"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Growing up in extreme southeast Union County, he learned piano by ear.
After graduating high school, Cramer took the short jaunt from Huttig to Shreveport and landed a gig on the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show. By 1951, when Cramer joined, the “Hayride” had already been around for three years and helped launch Hank Williams, but was entering its heyday as the “cradle of the stars.” Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley would also soon be launched with help from the “Hayride.”
By 1958, Cramer began branching out on his own as a country music solo artist in Nashville. He signed to RCA Records by mentor Chet Atkins as an instrumental artist, and it was Atkins who prodded Cramer to write a song highlighting Cramer’s piano technique. The song, only Cramer’s fourth single, became his signature song: “Last Date.”
It was a country and pop chart hit. In fact, on the pop chart, where it hit No. 2, Cramer’s own hand kept “Last Date” from topping the chart, as he had also played on the No. 1 hit, Elvis Presley’s “Are you Lonesome Tonight?”
Before Cramer, when piano was heard at all in country music it was often contained to what Cramer himself called “plinking.” But Cramer’s graceful yet often spare style allowed him to integrate the full range of the piano into the genre.
By the end of the 1960s, Cramer had long been recognized as the go-to piano guy for top-shelf Nashville session recordings. As a solo artist, Cramer found success beyond his own compositions by recording an annual series of the best hits of the year. The albums were called “Class of ’65,” “Class of ’66” and so on. Cramer also did other conceptual albums, such as collections of TV theme songs and the like.
Cramer, the man who epitomized, and revolutionized, piano playing in country music, died Dec. 31, 1997, of cancer.
“Arkansongs” is syndicated on National Public Radio affiliates throughout the state. More information can be found at www.arkansongs.org.
• “Theme From ‘The Incredible Hulk’”
• “It’s All in the Game”
• “Last Date”
• “Flip, Flop & Bop”
• “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”