Elvis Presley's drummer DJ Fontana dies in his sleep

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

image source, Getty Images
image captionFontana (right) played on hundreds of Elvis songs and appeared with him in the film Jailhouse Rock (pictured)

DJ Fontana, the last surviving member of Elvis Presley's band, has died at the age of 87.

The drummer, whose full name was Dominic Joseph Fontana, played on more than 450 Elvis songs, including Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock.

He also featured on Elvis's legendary 1968 TV show, which has become known as the '68 Comeback Special.

Fontana died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday night, his son said in a post on Facebook.

"I told everyone that I would keep you posted. My Dad passed away in his sleep at 9:33 tonight," wrote Dave Fontana.

"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."

As the backbone of Elvis's band, Fontana bridged the gap between the swing of America's big band sound, and the more elemental rhythms emerging from Europe.

He was an unshowy musician, steering clear of fancy fills and cymbal work - but the effectiveness of his approach can be heard on Hound Dog, where a simple snare roll ushers in each chorus with a sense of mounting excitement.

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He was initially a drummer for the Louisiana Hayride - an influential radio programme that launched the careers of some of country music's biggest names.

When Elvis made his debut on the show in 1954, Fontana was asked to play with him, and the singer later drafted him into his full-time band.

He recorded his first studio session in January 1956, backing Elvis on five songs including breakthrough hit, Heartbreak Hotel. He remained in his entourage for 14 years.

One of his last engagements was on the '68 Comeback Special, which re-launched the star's career in the States.

"Elvis was hardly ever nervous - but he was then," Fontana later told Rolling Stone magazine.

"We played a couple of songs, and it got loose after a while, and it turned out fine. He just had been out of the public eye for a long time."

image source, Getty Images
image captionHe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009

Fontana eventually left the band in 1969 over a pay dispute with the star's manager Colonel Parker.

He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2009 and joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later that year in the sideman category.

Fontana's friend Larry Geller posted a tribute to the star on Facebook.

"I'm deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend DJ Fontana," he wrote.

"With the sadness, though, comes a flood of wonderful memories from over the years, as we shared many great moments. DJ was not only a legendary drummer but a close and dear friend to Elvis."

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