Remembering the King

Elvis' drummer from '50s and '60s on tour with tribute artists

Elvis' drummer from '50s and '60s on tour with tribute artists

January 25, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

D.J. Fontana, the Louisiana-born drummer who gave "Jailhouse Rock" its signature hip-swaying thump, has no qualms about accompanying an Elvis tribute artist live on stage.

"Elvis would be proud," said Fontana, who was Elvis Presley's drummer in the 1950s and 1960s. "He would say the best thing is when someone sings one of your songs. That's a compliment."

Fontana, 75, is a special guest on "The Elvis Birthday Tribute" tour, which will make its last stop Saturday at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown.

Organizers said the show will belatedly celebrate the 72nd anniversary of Elvis' birth. The King of Rock 'n' Roll was born Jan. 8, 1935.


The nine-city tour features Shawn Klush and Donny Edwards. "They're some of the best tribute artists in the business," said Fontana in a phone interview from Louisville, Ky., a few hours before a performance there.

The Elvis tribute artists say they're lucky to be playing with the folks who actually knew and played with Elvis. The Sweet Inspirations, Elvis' backup singers in the '70s, also toured with the show, but they will not be performing in Hagerstown on Saturday.

"The neat part about it all is I've gained their respect. I mean, they worked with the guy and they have enough respect for me to stand on the same stage and try to fill this guy's shoes," said Klush, a 37-year-old tribute artist from Scranton, Pa. "And to top it all off, they're nice."

While Fontana didn't want to share any stories, Klush said there were plenty of Elvis stories that floated around on the tour. "In a positive light, there was a lot of BS on the road," Klush said, jokingly.

He remembered one he heard about how Elvis drove around Memphis, Tenn., donating money and groceries to people he read about in the newspaper.

"I think he would want to be remembered as a normal guy who wanted to share what he had," Klush said. "You know - you cut him, he bleeds."

As for the tour, Klush said Fontana is the real star of the show and deserves credit in rock 'n' roll history.

"This guy was the first rock 'n' roll drummer," Klush said.

But Fontana was not worried about that.

"We'll, that's what they say," Fontana said. "Maybe I was. I don't claim to be. I did like to get it charged up though."

If you go ...

WHAT: The Elvis Birthday Tribute, a concert featuring Elvis' former drummer D.J. Fontana and tribute artists Shawn Klush and Donny Edwards.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27. The show lasts about two hours.

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

COST: $34 to $54

MORE: Contact The Maryland Theatre for ticket information by calling 301-790-3500 or visiting

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