Floyd Cramer (October 27, 1933 – December 31, 1997) was an American Hall of Fame pianist who was one of the architects of the "Nashville Sound." He was known for his "slip note" piano style, where an out-of-key note slides into the correct note.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Cramer grew up in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, teaching himself to play the piano. After finishing high school, he returned to Shreveport, where he worked as a pianist for the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
In 1953, he cut his first single, "Dancin' Diane", backed with "Little Brown Jug", for the local Abbott label. He then toured with an emerging talent who would later figure significantly in his career, Elvis Presley.
Cramer moved to Nashville in 1955 where the use of piano accompanists in country music was growing in popularity. By the next year he was, in his words, "in day and night doing sessions.” Before long, he was one of the busiest studio musicians in the industry, playing piano for stars such as Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, The Browns, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, and the Everly Brothers, among others. It was Cramer's piano playing, for instance, on Presley's first national hit, "Heartbreak Hotel". However, Cramer remained strictly a session player, a virtual unknown to anyone outside the music industry.
Cramer had released records under his own name since the early 1950s, and became well known following the release of "Last Date", a 45 rpm single, in 1960. The instrumental piece exhibited a relatively new concept for piano playing known as the "slip note" style. The record went to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. This particular track is also used as the closing theme for renowned Australian radio broadcaster Ray Hadley on his number one syndicated show in Sydney on radio station 2GB. Interestingly, the song was kept out of the No. 1 position by Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight".
What most people didn't realize was that they had heard him long before "Last Date", on million sellers as diverse as "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis Presley, "The Three Bells" by The Browns and "I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee. Floyd played on Elvis' first RCA session on January 10-11, 1956, but the next time Presley (with whom he had toured in 1955) required his services would not be until June, 1958 ("I Need Your Love Tonight", "A Big Hunk o' Love", "I Got Stung", "A Fool Such As I", "Ain't That Loving You Baby"), Elvis' last session before he left for Germany. However, after Presley's return from the US Army, Floyd would become his regular session pianist.
By the mid-1960s, Cramer had become a respected performer, making numerous albums and touring with guitar maestro Chet Atkins and saxophonist Boots Randolph; he also performed with them as a member of the Million Dollar Band. Apart from backing many RCA artists (Jim Reeves, Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold, Bobby Bare, Hank Locklin, Janis Martin, etc.), Floyd also played on the Nashville sessions of many others: The Everly Brothers, Brenda Lee, Conway Twitty, Marvin Rainwater, Marty Robbins, many Hickoryartists, well, the list is endless. Like the other members of Nashville's A-team (Hank Garland, Grady Martin, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, Buddy Harmon, etc.) he knew what to play and what not to play. He could rock as hard as Jerry Lee Lewis if he wanted to (listen to Jimmy Newman's "Carry On" on Dot, for instance), but just as easily could he add almost inaudible embellishments to Jim Reeves' "Four Walls". And if he felt that the arrangement didn't need a piano, he wouldn't play the instrument at all, as on "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean, where he hung an iron door-stopper onto a coat hanger and hit it with a hammer to get the now-famous sound effect. With Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer was Nashville's most prolific musician. Starting in 1959, he has made over 50 albums for RCA Records, virtually all of them produced by Atkins.
Floyd Cramer died six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 64 and was interred in the Spring Hill Cemetery in the Nashville suburb of Madison, Tennessee. In 2003 Floyd Cramer was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2008 Cramer was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, offers the Floyd Cramer Competitive Scholarship.
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