Scotty Moore & Lee Rocker | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Scotty Moore & Lee Rocker

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Elvis Presley's singles for Sun Records in 1954 and '55 may have introduced the most celebrated voice in rock 'n' roll history, but it shared the grooves with another one, equally bright and innovative: Presley would never again enjoy (or permit) anything quite like the creative dialogue he carried on with guitarist Scotty Moore. Moore was playing in a country band called the Starlight Wranglers when producer Sam Phillips asked him and bassist Bill Black to accompany the 19-year-old Presley in his recording audition, and the group spirit behind the Sun sessions was reflected by the credit on the original labels: "Elvis Presley, Scotty, and Bill." Moore's biggest influences were Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, but he also loved fleet-fingered boppers like Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, and Wes Montgomery. His Travis-style picking on the old blues number "That's All Right" had a seismic effect on pop music; his syncopated comping on "You're a Heartbreaker" and "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" brought a hint of big-band pop to the back-porch hootenanny; and his electrifying solos, a mix of clipped low-end runs, homely string bending, sliding arpeggios, and Latin harmonics, became the cornerstone of rock 'n' roll guitar--not even Chuck Berry did as much to write the lexicon for the instrument. But by the time Presley signed to RCA, Moore and Black had been demoted to salaried sidemen, part of a larger backup band that included the vocal group the Jordanaires and various session players, and both quit in '57. Moore returned in the 60s, playing on records and taking part in the rollicking jam session at the heart of the 1968 TV special Elvis, but eventually stopped performing to concentrate on his career as a Nashville recording engineer. In 1997 he contributed an assortment of sterling guitar parts to All the King's Men, a CD that reunited him with Presley drummer D.J. Fontana (tellingly, they dedicated the record not to the King but to Black, who'd died of a brain tumor in 1965), and now former Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker, one of the many acolytes who guest-starred on that record, has coaxed Moore out of the house for a rare club tour. A true country gentleman, Moore has spent the last 40 years shrugging off breathless questions about the day rock 'n' roll was born, but when he takes the stage at Schubas this week, the only thing in town casting a longer shadow will be the Sears Tower. Monday, February 11, 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508. J.R. JONES

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