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Donald MacInnes: How Elvis Presley got paid an arm and a leg and Scotty Moore missed out


I heard a radio documentary about the legendary Scotty Moore - Elvis Presley's guitar player from 1954 until the King went to Hollywood to make crappy movies, rather than doing what the good Lord had intended him to do. Given that it was Moore's hillbilly picking that gave the early Presley recordings their delicious twang, you might imagine that Elvis rewarded his talented cohort with something other than crumbs from the table. Not so.

When The Pelvis appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on 6 January 1957, he was paid the then-quite-staggering fee of $50,000, equivalent to a shade over $420,000 in today's money. Scotty Moore, along with the rest of Presley's small band, received around $78. Nowadays that would see Moore pocketing just under $660. Admittedly, this is a not-inconsiderable plate of cheese but, as a fraction of his employer's bounty, it works out at a seriously disappointing 0.15 per cent. Now no one is saying that Elvis was cheap. To my wooden heart he is, and always will be, the greatest of all time. But he could have possibly spread the love around a little!

The following anecdote doesn't make me feel any better for Mr Moore, still going strong at 82. During the aforementioned radio chat the interviewer mentioned that Elvis was famous for giving brand new Cadillacs to random doormen or toilet attendants, so surely Scotty must have done pretty well too? Moore replied that he only once received a gift from the millionaire redneck: a watch. "Was it a nice one?" asked the interviewer. "No," replied Scotty. "Elvis had been given a new watch, which was very expensive… beautiful. I got his old one."

This kind of insufficient remuneration ought to bring a pink tinge of shame to the delightfully made-up face of Lily Allen, recently bemoaning the fact she only made around £8,000 from her No1 cover of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" for the 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert. I certainly wouldn't wish to pour scorn on the deservedness of Ms Allen and compare her contribution to music, relative to Mr Moore's, but it does rather illustrate how times change.

Anyway, you can't put a price on a good time. Well you can, but you'll invariably end up paying over the odds. In 2003 The Eagles were hired for a private performance at a party in a princely Manhattan apartment. They played just one song, their signature jam "Hotel California", and were paid $6m. That's six million dollars. For one song. At least the squillionaire in question got to dazzle his squillionaire pals, leaving them feeling both impressed and darkly jealous at the same time.

I'd bet you $78 that Scotty Moore experienced both of these emotions as he stood behind Elvis on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show all those years ago.