D.J. Fontana was the drummer for the Louisiana Hayride's house band when a young Tennessee sensation named Elvis Presley appeared on the Saturday night radio show broadcast from Shreveport, La.
When Presley performed at the Hayride in 1954, he had made his first ground-breaking recordings for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black.
Presley liked Fontana's backbeat, and after the Hayride performance, asked Fontana to join the band. As with drummer Ringo Starr and the Beatles nearly a decade later, Fontana's drums were a shot of rocket fuel. Backed by Fontana's beat and Moore and Black's elemental sound, Presley shot to international fame.
Fontana, who played with Presley on several of his movies along with guitarist James Burton and appeared with Presley on his 1968 comeback TV special, died this week at age 87. He was the last surviving member of Presley's pioneering original band.
After splitting with Presley following the 1968 TV special, Fontana enjoyed a long career as a Nashville session drummer.
Few music fans knew his name, but millions recognized his signature beat, one of the primary sounds of rock n' roll.