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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 490

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This is the grave of Floyd Cramer.

Born in 1933 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Cramer grew up in Hattig, Arkansas. He learned to play the piano and was an in-demand pianist from the time he was a young man. He moved back to Shreveport and became the house pianist for The Louisiana Hayride, second in the 1950s only to the Grand Ole Opry in terms of country radio. He recorded a bit for local labels, but made his real mark after he moved to Nashville in 1955. With the countrypolitan sound beginning to take over, the piano was a growing presence in country music as the genre shed its last old-time elements, moving on from the sounds of Hank Williams, not to mention those of Roy Acuff. He became the go-to pianist in Nashville, playing for everyone from Elvis to Patsy.

Now, it was almost impossible for a session player to gain any hits of their own. Cramer didn’t sing and he didn’t write lyrics. But it wasn’t that hard to put out albums on minor labels in these years, if you didn’t mind the sleazeballs who ran them from taking any money that maybe you did make. Yet Cramer did the impossible. In 1960, his song “Last Date” became a #2 hit, only being held out of the top spot by Elvis doing “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” on which Cramer played the piano! What made Cramer’s playing so desirable was his mastery of the slip note style, which brought in an occasional off-key note that reminded country listeners of the old high lonesome sound, even as the industry was sidelining those artists. Also, “Last Date” is a truly wonderful song.

In the aftermath of “Last Date,” Cramer became a pretty big artists of his own, probably more than any session player in country music. I don’t think he ever quite had a #1 hit, but he had a few more top 10 hits and began releasing albums of him playing the year’s biggest hits by others. He recorded and toured frequently with Chet Atkins. His last hit was his version of the Dallas theme song, in 1980. Cramer died of lung cancer in 1997, at the age of 64. In 2003, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Let’s listen to some Floyd Cramer.

Floyd Cramer is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions and I thank you very much for it. If you would like this series to cover more of the people inducted into the Sidemen category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Scotty Moore, inducted in 2000 and of course Elvis’ famous guitarist, is in Coxville, Tennessee and Benny Benjamin, inducted in 2003 and the drummer in Motown’s The Funk Brothers, is in Detroit. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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