I enjoyed my conversation with D.J. Fontana on Saturday at the Elvis Honeymoon house for a celebration of Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s 1967 stay. It was Fontana’s first visit to Palm Springs.
Fontana became Elvis’ first drummer in 1955 and played with him through the 1968 “Comeback” TV special. When Elvis quit touring after going into the Army in 1958, Fontana became a Nashville studio musician.
He said there weren’t any rock ’n’ roll drummers that influenced him. He liked big band drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, but Fontana was on his way to becoming a country drummer when he joined Elvis on the Louisiana Hayride circuit. He said the man most responsible for developing the rock ’n’ roll drum sound from the R&B genre was Fats Domino’s New Orleans drummer, the late Earl Palmer, who played on Domino’s 1949 hit, “The Fat Man.”
“Earl could do it all,” said Fontana with his Tennessee drawl, “and he was good at what he did.”
Fontana played a little and joined a panel including Elvis’ spiritual adviser Larry Geller, actresses Darlene Tompkins and Cynthia Pepper, rockabilly artist Glen Glenn, and dancer Tanya Lemani, who performed under the name Little Egypt. Asked what D.J. stands for, Fontana quipped, “Don Juan.”