular radio and television show that featured country music and which was broadcast on weekly from Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium.
In 1954, Fontana backed Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys during the performer’s first appearance on the show, however, Fontana remained behind the curtain, out of sight, as drums weren’t a popular instrument for country fans at the time. It wasn’t until Elvis’s second appearance on the show that Fontana appeared on stage with the King, becoming the first drummer to join Presley on stage.
Presley’s popularity on the show led produces to invite him to be offered a year-long contract, at the end of which he recruited Fontana as a full-time member of his group.
Fontana recorded more than 460 RCA cuts with Elvis, including hits “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, and “Jailhouse Rock.” He also toured with the group until it broke up in 1958, after which Fontana still performed and recorded with Presley.
In 1983, Fontana published ” D. J. Fontana Remembers Elvis” a photo book recounting his experiences performing with Presley.
In 2009, Fontana was inducted into both the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.