Dominic Joseph “D.J.” Fontana, the longtime drummer for Elvis Presley and last remaining member of the group who helped pioneer the backbeat swing of rock and roll is dead.
He died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday at the age of 87.
Fontana’s son David announced the drummer’s death on Facebook, writing, “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 with Presley for 14 years, accompanying him on over 460 cuts for RCA including rock and roll standards like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
He was with Elvis during his landmark appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, as well as his legendary “’68 Comeback Special.” In 2009, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Known for his no-nonsense style of drumming, Fontana injected early rockabilly with the swing of big band music. At a time when many country and bluegrass groups were shunning drums altogether, Fontana’s mere presence behind the kit was revolutionary in its own right. Still, Fontana aimed to keep things simple in a way that complemented not just Elvis, but also his other bandmates, bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore (Black and Moore died in 1965 and 2016, respectively).
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Fontana began playing drums in high school and was eventually hired as the in-house drummer on the long-running radio and television show, Louisiana Hayride. He backed an array of famed country artists, including Webb Pierce and Faron Young, on the show and met Elvis there in 1954.
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