Ron Tutt, the Dallas-born drummer best known for touring with Elvis Presley from 1969 to 1977 as part of the TCB (Taking Care of Business) Band, has died according to a statement on the official Graceland website. In addition to his work with Presley, he recorded and toured with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia for years on numerous side projects. As a well-regarded session player, he can also be heard on records by The Carpenters, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Neil Diamond, Elvis Costello, and hits by Billy Joel like “Piano Man.” Tutt was 83 years old.
Tutt, usually called Ronnie, joined Elvis’s group after his successful 1968 “comeback special,” taking the seat vacated by Presley’s longtime drummer D.J. Fontana. Album collectors first heard him driving the King’s rhythm section on the Elvis in Person at the International Hotel live half of the double album From Memphis to Vegas / From Vegas to Memphis, released in October 1969. Tutt stayed with The King until the end of his life in 1977, and can be heard on the spectacular As Recorded at Madison Square Garden album from 1972 and Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite from 1973.
As if one legend weren’t enough, Tutt had another celebrated gig. In the mid-1970s he began recording and touring with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, both with the side project Legion of Mary (a collaboration with Merl Saunders) and the Jerry Garcia Band. Tutt played with the JGB until late 1981.
Presley and Garcia are rarely associated with one another (at least without the aid of mind-expanding substances) but in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Tutt looked back on his two big bosses.
“I’d always laugh because one night I’d be in Vegas playing with rhinestone two-piece outfits and the next night I’d be out with Garcia with the tie-dye and a pair of jeans. Socially speaking it was really different,” the drummer said. “Elvis’s music was a lot more in your face; you could never play enough. But with Jerry we never talked about it, but I just knew my role with that band, no matter what configuration it was, was to help keep it together.”
As a session player, Tutt recorded on two Billy Joel albums Piano Man and Streetlife Serenade. (In addition to “Piano Man,” that’s Tutt you are hearing on the hits “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” and “The Entertainer.”) He’s also sat in on Elvis Costello’s King of America sessions, Johnny Cash’s John R. Cash album, Los Lobos’s By The Light of the Moon, Passage by the Carpenters, and Gram Parsons’s Grievous Angel. Tutt also toured with Neil Diamond’s band, and can be heard on the Hot August Night II live album from 1987 as well as the more recent Hot August Night/NYC: Live From Madison Square Garden album and DVD from 2009.
According to Neil Diamond Central, Tutt’s favorite movie was Lord of the Rings.
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