Floyd Cramer (1933–1997)

Pianist Floyd Cramer was one of the creators of what became known as the “Nashville sound,” a style often seen as a forerunner of the slick, upscale pop/rock that emerged in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1990s. Cramer released fifty solo albums, had a classic hit in the song “Last Date” in 1960, and accompanied Elvis Presley on such rock and roll hits as “Heartbreak Hotel.” He was a longtime friend of producer and guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins and performed with other music luminaries, including Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, Perry Como, and Roy Orbison. In the 1980s, he recorded a hit version of the theme from the Dallas TV series.

Born on October 27, 1933, in Campti, Louisiana, near Shreveport, Cramer spent most of his childhood in Huttig (Union County) He learned to play the piano by ear and developed a smooth, “slip-note” style that influenced countless other pianists. After graduating from high school, Cramer joined the Louisiana Hayride radio troupe and there met young Presley and many other country stars, among them Hank Williams Sr. and the Browns.

Cramer moved to Nashville in 1955 and quickly became associated with Atkins, saxophonist Boots Randolph, and producer/studio proprietor Owen Bradley. A versatile studio musician (his light touch suited a broad spectrum of pop styles), Cramer was amazingly prolific. His hits included a version of Bob Wills’s “San Antonio Rose” and another instrumental milestone, “On the Rebound” (both released in 1961), which accentuated his slightly discordant (and blues-influenced) playing.

Between 1958 and 1962, eleven of Cramer’s singles charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, a remarkable accomplishment for an instrumentalist in that era. He even topped himself with his No. 2 hit “Last Date.” The No. 1 song at the time was Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” a ballad featuring Cramer on piano. Another hit on which Cramer played was Hank Locklin’s “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” but it is estimated that he played on at least a fourth of the hits that constituted the archive of late 1950s and early 1960s “countrypolitan” orchestral Nashville bestsellers. Many consider him the most important pianist in country music history.

Cramer died of cancer on December 31, 1997. In 2003, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

For additional information:
Cochran, Robert. Our Own Sweet Sounds: A Celebration of Popular Music in Arkansas. 2nd ed. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2005.

“Floyd Cramer.” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. https://www.countrymusichalloffame.org/hall-of-fame/floyd-cramer (accessed October 27, 2022).

Malone, Bill C. Country Music U.S.A. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.

Jim Kelton
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


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