A lot of people won’t know the name, but they smile every time they hear the signature hit of one of country and popular music’s favorite instrumentalists. For at least these few words, pianist Floyd Cramer deserves to be remembered.
From time to time on Press Pros I like to write tributes to favorite past musicians. Many of you know that well, if you’ve read regularly over these past seven years.
And recently someone asked me why I had ever considered former country star Floyd Cramer (whose birthday anniversary is this week, Oct. 27, 1933), given that I have a piano and music background of my own. It may come as a surprise to you, but I did not graduate from Ohio State with a journalism degree. Rather, I left with a degree in music – education and theory. For years I’ve enjoyed dabbling with writing and arranging for my own edification.
Cramer is the best-known country pianist of all-time, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, who taught himself to play as a child – never had a lesson – and eventually rose to be the most popular studio keyboard artist in Nashville. His keyboard backings can still be heard on all those great hits in the late 50s and 60s – of Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and guitar legend Chet Atkins.
By 1960 his sound was so in demand that he decided to market it as a solo entity. He toured to packed auditoriums. He borrowed from the biggest hit tunes of the day, playing them as instrumentals with his own unique “grace note” played on the beat, or “slip note” style, as it was called. He became so identified for that sound until even his imitators were mistaken for being Floyd Cramer.
He wrote and recorded a string of hits – On The Rebound, San Antonio Rose, Flip-Flop and Bop – whimsical tunes that were fun, easy to remember, and stuck in the minds of loyal listeners. His records were constant sell-outs, singles and LPs. And even a series of gospel recordings, featuring his unique piano style with a full orchestra backing, became best sellers.
But there was one tune, released in the summer of 1961, that spotlighted Floyd Cramer with music lovers forever – even those who cared nothing for the country sound – and still stands as his signature work. He titled it, simply, “Last Date”. The tune came to Cramer while working on a studio session with Atkins in 1960, and Atkins reportedly told him at the time, “You’d better record that. It’ll be your signature song.” He wasn’t wrong.
For it’s popularity, “Last Date” never actually became a #1 country single, peaking at #11 on the charts, but it did rise to #2 on the popular music charts that same year of its release, and became a cross-over sensation nationally. The tune was so recognizable that other country stars crafted lyrics to it and released it as a single. They all flopped. The only “Last Date” that anyone cared about Floyd Cramer’s instrumental version.
Cramer died before his time. A heavy smoker, he succumbed to lung cancer on New Year’s Eve, 1997, at the age of 64.
Ironically, his grandson, Jason Coleman, had his same musical gift and has picked up with the Cramer sound and carried on his legacy, playing with that same familiar “slip note” style. His popularity has grown over the years, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that his “encore” for each performance is his grandfather’s signature favorite.
If you don’t remember the name, play the embedded recording above. You’ll know it when you hear it; and it won’t be the last time you play…Last Date.