NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Floyd Cramer, who played piano on Elvis
Presley's Heartbreak Hotel and popularized the distinctive "slip note"
style on instrumental hits such as Last Date, died early Wednesday. He
Cramer was diagnosed with cancer six months ago, said his longtime
manager, Gerald Purcell.
He recorded more than 50 solo albums and in 1960 had his own hit,
Last Date, which became an instrumental classic.
Along with Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph and Owen
Bradley, Cramer is
credited with helping create "The Nashville Sound" - smooth music,
sometimes called "countrypolitan," that helped lure pop audiences to
country music in the 1950s and 1960s.
He played a "bent note" or "slip note" style - hitting a note and almost
instantly sliding into the next - that influenced a generation of pianists.
His hits included San Antonio Rose, Fancy Pants and On the
Last Date was learned down through the years by thousands of young
piano students who weren't even born when Cramer wrote and
"It's a simple melody," Cramer told The Associated Press in 1989. "It's
good exercise for both hands. You are playing solid left hand patterns
and a dominant melody with the right hand. It's different and fresh to
most piano students."
Cramer was born near Shreveport, La., and grew up in the small
sawmill town of Huttig, Ark. He balked at piano lessons but learned to
play piano by ear at age 5.
After graduating from high school, he joined the cast of the Louisiana
Hayride country show in Shreveport. He began playing in Webb
Pierce's country band and doing session work with artists such as Jim
In 1955, he moved to Nashville and became one of the most
sought-after session musicians in town. He played on sessions by Roy
Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline and Perry Como, as well as
the historic 1955 recordings Presley made in his debut at RCA.
He recalled that Presley "was always nice to us. He enjoyed the
musicians and felt very comfortable."
Besides country and rock, Cramer played jazz, blues, gospel and light
"Music is emotion, mood, regardless of what you name it," he once
said. "I wouldn't want to be pigeonholed as playing only country or
In the late 1980s, most of his records were sold through TV ads rather
than at stores.
He told the AP in 1989 he didn't like to practice.
"Some call it practice. I call it play," he said. "That's because I enjoy
practice I don't enjoy."
~ David Vinopal
Country pianist. A Nashville session man extraordinaire from 1955 on,
Cramer's style of "slip-note" playing probably makes him the most widely
imitated piano player in Country music history.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - Country music pianist
Floyd Cramer, whose distinctively smooth style was avidly
sought by singers ranging from Elvis Presley to Patsy Cline,
has died, his manager said Wednesday.
Cramer, who had been diagnosed with cancer, was 64 and
died at his home in Nashville, according to manager Gerard Purcell.
The self-taught Cramer helped develop the ``Nashville
Sound'' that carried country music to a wider audience and
had the nation's most popular singers demanding his presence
in the recording studio and on the bandstand.
``There were a lot of artists who would not record unless he
was the pianist,'' Purcell said by telephone from New York.
Besides recording with Presley and Cline, Cramer played for
Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers.
They wanted Cramer because of his distinctive fingering style
that featured ``bent'' or ``slip notes'' where one note blended
with the next, making the melody shine in a different way than
when played by more percussive pianists.
``He had a flow to his piano playing. He was very interested
in the rythym of the song, and he wanted the melody to be
heard distinctly,'' Purcell said. ``Not surprisingly, (the slip
note style) spread very quickly because it made listening,
especially on romantic ballads, very palatable.''
Cramer recorded some 50 albums, many with his own songs
that included such hits as ``Lovin' Season,'' ``Last Date,'' and
''The Young and the Restless.''
He won a Grammy Award in 1979 for best country
instrumental for the song, ``My Blue Eyes.''
Cramer taught himself to play piano while growing up in
Huttig, Ark., which he left after graduating from high school
to join the ``Louisiana Hay Ride'' radio program in
Shreveport, La. There he played with the young Presley,
Hank Williams Sr., and others.
In 1955, he moved to the country music capital of Nashville
and funded college music scholarships for around 200
students at East Tennesee State University.
``He never felt that the piano should be the outstanding
instrument in the band,'' Purcell said. ``He didn't bang the
piano. He had that style that blended.''
Cramer leaves his longtime wife Mary and two daughters.
(31 Dec 1997 16:26 EST)