D.J. Fontana accompanied Elvis Presley on 460 recordings over 14 years, and in 2009 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The original drummer for Elvis Presley’s band and a pioneer of the rockabilly sound died Wednesday at age 87. According to news reports, he passed away in his sleep.

Fontana helped make history on Elvis’ famous 1956 Ed Sullivan Show taping (where Elvis’ hip-swiveling was censored for being too risque) and the historic “1968 Comeback Special.” He’s also a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and has played with everyone from Ringo Starr to Keith Richards to Dolly Parton.

“Elvis and Scotty [More] and Bill [Black] were making good music, but it wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll until D.J. put the backbeat into it,” the Band’s Levon Helm told The Associated Press in 2004. Hear that rock ‘n’ roll feel in the video above of a 1956 performance of “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Check out more of Fontana’s iconic drumming moments with Elvis and others below.

“Hound Dog”

Fontana was integral in defining Presley’s early sound. His easy, swinging, rockabilly grooves defined hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Hound Dog.”

The Comeback Special

Fontana played with Elvis on his “1968 Comeback Special,” an hour-long broadcast performance on NBC. Due to the intimate stage space, Fontana beat his sticks against a guitar case instead of a kit, and the set included versions of “That’s All Right,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Love Me,” among other classics. [Since it’s a full 57-minute set, it’s worth sitting through a couple commercials in the beginning.]

“Baby I Don’t Care”

Fontana was featured in a few of Elvis’ films, including G.I. Blues, Loving You, and Jailhouse Rock. Memorable among them is his backing of Elvis in the hip-swaggery “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” from Jailhouse Rock. The song has since been covered by Buddy Holly, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and Joni Mitchell, to name a few.

“That’s All Right”

Here, Paul McCartney, Fontana, and guitar player Scotty Moore play “That’s All Right” at Sun Studios, the same tune and studio where the 19-year-old Elvis played in 1950.

You Ain’t No Friend of Mine (Except You Are)

As a bonus, here’s Fontana giving drummers a 15-minute video lesson in how to play “Hound Dog,”  including the patterns and signature fills used in the song’s different sections.


Have favorite videos or songs of your own? Leave ’em in the comments!