D.J. Fontana, a drummer who performed with Elvis Presley during some of the key moments of his career, has died. Fontana died Wednesday in his sleep at age 87, according to his son, David Fontana, who posted the news on Facebook.
Fontana was the last surviving member of Presley’s backup trio during his early, classic period. Bassist Bill Black passed in 1965 at age 39, while guitarist Scotty Moore died in June 2016 at age 84. Fontana played on his Sun Records recordings and such landmark hits as “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” He was also there for Elvis’s 1968 comeback television special, which is being re-released this summer.
Dominic Joseph Fontana was born in 1931 and began working with Presley in 1954, teaming with the King on the popular radio program Louisiana Hayride, which taped in Fontana’s hometown of Shreveport, LA. Fontana was an on-call percussionist for the production.
“The manager of the Hayride called me into the office and said, ‘I want you to listen to these records ’cause we got this kid coming in, Elvis Presley,’” he told the Washington Post in 1986. “I said, ‘What a funny name … he’ll probably never make it with a name like that.’”
Fontana was auditioned by Moore in a dressing room before the set, and obviously passed muster. He went on to hold the job for 14 years, playing on more than 460 of Presley’s early recordings. He was also in the Elvis films Jailhouse Rock, G.I. Blues and Loving You but was uncredited as a drummer.
He was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in 2009.
NBC is marking the golden anniversary of the 1968 Comeback Special with The 50th Anniversary of the Elvis Comeback Special, a look back at NBC’s top-rated show of the 1968-69 season. The show will air next year.
Watch an interview with Fontana above.