scotty moore

Peter Parcek, the dynamic blues guitarist whose latest album is Mississippi Suitcase.

Blues guitarist Peter Parcek joins PG staff and reader Emsy Robinson Jr. in sharing about their biggest childhood music influences.

Question: What music was shared with you as a child that shaped your original tastes?

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The legendary Elvis sideman was a pioneer of rockabilly guitar, and his approach to merging blues and country influenced generations of guitar pickers. Here’s how he did it.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Craft simple blues-based phrases that lie within the CAGED system.
• Understand how double-stops are used in rockabilly music.
• Improve your Travis picking.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

In 2016 we lost one of the most influential guitarists and unsung heroes the world has ever known. The driving force behind Elvis Presley’s first recordings, Winfield Scott “Scotty” Moore III helped shape the sound of rock ’n’ roll and inspire generations of fans. Born in 1931, Scotty caught his big break in 1954 when he was called to do a session with Elvis at Sam Phillip’s Sun Studio in Memphis. History was made that day when Elvis recorded “That’s All Right,” and for about four years, Scotty provided 6-string magic for such Elvis hits as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

A huge Chet Atkins fan, Scotty grew up listening to country and jazz. This blend would have a dramatic impact on his sound, as he would mix Travis picking with some ear-twisting note choices based on chords, rather than using an obvious scalar approach.

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Elvis Presley admires Moore’s handiwork on a Gibson L-5 outfitted with staple-poled P-90s in this undated photo from their early years together.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As sideman to Elvis Presley, he helped define the sound of rock ’n’ roll with his fluid picking and unique blend of country, blues, and jazz, and in the process inspired everyone from rockabilly idol Eddie Cochran to guitar gods Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.

At age 23, Scotty Moore joined Elvis Presley and became a lightning rod for the kinetic energy of early rock ’n’ roll. He took the musical influences of his rural childhood upbringing in Gadsden, Tennessee, and fused the country and blues elements into a unique style that relied on alternate picking, driving rhythms, and short busts of call-and-response licks—all juiced with the urban pace of his new home in Memphis, a melting pot on the Tennessee/Mississippi border where black and white musical aesthetics simmered and then sizzled into the Sun Records sound. The mating of Moore’s guitar and Presley’s voice made the latter’s defining early singles—including “That’s All Right,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Mystery Train”—a template for more than a half-century of musicians to come: from Gene Vincent to the Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, the Stray Cats, Springsteen, and beyond. Moore died on Tuesday, June 28, at his home in Nashville. Although the cause of death wasn’t announced at publication time, the 84-year-old had struggled with health issues for a decade. His final concert appearance was in 2007.

With his work at Presley’s side from 1954 to 1964, Moore became one of the original 6-string poets of rock ’n’ roll, developing its template and influencing guitar players who would grow to be giants. According to Moore (in his book Scotty and Elvis: Aboard the Mystery Train), Keith Richards famously said, “When I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ I knew what I wanted to do in life. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Scotty.” That was doubtlessly due to the mystery in Moore’s dynamic guitar performance—a universe unto itself, conjured from the dark, gutbucket notes slinking under the verses, illuminated by languid, abrupt chiming tones, and gliding on swinging flat-four chords. And then there’s the “Heartbreak” solo—a flare that seemed to step out of the tune’s depths of loneliness to question the seeming inevitability of the singer’s doom. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page are also among those who’ve testified to the magnetic power of Moore’s musical mojo.

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