D.J. Fontana "passed away in his sleep" at 9:33 p.m. Wednesday, said his son, David Fontana of Smyrna, in a Facebook post.
He was 87 years old, and, from 1954-1968, played drums behind Elvis Presley. He's on approximately 460 of the King's recordings, including indelible classics "Jailhouse Rock" and "Heartbreak Hotel," and performed on the '68 Comeback Special.
He worked with everyone from Red Sovine to Ringo Starr.
Dominic Joseph Fontana was born Mar. 15, 1931 in Shreveport, La. He began playing drums in high school and taught himself to play by listening to big band records. He was hired to be the house drummer for the the Louisiana Hayride in 1953, and spent his Saturday nights backing country artists like Webb Pierce and Faron Young.
Fontana met Presley at the Hayride in late 1954: "They sent Elvis' records from Memphis. I thought the sound was really incredible," he told The Tennessean (part of the USA TODAY Network) in 1984. "It was really different...When Elvis, (guitarist) Scotty Moore and (bassist) Bill Black came down as a trio, Scotty approached me about drumming with them. We ran through about two or three songs backstage, including 'That's All Right, Mama.' "
The musicians hit it off, and it wasn't long before Fontana was touring and recording with them. He spent 14 years with Presley on stage, in the studio and on set — he appeared in several Presley films, including "G.I Blues," "King Creole," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Loving You."
Fontana moved to Nashville in the '60s and became an in-demand session musician.
When Ringo Starr came to Nashville in 1970 to make country album "Beaucoups of Blues," Fontana and other session musicians spent three days with the Beatle at Music City Recorders while, wrote The Tennessean's Eugene Wyatt, "a modest platoon of Beatle fans, mostly female, patrolled the street outside."
In the late 1990s, Fontana and Scotty Moore reunited for the album "All the King's Men," which featured top-notch musical guests, among them Keith Richards, Levon Helm and Joe Ely.
In 2009, Fontana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman. He is also a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum selected him to participate in their "Nashville Cats" program, which celebrates musicians who've played an integral role in country music history, in 2011.
Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.
This story is in progress and will be updated.